“Yia Sta Heria Stas” is what you will hear if you host a Greek and host them heartly and profusely; translating “I kiss your hand”. This means they are commending your culinary skills. I guess I have gone on a Greek spree this week cooking up recipes inspired by the Greek cuisine. I must say, it is absolutely astonishing and the reason I say this is because Greeks are lavish in their dining just as East Asians, though I might add that just as other Mediterranean cuisines, Greek cuisine eat a lot more healthier as compared to East Asians with less use of oil and fats and abundant use of fresh vegetables, olives and of-course needless to say, olive oils are an utter favourite of the cuisine as Emeril Lagasse says “You’ve got to have good olive oil. You should have cooking olive oil and you should have a finishing olive oil, like an extra-virgin Olive oil”. The Greeks celebrate food in all its glory and it’s more than just food, it’s culture, it’s comfort of home cooking and it’s profuse social bonding. They profoundly make use of seasonal crops and harvest and add simple flavours with clever seasonings to make you sing of your palate.
The food culture holds massive similarities with the Turkish cuisine and has impressive influences of the Ottoman Empire Food cultures. The Greeks celebrate food, thats was the first thought that came to my mind when I read about it’s culture and food; firstly, Greek culinary traditions spans over hundreds of years and has evolved with time to absorb many diverse influences and the Greeks have made use of those influences beautifully because truly “cooking is about imbibing different cultures and putting them in a plate on the table” (Johnny Luzzini). For the most of it, Greek food is a part of a larger tradition of the Ottoman Empire Food culture absorbing diversity from the Arab, Persian and Turkish traditions. Many dishes are extremely similar to that of the Turkish cuisine like the Borek, Tazitziki Yogurt Dip and Moussaka. An absolute delectable quintessential Greek lasagna that will nourish your hunger to utter satisfaction. The meat is flavored with Greek seasonings and layered between Fried Aubergines and Potatoes with a garlic infused cheesy Béchamel sauce and a crumbly crust. Give your palate a Greek vacation with this saucy, cheesy and luscious lasagna.
Mousakka is originally a lamb dish and is a take on the English Shepherds pie and Lasagne but is layered between eggplant and potatoes instead of pasta. As compared to lasagne, it is much much lighter as a meal but in itself is extremely hearty. It is ofcourse loaded with cheesy goodness and what sets the flavour apart is the addition of mint in the meat. I made the Mousakka with beef mince instead of lamb as no one in my family is fond of lamb, but if you would like, you can go ahead and make it with chicken mince or lamb mince as well. One more thing I did a little differently with the meat mix, is that, I added roughly chopped sausages to it. It gave the meat a nice smoky flavour and enhanced it’s flavour.
Another thing I did differently is I lightly fried the potatoes slices with a little salt to give them some crunch instead of just layering raw potatoes slices in the pie. I personally think, it really enhanced the flavour of the dish. It was like adding slices of crispy potato chips on the meat. One note though, make sure the potato slices are not thick but thinly sliced. Coming to the Eggplant, it is always good to slice the Eggplant and sprinkle it with salt and leave it for a good 10 minutes to draw out all the moisture. What this does is that it helps prevent the Eggplant releasing too much water in the sauce while it’s baking and keep the pie luscious gooey instead of soaking wet. Also, when slicing the Eggplant, you can slice it lengthwise or in circles, it really doesn’t matter as it’s going to be covered in Bechamel sauce anyway.
The Bechamel sauce is your usual white sauce and I added a little garlic to the sauce. It really added a nice tang to it and infused with the rest of the flavours of the dish beautifully, but, if you prefer not adding it, that is completely fine as well. Mousakka also, doesn’t have a crunchy crust on top but rather a gooey cheesy layer, I wanted a little crust and crunch to my sauce and so I added crushed Ritz (salted biscuits) because I was out of breadcrumbs. The biscuits really did the job so perfectly but if you don’t have them at hand just use breadcrumbs.
The dish really is extremely hearty and one slice is more than enough for one serving, the fried eggplant and potatoe slices, oozing succulent smoky meat mix with a hint of mint, crusty cheesy top and absolute Greek flavours, this will be a family favourite on your dinner table for sure. Yes, it takes a little time, about 40 minutes to an hour, to be exact but it’s so worth the effort. Next time when you have a weekend family brunch, this dish is simply an amazing decision to cook up for happy and satisfied eaters, not to mention, boosting off your efforts and skills and like I believe to be true, “I am just someone who likes cooking and for whom sharing food is a form of expression” (Maya Angelou).
1. Beef mince — 600g
2. Red bell Pepper chopped — 1
3. Sausages chopped — 6
3. Onion chopped –1
4. Green chili — 2
5. Sun-dried tomato paste — 1tbsp
6. Tomato Puree — ½ cup
7. Garlic clove — 2
8. Mint chopped — ½ cup
9. Dried oregano — 2tsp
10. Salt — 1tsp
11. Black pepper –1 tsp
12. Cinnamon powder — ½ tsp
13. All-spice — ½ tsp
14. Potatoes sliced thinly in circles — 2
15. Aubergine sliced thinly in circles — 2
16. Oil — 6 tbsp
Béchamel sauce ~
1. Butter — 4 tbsp
2. Flour — 4 tbsp
3. Milk — 1- ½ cup
4. Salt — ½ tsp
5. Black pepper — ½ tsp
6. All-spice powder — ¼ tsp
7. Nutmeg — 1/4 tsp
8. Cheddar cheese — 1 cup
9. Mozerella cheese — 1 cup 10. Garlic cloves — 2
11. Panko bread crumbs/Ritz Biscuits Crushed — 8 tbsp
1. Prepare the mince ~
a. In a cooking pot, heat up oil 3 tbsp and add the chopped onions.
b. Sauté the onions until translucent and add the mince.
c. Add chopped red bell pepper, green chilies and chopped sausages.
d. Add in the sun-dried tomato paste, tomato puree, salt, black pepper, oregano, all-spice, cinnamon and garlic.
e. Mix everything together and let cook until the water has almost evaporated, on high heat for 10-15 minutes. Keep stirring in between.
f. Add in the chopped mint and mix.
g. Set aside.
2. Prepare the Veggies ~
a. As the meat is cooking away, prepare the veggies.
b. Cut the Aubergine into thin circles. Lay them on a plate, sprinkle a little salt on top and leave for 10 minutes.
c. Slice the potatoes thinly.
d. In a fry pan, fry the potatoes until light golden in about 2 tbsp of oil. Fry these in batches and do not over crowd the fry pan.
e. After the potatoes are done, heat the remaining oil again in the same fry pan and fry the Aubergine slices until golden.
f. At this point the potatoes and aubergines don’t have to be cooked all the way through as they will further bake in the oven.
g. Set aside.
3. Prepare the Béchamel sauce ~
a. In a sauce pan, melt butter and add in the grated garlic.
b. Cook for a few seconds and add in the flour.
c. Cook for a minute and add in the milk.
d. Add salt, pepper, all-spice and nutmeg.
e. As the sauce starts to thicken, add in the grated cheddar cheese.
f. The sauce shouldn’t be too thick. If it is too thick, add in more milk.
g. Set the sauce aside.
h. This sauce can be made a day ahead.
4. Layering ~
a. Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
b. In a baking pyrex dish, layer half of the aubergines and potatoes at the bottom.
c. Layer half of the meat mixture on top.
d. Pour half of the Béchamel sauce on top and repeat the layers again.
e. Top with mozzarella cheese and spread the bread crumbs all over.
f. Drizzle with a little olive/regular oil to help the cheese melt smoothly.
g. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until the cheese turns golden brown on top.