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This was our last dinner in Chicago.

My Big Fat Greek Restaurant

This was our first dinner at home, naturally.

Can you think of anything better to do with this?

vegetables

The eggplants and lettuce are not from the garden.

The eggplants, labeled “Puerto Rican” at the store, are very pretty, with white and purple stripes.

eggplants

They’re probably Listada de Gandia variety, that I’ve been thinking of growing, but first a taste test was in order. They went into the vegetarian moussaka.

They taste alright, the eggplants. Not much different from those big oval black purple eggplants. The skin is a little tough. I still prefer Ichiban or other Asian varieties. The moussaka, however, was great.

individual moussaka

Moussaka
I’ve made moussaka only a handful of times. It’s one of those dishes that take a lot of time to prepare. The result is usually spectacular, if a bit too heavy on the oil, because of the frying step. I’m revising my recipe to make it vegetarian and lighter. And I like it better. Some might accuse it of not being authentic, but does a dish have to be authentic to taste good? I think it’s important to know authentic versions of dishes and understand the recipes, but once you do, you should be allowed to tweak them and make them your own. After all, everybody has his or her own preference.

If you’re short on time, you can prep the vegetables and make the meat/tomato sauce the night before. Then the next day, make the béchamel sauce and assemble the dish.

The vegetables
3 medium-sized eggplants
2 large potatoes
2 large zucchini (optional)
Olive oil

1. Slice the vegetables into thin rounds, ½ inch for the eggplants, and ¼ inch for the potatoes and zucchini.
2.Toss vegetables in olive oil, place in single layers on baking sheets, and roast in 375° F oven for about 10-15 minutes. You want the vegetables to soften but not cooked all the way.

Traditionally, the potatoes are boiled and the eggplants and/or zucchini are fried in olive oil. You can, of course, choose to do this. I used to do it. But you’ll end up using more oil with this method. The choice is yours.

The meat/tomato sauce
I made vegetarian sauce for my moussaka, adding diced zucchini instead of the ground beef/lamb. If you want meat sauce, then add browned ground meat, about 1 ½ lbs, to the sauce.

2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups diced zucchini
½ cup red wine
½ cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme are all good. I have a lot of herbs in my garden, so I used all of them)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ ground allspice
2 cups crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper

1. In a large sauté pan or skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Sauté onion until translucent. Add garlic and sauté for another minute.
2. Add diced zucchini or browned meat, it using. Continue to sauté until zucchini is wilted.
3. Add cinnamon and allspice, and stir to distribute.
4. Add wine and let it simmer and reduce a little, about 2-3 minutes.
5. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, herbs, sugar, salt & pepper.
6. Stir and let simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes, or until sauce thickens and excess liquid has evaporated. Sauce should be slightly drier and chunkier than spaghetti sauce.

The béchamel sauce
½ stick of butter (my original recipe calls for a lot more butter. I reduced it drastically to this amount, which I think didn’t affect the taste all that much.)
6 tbsp flour
2 cups chicken broth + 1 cup milk, warmed (you can use all milk, if you prefer)
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten (or 2 whole eggs)
Freshly grated nutmeg, just a pinch

1. Melt butter in a medium-size, heavy saucepan, over medium heat.
2. When butter starts to bubble, add flour, 2 tbsp at a time, and whisk constantly. It will appear dry because we use very little butter, but that’s okay. It will be okay, trust me.
3. Start adding the warm liquid (broth + milk) slowly, while continuously whisking, to make a smooth sauce.
4. Remove from heat. Add a little of the sauce to the beaten egg yolk and use a whisk to mix. This is to temper the eggs, so they won’t curdle when they’re added to the sauce. Do this a couple of times before adding the eggs to the sauce.
5. Return sauce to heat, add nutmeg, and continue stirring until it thickens.

Assembling the moussaka
You need grated cheese to sprinkle between the layers. Traditionally kefalotyri cheese is used. A good substitute for it is kasseri cheese. But you know what, neither is available in my grocery store. So I used Sargento’s artisan blends cheese (Swiss & Gruyere). I thought the result was excellent. You can probably use Parmesan, too.

1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
2. Spray your baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. You can use a lasagna pan or make individual moussakas in small ramekins, which I think makes for a more attractive presentation. I used a round casserole dish (10 inch) and 4 (5 oz)ramekins.
3. Place a layer of potatoes on the bottom.
4. Add meat/tomato sauce. Sprinkle some cheese.
5. Place a layer of eggplants on top of the cheese.
6. Add more meat/tomato sauce. Sprinkle some more cheese.
7. Place a layer of zucchini. This time instead of the meat/tomato sauce, pour the béchamel sauce on top of the zucchini. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top..
8. Bake for up to 30 minutes for the ramekins, and 45 minutes for the casserole dish, or until béchamel sauce turns golden brown.
9. Let cool for 15 minutes before slicing.

souvlaki

Souvlaki (Grilled meat on skewers)
You can use beef, chicken, or pork. Although pork is usually the meat preferred for souvlaki.

1 lb beef, chicken, or pork, cut into 1½ inch cubes
Onions, peppers, or tomatoes (optional), cut up about the same size as the meat
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced fresh oregano
1 tbsp minced fresh parsley
Salt & pepper
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (optional and obviously not authentic, but I like it in all my grilled meat. Just reduce the salt if you decide to use it.)

1. Mix the marinade ingredients together. Add the meat, toss so that marinade covers all pieces of meat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
2. If using wooden skewers, soak them in warm water for an hour prior to using.
3. Thread the meat on to the skewers, adding vegetables every few pieces.
4. Grill slowly over low-medium heat, turning occasionally until they are cooked through. Serve with pita bread, tzatziki sauce, and lemon wedges.

By the way, does anybody know what the Greek equivalent of the phrase “It’s all Greek to me” is? Obviously, if you’re Greek, you wouldn’t be saying that.

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