A Greek Traditional Dish With Short Cuts
"Prepared traditionally, the wonderful Greek casserole called moussaka, which is made of
ground lamb, eggplant and cream sauce, is anything but slim and speedy. Loving the dish
as much as I do, I've figured out some ways to speed up the preparation time and make it
taste less heavy. I brush the eggplant with a modest amount of olive oil and bake it rather
than sauteing it in a lot of oil, and substitute a mix of ricotta, feta and yogurt for the cream sauce. Call me a heretic, but I believe this version is every bit as good as the more time-consuming, heavier classic version."
-- Sara Moulton
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a large rimmed baking sheet and a 9-inch square baking pan or 10-inch oval casserole dish.
Peel the eggplant and cut it crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Combine the olive oil with 1/4 teaspoon salt and brush the mixture on both sides of the eggplant slices. Arrange the slices in one layer on the baking sheet and bake them until they are just tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the eggplant from the oven and set it aside until it is cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Crumble the lamb into the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until the lamb is no longer pink. Transfer the lamb to a bowl using a slotted spatula, draining as much fat as possible back into the skillet. Remove and discard all but 1 tablespoon lamb fat from the skillet.
While the lamb is cooking, coarsely chop the onion (about 1 cup). Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon lamb fat in the skillet over high heat until hot. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes. Press the garlic (about 2 teaspoons) into the skillet and cook for 1 minute more. Chop the oregano (1 tablespoon) and the parsley (about 1/4 cup).
Return the lamb to the skillet and stir in the red wine, tomato paste, oregano, and cinnamon. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the wine has almost evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
Crumble the feta cheese into a medium bowl. Stir in the ricotta and parsley. Set aside 1/2 cup of the mixture.
Arrange one-third of the eggplant in the oiled pan or casserole dish. Top it with the lamb mixture. Add another one-third of the eggplant, the ricotta mixture in the bowl, and then the final one third of eggplant. Stir the yogurt into the reserved ricotta mixture and spread it over the eggplant. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the moussaka is heated through and the top cheese layer has set.
Spoon the moussaka onto plates and serve immediately.
Note: If using beef or turkey, it may be necessary to add some olive oil to the skillet before adding the meat.
Hands-on time: 25 minutes
Total preparation time: 60 minutes
Food Styled by Karen Pickus
What is Greek-style yogurt?
These days most supermarkets carry Greek-style strained yogurt as well as the regular yogurt;
one brand I like is called Fage. Greek-style yogurt is much thicker in texture than your usual
supermarket varieties and even the no fat version is delicious. (I know I usually say no fat,
no flavor. I am contradicting myself, but in this case no fat does have flavor.) If you can't find
Greek yogurt, you can simulate your own: Purchase about one-third more regular yogurt than
the amount of Greek yogurt called for in the recipe and allow it to drain in a coffee filter–lined
strainer in the refrigerator for about 4 hours, or until it has reduced to the necessary amount.
For example, drain 1 cup regular yogurt to get 2/3 cup or 3 cups regular yogurt to get 2 cups.