Remember in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” when elementary-school-Toula opens her lunch box and the mean girl calls it “moose caca?!” Well, that mean girl was mean AND ignorant, because moussaka is wicked good. The first time I had it, the top was a lovely oak-leaves-in-November color and the bechamel quivered with delight. I hated it. However, I did appreciate the creamy-white dishes and the eggplant’s insouciant mystery.
I have grown in wisdom and stature.
Enough prevaricating. Here you go: Meg’s Moussaka (adapted from Alton Brown, who suggests you fry the eggplant. He is incorrect.)
STEP 1: Trim top and bottom off 4 eggplants and slice into rounds, about 1/2″ thick, sprinkle with salt and pepper, lay out on 2 cookie sheets, and pop them in the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes. 1/2″ thick is thinner than you think it is, so don’t cut them too thick or you won’t have enough for layering later. Soak 1/4 C currants in a bowl of hot water.
STEP 2: While the eggplants are cooking, cook 1 lb. of ground lamb in a skillet. (I know lamb is pricey. This is why it is a Show-Off Dinner. Check Market Basket for discount stickers, I got mine for $4.65!) Season with 1/2 t cinnamon, 1/2 t ginger, 1/4 t allspice, salt and pepper. You can cut-up a serrano chile for this step or you can ignore that noise and just dump in 1 T red pepper flakes.
STEP 3: Remove lamb to a dish with a slotted spoon, and fry up one diced onion in the lamb fat. When onions are soft, pour 1 C of red wine into the pan and simmer til it’s nearly dissolved. Garlic press 5 cloves into this mixture.
STEP 4: Add to the skillet: 1 can of crushed tomatoes (28 oz.), your drained and rehydrated currants, 1 T oregano, 1/4 C chopped flat-leaf parsley, and the lamb you previously removed. Simmer til thick.
STEP 5: Layer your casserole dish: eggplant rounds (I like to peel off the skin first, your mileage may vary) 1/2 the lamb skillet, more eggplant rounds, the rest of the skillet.
STEP 6: Set casserole dish aside. Wash prep dishes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
STEP 7: Make bechamel sauce! Melt 6 T butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in 1/2 C flour. Add 2.5 C milk, cook til thickened. Sprinkle in a little nutmeg, salt and pepper. Let sauce cool for a minute with a bay leaf chillin’ in there.
STEP 8: In a small bowl, whisk up 3 egg yolks, zest of 1 lemon, and 1/2 C goat cheese. I don’t measure, I just buy the little log. Whisk into Step 7 but remove the bay leaf first!
STEP 9: Pour bechamel sauce over the top of the casserole and spread it around. Sprinkle 1C grated parm/romano mixture over the top. Bake about 45 minutes til browned and bubbly. I like to cover it with foil for the first 20 minutes so it doesn’t get too browned.
Let cool before serving. Serve with a spinach, cherry tomato, and feta salad (use the juice of the lemon you zested with a little olive oil and a little honey for a vinaigrette). Bread basket. Little dish of The Fancy Olives. Baklava for dessert.
Bask in the thunderous praise of your guests! (But, you know you’re serving mac and cheese from a box very soon, so, bask modestly.)
INGREDIENT LIST: ground lamb, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, oregano, red pepper flakes (or a serrano chile), onion, garlic cloves, some leftover red wine, a big can of crushed tomatoes, fresh clump of parsley, eggplants, currants (it is time to soak your fruits for fruitcake anyway), flour, butter, a little goat cheese log, lemon, milk, some grated cheese, eggs, bay leaf.