Saturday, February 4, 2017

Egyptian Moussaka









     An Egyptian Style Moussaka!
     Greek Moussaka is what most people are familiar with.  There are also Bulgarian, Persian, Turkish and Indian recipe variations and each has their own unique qualities.  Contrary to belief, Moussaka is not actually a Greek recipe.  Moussaka has its origins in the Middle East.  The original Moussaka was an Arabic mezze recipe and it was not served hot.  In fact, Arabic Moussaka is usually served chilled in modern times.  
     Egyptian Moussaka is yet another traditional recipe variation.  The Egyptian version of Moussaka was recently influenced by French or Italian cuisine during the last few hundred years, when these countries occupied North Africa.  A few hundred years may not seem like is can be described as recent history, but the history of Egyptian cuisine dates back thousands of years!
    Egyptian Moussaka is usually made with minced beef, mutton or lamb that is layered with eggplant and tomato sauce.  Egyptian Moussaka is often made with no meat at all, yet this entrée still provides plenty of protein.  This is because Egyptian Moussaka requires Fava Beans or Chickpeas.
     The spices in Egyptian Moussaka are similar to Greek Moussaka, but Egyptian food is usually mild tasting, so the amount of spices added is less by comparison.  Mild Harissa is popular nearly everywhere in North Africa and Harissa is usually added to the tomato sauce when making Egyptian Moussaka.
     Classic Greek Moussaka is topped with an egg custard, while Egyptian Moussaka is topped with a French Béchamel Sauce or an Italian Besciamella Sauce and this is where the food history of Egyptian Moussaka gets a little bit complicated.
     Both Béchamel and Besciamella are a roux thickened milk sauce.  Both France and Italy lay claim to creating the original Béchamel or Besciamella Sauce.  Some say that the French invented Béchamel Sauce while occupying Italy during the Napoleonic Wars, but the Italians say that they had been making Besciamella since long before Napoleon came to be.
     To complicate matters even more, roux thickened milk sauces were also made in ancient Greece and this bit of ancient food history may shed some light on the long running Béchamel or Besciamella originality dispute.  More than likely the Italian Besciamella Sauce is the winner, because many ancient Greek recipes were adapted by Italians way back in the days of the Roman Empire and this includes roux thickened milk sauces.
     History has a way of going full circle.  Moussaka has been a popular recipe in Egypt for a long time, but a roux thickened milk sauce did not top off Egyptian Moussaka till sometime during the French or Italian occupation of Africa in the last few hundred years.  Most historians say it was the French that added a milk sauce topping to Egyptian Moussaka, while others say it actually was the Italians.  Once again, this food history dispute looks small when compared to the long history of Egyptian cuisine.    

     Eggplant Preparation:
     This recipe yields enough for 1 portion of Moussaka.
     Step 1:  Cut an unpeeled small eggplant into 3/8" thick slices.  (About 1 1/2 cups total volume is needed.)
     Step 2:  *This step will remove the bitterness and it will help to preserve the color.
     Place the eggplant slices side by side on a platter.
     Sprinkle 1 or 2 pinches of sea salt on both sides of each eggplant slice.
     Let the eggplant sweat for 20 minutes.
     Rinse the eggplant slices with cold running water.  Pat the slices dry with a towel.
     Step 3:  Heat a wide sauté pan over medium heat.
     Add 1/3 cup of blended olive oil.
     Place the eggplant slices in the hot oil.
     Briefly sauté the eggplant slices on both sides, till they start to become tender and light brown highlights appear.
     *Try not to overcook the eggplant.  Each slice should still be fairly firm.
     Step 4:  Set the eggplant slices on a wire screen roasting rack over a drip pan to drain off any excess oil.
     Set the eggplant drain pan aside.

     Harissa Tomato Sauce: 
     This recipe yields about 1 1/2 cups.  (A little more than what is needed for 1 portion of Moussaka.) 
     Try to select a Mild Harissa Paste that is not too salty.
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil.
     Add 2 cloves of minced garlic.
     Sauté till the garlic turns a golden color.
     Step 2:  Add 1/4 cup of thin julienne sliced onion.
     Sauté till the onions turn clear in color.
     Step 3:  Add 1 1/3 cups of imported Italian canned crushed tomato.
     Add 2 tablespoons of Mild Harissa Paste.
     Add 1/4 cup of water.  
     Add 1 pinch of cardamom.
     Add 1 pinch of cinnamon.
     Add 1 pinches of cumin.
     Add 1 pinch of allspice.
     Add 2 pinches of coriander.
     Add 2 pinches of marjoram.
     Add 2 pinches of ground fenugreek.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Bring the sauce to a gentle boil while occasionally stirring.
     Step 4:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Gently simmer and reduce till the volume is about 1 1/2 cups and the sauce is a medium consistency.  (About 5 minutes.)
     Remove the pot from the heat.
     Set the sauce aside and stir before using.

     Lamb Preparation:
     This recipe yields enough for 1 portion of Moussaka. 
     Beef is used more often than lamb for Egyptian Moussaka.  If no ground lamb is available, then use lean ground beef. 
     Step 1:  Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of blended olive oil.
     Add 6 ounces of lean ground lamb.
     Stir with a whisk, so any large clumps break into small pieces.
     Sauté till the lamb is fully cooked and lightly browned.
     Step 2:  Place the cooked ground lamb in a strainer to drain off the excess grease.
     Set the cooked ground lamb aside.

     Béchamel Sauce For Moussaka: 
     This recipe yields 1 cup.  (More than enough for 1 portion of Moussaka.)
     This is a simple Béchamel Sauce variation.  
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add an equal amount of flour while constantly stirring with a whisk to make a roux.  (The roux should look shiny, not caky.)
     Constantly stir till the roux is pale whitish yellow color.
     Step 2:  Add 1/4 cup of cream while stirring.
     Add 1 1/4 cups of milk while stirring.
     Stir till the sauce comes to a gentle boil and thickens to a very thin consistency.
     Step 3:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 1 small pinch of nutmeg.
     Gently simmer and reduce till the sauce is a medium consistency that can easily coat a spoon.
     Step 4:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Set the Béchamel Sauce aside.

     Egyptian Moussaka:
     This recipe yields 1 hearty portion.
     Step 1:  Select an 8" wide round individual portion casserole dish.
     Spread 1/4 cup of the Harissa Tomato Sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish.
     Step 2:  Place the reserved cooked ground lamb in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1/2 cup of rinsed canned Fava Beans (or rinsed cooked Fava Beans).
     Add 3/4 cup of the Harissa Tomato Sauce.
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Place the sauced lamb and Fava Bean mixture in the casserole dish.
     Spread the mixture, so it is an even layer.
     Step 3:  Dip each of the prepared sautéed eggplant slices in the remaining Harissa Tomato Sauce.
     *Only a very thin coating is needed to flavor the eggplant.
     Place the eggplant slices on top of the meat and bean mixture, so the eggplant slices are an even layer.  
     Step 4:  Pour a generous amount of the Béchamel sauce over the eggplant slices.  (About 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup.)
     Step 5:  Place the casserole dish on a baking pan.  (Do not cover the casserole dish with a lid!)
     Place the casserole pan in a 350ºF oven.
     Bake till the ingredients are piping hot and the Bechamel Sauce is lightly browned.
     Step 6:  Remove the Egyptian Moussaka from the oven and allow it to cool for 2 minutes before serving.
     Set the casserole dish on a doily lined serving platter.
     Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig.

     The flavor of Egyptian Moussaka will certainly please guests and this classic entrée is hearty enough to be served when the winter weather is icy cold! 

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