A couple weeks ago in cooking class we learned to make moussaka. A Greek dish, moussaka involves layers of eggplant and tomato sauce, which is then topped with béchamel. The tomato sauce is typically a meat or bolognese-esque sauce, made with ground lamb (which I omit). Think lasagna without the pasta. It’s delicious. Better still, moussaka is an easy no-fuss meal to make any night of the week.
In terms of prep, you’ll need to do two things: make (or crack open a jar if you’re in a pinch) your favorite tomato sauce and cook the eggplant. For this dish I make a very simple tomato sauce: I sauté half a large onion and a shallot in olive oil over medium heat, salting to sweat. Once the onions are softened and translucent, I add a couple cloves of garlic, minced. I then add a large (16-ounce) can of crushed tomatoes and a generous tablespoon of tomato paste. Feel free to add herbs or spices for an added layer of flavor (sometimes a simple sauce is everything you need; sometimes you want a little oomph).
While the sauce is simmering, cook the eggplant. Simply slice it into manageable pieces (I cut mine into roughly 1.5” x 3” rectangles, but any length or shape will do, so long as they’re thin) and place it in a single layer in a sauté pan with olive oil. (Note: you will likely need to cook the eggplant in batches to ensure each piece is properly cooked and browned.) As anyone who’s cooked eggplant before knows, eggplants soak up a TON of oil. While this is perhaps not the best for your arteries, the end result will reward your taste buds. I’d curb your oil usage based on your personal tastes/health concerns.
Once your sauce is simmering and your eggplant is cooked, you’re ready to assemble the moussaka. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with a thin layer of breadcrumbs. I tend to think less is more when it comes to breadcrumbs but the quantity is up to you; use as much as you please. Spoon a third of the tomato sauce over the breadcrumbs, followed by half of the eggplant (arranging in a single layer). Repeat with more tomato sauce and eggplant, and then cover the eggplant with the last of the tomato sauce. Lastly, top with freshly made béchamel.
Gasp. Béchamel? How on earth am I supposed to make my own béchamel? I know. I KNOW. I had the same daunted reaction too. Béchamel couldn’t be easier, which is a shame. Just when I’d gotten accustomed to my waist size I had to go and discover homemade béchamel. Two months from now nothing is going to fit.
Béchamel is possibly the easiest of the easiest sauces to make. It’s easier than salad dressing. I shit you not. In a small sauce pan, whisk equal parts fat and flour over medium-high heat. Butter is hands down the best fat to use for this, as it imparts creaminess and flavor. Oil will result in a similar end product consistency-wise, but without the creaminess or the wow factor. Trust me with this and go for butter. Once butter and flour are combined, add a good amount of milk. Now, this is something we learned in class, where measurements (of ingredients, heat levels, and cooking duration) are frowned upon. If you’re using 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of flour, you want somewhere in the 1/2+ cup range for milk. Eyeball it. For the moussaka, I did 2 tablespoons butter and flour each and about 1 cup milk. Don’t go overboard, you can always add more. Whisk all three together until the béchamel comes together. It’s a bit like making gravy, except eons faster. Whisking over medium-high heat, the béchamel should solidify in about a minute, perhaps less. It’s fast.
Now that you have your delightfully simple (and delicious) béchamel, pour it over the top of your moussaka. Pop everything into the oven at 400F for 20-30 minutes, until béchamel is browned and tomato sauce is bubbly.
This dish has all the highlights of lasagna with none of the headaches. No noodles to cook, no egg and cheese mixture to fuss over. Same tomato and eggplant goodness, no carbs or heavy cheese to weigh you down. (Not that I’m knocking carbs or cheese, I live for them. Sometimes you need to convince yourself you’re making health food.) The béchamel imparts a splendid creaminess that satisfies any cravings for cheese or dairy. Somehow, this moussaka manages to be hearty without being heavy. And it keeps in the fridge exceptionally well. Leftovers three days later taste just as good as the first bite. Why the moms of the world don’t throw a parade in moussaka’s honor, I’m not sure. Talk about easy mid-week gourmet.