What in the World is Kat Cooking? Week 1 (Greek Week): Moussaka

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This post is part of a series called What in the World is Kat Cooking? Every week, I’ll be cooking food from a different country. My goal is to expand my knowledge of what people eat in other countries, and pick up a few tricks along the way! This week (Week 1) is Greece. 

Before I went to Greece on vacation last summer, I had very little idea of what Greek food entailed outside of Greek salad. I had some vague notion that Greeks ate a lot of lemony things, but beyond that, I had no idea what I’d be in for. Well, what I was in for was some of the most unexpectedly delicious food I’ve ever had–dishes like grilled squid, feta-stuffed tomatoes, fried donuts drizzled with honey, and my favorite–a dish from Crete that consisted of tiny little fish stuffed and fried that I never did learn the name of.

One of my most memorable meals was our dinner in Oia after a day of walking around town and trying to commit to memory the breathtaking sight of the coastline. We stopped at a restaurant called Plaka, which boasted a beautiful view, and I ordered the moussaka, which came highly recommended to me by the waiter when I tried to order something else.

“Trust me,” he said. “Get the moussaka.”

It came in a little tureen, and it was honestly so good that I forgot about the view in front of me and just focused on eating it–all of it.

To put it in perspective, this was the view from our table.
To put it in perspective, this was the view from our table.

Now over a year later, I tried my hand at making my own moussaka. If you don’t know what moussaka is, it’s essentially a casserole of eggplant layered with a ground beef and onion mixture and topped with a Parmesan cream sauce. The entire thing is baked, and comes out bubbling and golden brown on top. Think of it as the Greek version of a lasagna.

Funnily enough, the first time I had moussaka, I absolutely hated it. It was on an airplane, and the limp yet tough pieces of eggplant and flavorless meat were only a sad, distant attempt at what a moussaka was supposed to be.

The moussaka I made last night was much closer to the revelatory experience I had in Santorini. I urge you to try it yourself and maybe serve it with a loaf of bread and some salad. You won’t be disappointed.

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Moussaka

(serves 4-6)

(adapted from Kittencals’ recipe from Food.com)

Ingredients:

2 medium eggplants

Olive oil, as needed

1 lb lean ground beef

2 medium onions, chopped

1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Cheese Sauce

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup half-and-half

1 large egg, beaten

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions:

Peel and slice eggplant into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray and arrange eggplant slices on top. Brush eggplant with oil and season with salt and pepper. Broil until golden brown on both sides (Alternately, you can grill them, though I didn’t try this).

Add a little bit of oil to a large skillet and cook the onions and ground beef over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. Drain away any fat. To the meat and onions, add the tomato sauce, oregano, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Season to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray and arrange a layer of broiled eggplant across the bottom (it’s okay if not every section is covered). Pour the meat and onion mixture over the top of the eggplant. Top the meat and onions with another layer of broiled eggplant.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium to medium-low heat, and whisk in the flour until smooth. Gradually add the half-and-half, salt, and pepper, while whisking. Continue to cook over medium heat until thick. Add the beaten egg and whisk like crazy to avoid getting chunks of scrambled egg (you can also add a bit of the hot sauce to the egg first, before adding the egg to the entire sauce). Add the Parmesan cheese and season to taste. At this point, if you’re like me and overcooked your sauce, simply add more half-and-half (or milk) until you get to the right consistency. I kept adding half-and-half until the sauce was thick but still pourable.

When your sauce is ready, pour it over the top of the last eggplant layer and spread until even. Place the entire thing in the oven and let it bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Let cool, and then enjoy!

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