My Kitchen Antics: Beef Moussaka

My boss is a brilliant cook- you know- the types that can whip up something with whatever is in the pantry and make a fabulous meal out of it. She refuses to let me take lunch to work which means I get to enjoy her fabulous cooking. I have learnt so many new methods of cooking, easy to make dishes and new ingredient names, and always come back home and try them out much to Ro’s amusement. He’s secretly thanking her, I’m sure 🙂 

Last week I was whining to her about how planning daily meals were such a feat and she gave me this idea to cook with aubergines. Both Ro and I were not aubergine fans till a while back when we went to an aunts place for lunch and she served baingan bhartha with biryani. We loved it so much that we got the recipe from her and tried it at home. As expected, it wasn’t even close to what we had in mind and so gave up. After that, I may have tried working with aubergines about 5 or 6 times and 3 of those (successful ones) have appeared on the blog (actually one of it is what my friend Rashida made and sent over, so not counted). Aubergine parmigiana was another successful one and we loved it, but pictures were rubbish and hence couldn’t blog it. 

So anyways, Dora gave me this really easy recipe to cook with aubergines and I got all worked up at how easy it was. But of course on the 1 hour train ride back home from work my mind decided to go on overdrive and research aubergine recipes. Moussaka was up there on search results and yes, it had to be made that evening. I went straight to the grocery store to pick up ingredients (of course got carried away and bought a whole lot of other rubbish as well) and came back home all ready to cook. Its a bloody long process- this thing called Moussaka. When I read the recipe, I had no idea how tedious it was and many times during the process I wanted to just cut it short and make something else out of it. The fact that I could make a blog post out of this was at the back of my mind and I think that’s what made me determined enough to continue with the actual process. (Some good has come out of owning a blog i guess??)

At the end of it all, I must admit, it was thoroughly worth it, like really really worth it. Both Ro and I enjoyed it and I made a note to experiment with aubergine again. I served it with a fabulous salad I learnt from an aunt this time i was in India (will try and blog it some other time) and a gorgeous bottle of red.

Word of caution: Attempt ONLY when you have time.

Recipe adapted from here (serves 3 generously)

Olive oil- 2 tbsp
Onion- 1 large, finely chopped
Garlic- 4 cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Minced beef- 450 gms
Cinnamon powder- 1/4 tsp
Oregano- 1/2 tbsp, dried
Allspice- 1/4 tsp
Bay leaf- 1
Thyme leaves- 1/2 tsp, dried
Tinned, chopped tomatoes- 1, 400 gm tin

Dry white wine- 90ml

Aubergines- 3 medium, cut into 1 cm slices
Pepper- to taste
Salt- to taste

Bechamel sauce (topping)
Butter- 45 gms, unsalted
Plain flour- 45 gms
Milk- 450ml
Parmesan cheese- 45 gms
Gruyère cheese- 50 gms, grated
Egg yolks- 2

Place the sliced aubergines in a large bowl, sprinkle with salt and leave aside for about 30 minutes. This will draw out any bitter juices.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the onions for about 10 minutes on medium heat. The onions should turn soft, but not brown.
Add garlic and sauté for a couple more minutes.
Into this add the mince meat and break it up, while mixing it into the sauteed onions.
Stir in the cinnamon, oregano, allspice, thyme and bay leaves followed by chopped tomatoes. Stir it all together till well combined.
De-glaze the pan with white wine, season with enough salt and pepper and cover and cook for another 15 minutes or so on medium heat, till the meat is cooked and the mix is thick.
Once the sauce is ready, cover and keep aside

While the meat is being cooked, you can deal with the aubergines.
Preheat oven to 200C
Rinse the aubergines in a colander and pat dry with a kitchen towel.
Toss with some olive oil and line on 2 baking trays, trying not to overlap.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or till the slices turn a light brown.

To make the bechamel sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour.
Take off heat and slowly whisk in the milk.
Return pan to heat and continue stirring till the sauce thickens.
Simmer for a further 5 minutes on low heat and then remove from heat.
Stir in around 30 gms of parmesan and gruyere cheese, season with salt and pepper and keep aside to cool lightly.
Once cool, whisk in the egg yolks till no trace is visible.

Once all the preparation is done, you can assemble the moussaka.
Into a large baking casserole/ dish generously spread a third of the mince.
Cover with aubergine slices, overlapping each other.
Repeat the layers, ending with a final layer of the mince.
Finally pour over the bechamel sauce, sprinkle both the remaining cheese and bake for 40 to 50 minutes or till it bubbling and golden on top.
Take the casserole out of the oven, leave aside to settle for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Notes: Yes, its a frikkin long recipe and procedure. Atleast 2 hours including prep and cooking
Bechamel sauce can be made a day or 2 ahead and refrigerated in an air tight container
Try and serve it with a refreshing salad or some bread, to cut through the grease and cream.
Traditionally Moussaka is made with lamb mince but I’m not a big lamb fan, hence used minced beef. Feel free to replace the beef with lamb mince. 

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