I’ve never been one to mince my words but I admit I’ve been quiet on the blogging front for far too long. I’ve no excuses, or certainly none you’d care to read, but just because I’ve been under the radar doesn’t mean I’ve stopped cooking. Far from it. TOH was home on ‘annual leave’ (a concept we are both trying to learn) this week and I wanted to cook us some real comfort food. We toyed with lasagne, I even made a pieminister Moo-dy Blues (aka the most amazing steak and stilton pie you’ll ever try), but it was moussaka that was at the top of our list.
Moussaka was one of the first meals I ever had abroad. Having only enjoyed travel in my adult years (since I started earning a bit of dollar) a trip to Halkidiki (Greece) was one of my first adventures outside of the British Isles. I indulged in dolmades, stifado, kelfitiko and beautiful moussaka. It is such an easy and relatively cheap dish to make that it soon became part of my cooking repertoire at home, too.
So, here is my version of moussaka. It is by no means authentic but I can guarantee it is incredibly moreish and comforting and is easily adaptable to your own taste. Don’t be intimidated by the number of ingredients – most of them are spices or store cupboard items which you probably have to hand anyway, and if not, leave it out or swap it for something else: that is the beauty of this meal. The two of us demolished this dish (which serves six) in less than 24 hours. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.
900g minced beef
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium white onions
1 garlic clove
1 small red chilli
3 sticks celery
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 tsp ras el hanout
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
3 whole cloves
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp dried ginger
½ tsp ground allspice
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 large glass red wine
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tin chickpeas
2 tbsp smoked rapeseed oil (or olive oil will do)
4 large white potatoes
1 pint milk (I use semi-skimmed but whatever you normally drink)
½ cup of butter
½ cup of flour
1 tsp of English mustard powder
2 handfuls of grated mature cheddar
1 egg yolk
Salt and pepper
1. Slice your aubergine into long, cm-thick slices. Drizzle your smoked rapeseed oil (the smokiness complements the flavour of the aubergine beautifully) onto a non-stick tray and then wipe the slices (on both sides) in the oil, place on the tray and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a hot oven at about 200°C until soft.
2. While the aubergine is roasting, slice your onions and celery and sweat in a pan until translucent in the olive oil. Add your bay leaf, thyme leaves (discard the stalks), dried oregano and sliced garlic and red chilli.
3. Continue to stir before adding your mince. Leave the mince for a few minutes so it browns, and then stir until all the meat is browned. Add all of the spices and let them cook for 30 seconds, before adding the glass of red wine.
4. Let the wine bubble and the sharp alcoholic smell disappear (this should take about a minute), then add the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree and pomegranate molasses.
5. Season, and let that bubble away (stirring occasionally) on a low-medium heat until most of the liquid disappears and you are left with a rich, glossy mince mixture – this should take about as much time as it takes to make the béchamel sauce. Check your aubergine slices, and take them out of the oven when cooked.
6. To make the béchamel sauce (for the top of your moussaka), melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat, add the flour and mustard powder and stir to make a roux. Let the roux cook for 30 seconds (to cook out that flour taste) and then add your milk bit by bit, stirring with a wooden spoon the whole time. I use cold milk (I know most people use hot milk but why dirty another pan?) and as long as you keep stirring you’ll never have lumps. After you’ve added the whole pint of milk you should have a silky, smooth and ribbon-stage thickness of béchamel. Let it simmer gently over a low heat (stir occasionally to stop it sticking) and meanwhile grate your cheese. Add half the cheese and stir off the heat until the cheese is melted, and leave to one side.
7. Peel and slice your potatoes thinly, as if you were making a gratin or dauphinoise. Then you’re ready to layer up!
8. Get a large casserole dish and pour in your mince mix. Throw in the drained chickpeas over the top, gently mixing to ensure they are spread throughout the dish evenly. Make a layer of roasted aubergine and a layer of your sliced potatoes.
9. Beat your egg yolk into your béchamel and pour the mix over the potatoes. Top with the rest of the grated cheese and place in the oven for 40 minutes at about 180°C until the potatoes are cooked and the cheesy béchamel top has gone golden and bubbly. Then eat, copiously. Enjoy.