I love the flavor profiles in Greek food. Lemon, garlic, oregano, dill and mint. I love the sharp tang of the various sheep’s milk cheese used in Greek cooking. I frequently make a side dish of chopped spinach, fresh dill and mint with a smattering of good quality feta cheese and a squeeze of fresh lemon. My guests always seem to love it. It’s a big step up from ordinary cooked spinach. The flavors are bright and fresh and it is a snap to put together.
What could I make to go with that spinach? After flipping through a few magazines and then a couple of cookbooks, I came up with Moussaka – OPA!! Okay, I know you’re only supposed to shout, Opa! when the flaming saganaki cheese arrives at your table in a Greek restaurant, but I can’t help myself. I like to shout Opa! when any Greek food comes to my table. Actually, I like to shout, Opa! whenever the mood strikes me.
After reading five or six different recipes, I came up with my own variation. I don’t eat any wheat or gluten, and the typical creamy cheese topping on Moussaka begins with a flour and butter roux. So, I needed a variation on the standard topping. I ended up using a blend of ricotta cheese, Greek yogurt, an egg, soft goat cheese and a handful of grated pecorino romano. The combination of the goat cheese and the pecorino romano, which is a sheep’s milk cheese, gave me that tangy zing I was looking for. The combination of the ricotta and the yogurt mimicked the roux beautifully.
The meat sauce in Moussaka is what will make or break this classic Greek dish. It is a blend of lamb, onion, garlic, tomatoes, red wine and a very aromatic blend of spices; cinnamon, allspice, clove and bay leaf. Wow, I had forgotten how delicious this dish can be until the meat sauce came together. Just a few pinches of this unusual spice combo makes this dish other-worldly!
Traditional Moussaka, also known as Greek lasagna, is a multi-layered affair. It’s fussy and time consuming to make. I took the easy route and I don’t think the final dish suffered at all. As a matter of fact, I think the final dish was a nice improvement over the original. The traditional Moussaka calls for thinly sliced fried eggplant, layered with a lamb based meat sauce and thinly sliced potatoes, all topped off with the rich creamy cheese sauce.
I peeled and diced the eggplant and roasted it on a cookie sheet in the oven with a little spritz of olive oil. I parboiled the potatoes, then gave them a large dice. I mixed the diced eggplant, potatoes and meat sauce together and put the whole thing into a casserole dish. I topped it off with my version of the cheese sauce and baked it. It looked beautiful, made a great presentation at the table and the taste and textures were heavenly!
Give this super simple, amazing menu a try! Finish it off with my baklava cups for dessert! For the recipes, click on the links below: