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Are you one of those many gardeners wondering what to do with all those eggplants that just seem to keep showing up?
Eggplant isn’t a particularly popular vegetable in the United States, but it’s a favorite in many areas of the South.
Thomas Jefferson, who experimented with many varieties of plants in his Virginia garden, is credited with introducing eggplant to North America.
Eggplant, a member of the nightshade family along with potatoes, tomatoes and peppers, is actually a fruit, and is classified botanically as a berry.
It ranks among the most popular edible vegetables of the world, since it is enjoyed throughout the Mediterranean basin, the Far East, the Americas and practically in all Latin American countries.
Moussaka is one of the world’s classic dishes and variations on this basic dish are found all over the Mediterranean world. It’s not a hard dish to prepare, given a certain level of technical skill.
Before you start, gather all the ingredients together and plan to devote the needed time to the job, at least an hour, and probably a bit more. It is well worth the effort. A good Moussaka is wonderful eating and very, very impressive to serve.
A Moussaka is constructed out of three parts that need prior preparation: fried eggplant, a white sauce and a tomato meat sauce, and also breadcrumbs and cheese.
1 cup coarse dry bread crumbs
2 cups Mozzarella or other white cooking cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, optional
Use three medium eggplants, peeled, sliced 1/2- inch thick. Add salt and let drain for 1/2 hour while you prepare the white sauce and start the red sauce. Place sliced eggplant in a bag with flour and a good grind of black pepper. Brown in a bit of hot olive oil. Be careful with the amount of oil, and use only enough to brown a few slices at a time. The eggplant will absorb an amazing amount of oil if you let it, and things can become very greasy. Drain the eggplant and reserve.
6 Tbsps. butter
6 Tbsps. flour
3 cups milk
3 eggs, well beaten
In a saucepan over medium heat, mix together the butter and flour. Whisk for a couple minutes until well blended, and then add milk. Gently bring to a boil, stirring, and simmer a couple minutes. Whisk a cup or so of this mixture into the beaten eggs. Whisk the egg mixture back into the white sauce and bring up to a gentle simmer, whisking until thick.
Do not boil, or sauce will scramble. Add a good grating of nutmeg and a dash of Tabasco sauce. Let sauce cool. It should be quite thick. The white sauce can be prepared a day ahead of time and refrigerated.
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1-1/2 lb. ground lamb
Large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp dried leaf oregano
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1Tbsp. chopped mint
Salt and pepper to taste
In heavy frying pan, brown the lamb in the olive oil; drain grease. Add onion and garlic and saute until onion is translucent. Add tomato sauce, cinnamon, oregano, parsley and mint. Salt and pepper to taste. Simmer gently until quite thick.
The red sauce can also be prepared well ahead of time and keeps well refrigerated.
To assemble the Moussaka:
Use a good-sized casserole with a cover. Place about 1/3 of the eggplant on the bottom in a solid layer. Trim eggplant to fit. Spread 1/2 of the meat mixture on top. Spread 1/3 of white sauce over meat. Sprinkle with 1 cup cheese, 1/3 cup of crumbs. Repeat this set of layers.
Then put in a layer of the rest of the eggplant, the rest of the white sauce and cover with the rest of the crumbs. Garnish top with a sprinkle of red chile or paprika and a small handful of chopped parsley. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for an hour; uncover and bake until browned on top and bubbly.
Serve Moussaka with a green salad, good bread and a bottle of light red wine. Greek Retsina wine is an acquired taste, but quite wonderful with Moussaka.
For crispier eggplant, dip in beaten eggs and coat with seasoned breadcrumbs before frying.
1 large eggplant, about 2 pounds
3/4 cup olive oil
2 cups canned tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz. shredded Mozzarella cheese
Peel eggplant and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Fry on both sides in skillet in hot oil until browned. Drain well on paper towels. Place a layer of eggplant slices in a shallow baking dish; cover with some tomato sauce, a sprinkling of basil and garlic powder, a little Parmesan cheese, and a little of Mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers until all ingredients are used, ending with Mozzarella cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Ever get tired of slicing up eggplant and frying the slices prior to using them in many recipes? Check out this quick and easy eggplant recipe that doesn’t require frying them first.
4 cups artichoke hearts, canned
1 eggplant, peeled, diced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsps. olive oil
Cut artichokes into quarters. In a large skillet, add olive oil and place over high heat. Add artichokes and eggplant and braise well until eggplant is tender. Add salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately when all ingredients are well blended. Makes 4 servings.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.