Foodie Fix

Embracing International Cuisines: Greek Moussaka

Historically Rwandan’s diet consisted of foods steamed or boiled with minimal spices and herbs. Sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and green bananas were commonly cooked on top of red beans to make a one-pot meal.

 As times changed, regional influences played a part in what came to be modern “Rwandan Cuisine”, or in this case, what most of Rwandan households typically eat. Nevertheless, the overall cuisine still remains quite plain for people not used to it.

Due to this, the average Rwandan finds other cuisines quite overwhelming and it’s hard for the majority to adopt to different tastes. A few cuisines have managed to make its way into the market, like Chinese, Italian and Indian.

With the growing wave of the Rwanda Diaspora and the International community in the country, I believe it’s wise that we start getting accustomed to different tastes from all over the World.

It’s in this light that I want to start a series where once a month we learn about a foreign food that is not common to us. This week I will be introducing one of the most famous Greek comfort foods: Moussaka.

Moussaka is a baked eggplant or potato-based dish which often includes ground meat (traditionally Lamb) topped with a béchamel sauce and cheese. It is layered similar to Lasagna with a crispy and golden cheese top.

The origin of the dish still remains a topic to be agreed upon, but most researchers believe that it was introduced by Arabs that brought eggplants to the area.

The traditional Moussaka had a lot of influence in taste and cooking method from Turkish Cuisine. Around 1920, Nikos Tselementes – a Greek chef educated in France – started a campaign to modernize Greek cuisine in an attempt to disengage it from all the Turkish influence. The modern recipe that is now used was his attempt to Europeanize the dish, since European cuisine – particularly French – was seen as superior in that period.

I first ate this dish about 2 years ago when I was in a Middle East and Mediterranean cuisine class, but haven’t had the chance to enjoy it again. This Saturday, I made it for my family: however, it didn’t go as planned since the person I sent to buy Gouda cheese decided to bring Mozzarella, so the end result tasted something in between a Moussaka and a Pizza. Apparently it was a hit, so I won’t complain. 

Note: The dish calls for Parmesan which is a little pricey in Kigali, but if the budget allows feel free to get it from Frulep or MTN Center supermarket in Nyarutarama, it does make a difference. 


Greek Moussaka

It is recommended to use a deep baking dish – I purchased mine from Simba Supermarket at a reasonable price; I have also seen more at T2000 and Shema shop in town.

I followed this recipe by Kimberly Killebrew and I would recommend it for those wanting to try it in their homes.

This recipe serves 8 people; feel free to adjust it to your own preference!

Ingredients

2 large eggplants, sliced 1/4 inch thick

2 large potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 kg lean ground beef

2 onions, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 large tomatoes, diced

2 tablespoons tomato paste 

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon parsley

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup red wine

Bread crumbs (for the base of the casserole)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup & 1 tablespoon of flour

3 cups whole milk

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 egg yolks

Instructions

Step 1: Place the eggplant slice in a single layer on paper towels; sprinkle lightly with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes to draw out the moisture.

Step 2: Heat a skillet over high heat, add some of the olive oil and fry a batch of the prepped eggplant slices on both sides until lightly browned. Place the slices on fresh paper towels to soak up the oil. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices.

Step 3: Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the potato slices. Boil for 5 minutes, drain, and rinse with cold water to prevent further cooking.

Step 4: In a large skillet, over medium heat, add the olive oil and brown the ground beef until no pink remains. Add the onions and garlic and continue to cook until the onions are soft, about 5-7 minutes.

Step 5: Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, all the seasonings, the bay leaf, and the wine. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Step 6: Remove the lid and allow it to simmer for another 10 minutes, or until almost all of the liquid is absorbed. This is important or the casserole will be too watery. Allow the sauce to cool, and then stir in the beaten egg.

Step 7: To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and use a wire whisk to blend it with the butter. Continue whisking for another 1-2 minutes.

Step 8: Gradually add milk while continually whisking to prevent lumps. Whisk until the mixture is smooth. Add the Parmesan cheese, salt and nutmeg. Continue whisking until all clumps have dissolved (if you haven’t caught on to the trend yet, this sauce requires a lot of whisking!).

Step 9: Continue to whisk (there we go again!) the sauce until it thickens and has simmered for about 3 minutes. Turn off heat and remove the saucepan from the burner. Allow the sauce to cool for about 20 minutes. Then whisk in the egg yolks until thoroughly blended.

Step 10: Sprinkle a thin, even layer of fine bread crumbs on the bottom of the dish. This will help absorb the liquid from the vegetables.

Step 11: Arrange a layer of slightly overlapping potatoes on the bottom of a greased 9×13 inch baking dish. Next, add a layer of eggplant slices, slightly overlapping them. Evenly spread out the meat sauce on top. Add another layer of eggplant slices, and top it all off with the béchamel sauce.

Step 12: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and bake, uncovered, for 1 hour.

Step 13: Remove the Moussaka and allow it to sit for 15 minutes before serving to allow the liquid in the bottom of the dish to absorb.

Opa! Greek Moussaka

Enjoy a ‘Taste Tour’ of Greece, 2,765 miles away across the globe, from the comfort of your own home!

Bon Appétit!


{Featured image: Greek Moussaka courtesy RecipeTinEats}


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