20 August 2008

Moussaka Minis

This week in eggplant we travel to Greece. I've really been struggling to come up with some way to use the eggplant that we seem to get in every week's CSA delivery. Some of my past attempts have turned out better than others and I think Zach and I are actually starting to like our purple, egg shaped, former vegetable nemesis. Last week I was trying to find a recipe when I, for the very first time discovered the 'search' feature in my Google reader. I'm sure most of you have done this before, but if any of you haven't, the search feature lets you search all of the blogs you are subscribed to to find key words, in my case 'eggplant'.

As I scrolled through the search results I came across a recipe for moussaka by Allen at Eating Out Loud that he adapted from a recipe by Peter at Kalofagas. I don't think I've had moussaka since I quit my job waitressing at a Greek diner in high school, so I thought it might be time to give it a try again. I checked out both Peter's traditional recipe, and Allen's modified low-fat version and while I did combine some aspects of both, I used Allen's modified topping instead of making a
full on bechamel sauce.

I'm not afraid of bechamel sauce or a bit of fat in cooking but as I was making the moussaka on Friday night and we were going to drive to the beach (yea!) that night as well, I didn't want the extra time commitment of the sauce. I also cut the recipe in half (which was 1/4 of Peter's original recipe) as I only had 4 tiny eggplants and there were just two of us to feed as usual. I didn't think I had enough eggplant to use my casserole dish, so I decided to make 4 individual servings in my 6 oz. ramekins.

For the first step, I sliced my eggplants, brushed them with oil olive and fired up the grill pan. As Zach ran around removing the smoke-detector and putting the fan in the window (this is a rather regular occurence at our house, especially when the grill pan is involved) I grilled the eggplants and started on the meat sauce. Traditional moussaka uses ground beef, and the low-fat moussaka called for ground turkey. I literally stood in the grocery store for 5 minutes debating my choices and ended up going with ground turkey. In retrospect, especially considering each portion only has 2 oz. (before cooking) of meat, I really should have us
ed beef. The turkey was ok but beef would have added a lot more flavor and would (I think) have pushed the dish from just ok to really great. I would recommend that you use beef if you make this, or at least a 50/50 mix of ground beef and turkey. The bit of fat that beef adds to the recipe would be totally worth it, especially considering that the topping is much lighter than the original.

After the meat had browned I added the tomato sauce (I actually had some homemade on hand) and let it cook down while I made the topping. I was a bit skeptical of Allen's faux bechamel (cottage cheese? in a blender?) but it worked out perfectly. I used low-fat cottage cheese and Greek yogurt (for me the added taste it totally worth the calories) and added a whole egg even though I had halved the recipe. Once I layered the eggplant and meat in the ramekins I poured the sauce on top and set everything in the oven to bake.

30 minutes later, the sauce had set and turned a lovely golden brown and the moussaka minis were ready. We liked them, but as I said earlier, using beef would have added more flavor and made the finished product much tastier. The quick, low-fat topping, on the other hand, turned out perfectly and tasted wonderfully creamy. Overall, this was another victory for eggplant and I will be making this one again, but with beef next time.

I'm submitting this post to Bookmarked Recipes hosted by Ruth at Kitchen Experiments a roundup of recipes that one has been meaning to make...

Moussaka Minis

Adapted from Eating Out Loud and Kalofagas
Makes 4, 6oz. ramekins

4 tiny eggplants, or their equivalent
4 t. olive oil, divided
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 c. tomato sauce or tinned tomatoes
1 t. fresh oregano
1 T. fresh basil
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste

Blender Topping
1/2 c. cottage cheese
1/2 c. Greek yogurt
1 egg
1/4 c. finely shredded romano or parmesan cheese
a few grates of nutmeg

- Preheat oven to 350F. Have 4 ramekins and 1 cookie sheet at the ready.

- Heat a grill pan (or your grill if you're lucky enough to have one) over medium-high heat. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the eggplant slices with 2 t. of the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill for 2-3 minutes on each side or until softened and well grill-marked.

- Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a medium sized skillet and add the onion. Cook for a few minutes until softened then add the garlic and bay leaf and continue cooking for about a minute or until the garlic is fragrant but not browned.

- Add the ground beef and brown, using your spatula or spoon to break it up into small pieces. Add the tomato sauce and cinnamon and cook for a few more minutes until the sauce has reduced and is quite thick. Stir in the fresh herbs.

- Make the blender topping by pureeing the cottage cheese, yogurt and egg until completely smooth. Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the nutmeg and cheese.

- To assemble: Place a layer of eggplant in the bottom of each ramekin. (This doesn't need to be exact). Use half of the meat sauce to cover the eggplant and then cover with another layer of eggplant. Spread the remaining meat sauce on top and pour the topping over each ramekin. It should cover the meat sauce but if there are little bits sticking out that's fine to.

- Place the filled ramekins on the cookie sheet and insert into the oven. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until the topping is slightly browned and the juices are bubbling up the sides. Remove from oven and allow to set for 10 minutes then serve.

Note- Moussaka minis keep well in the fridge for 2-3 days.


kat said...

those sound so good. I wonder how they would be with squash instead of eggplant, I can't get Matt to eat eggplant, sigh

Allen said...

Hey Jen -- they look fantastic! I'm glad you tried the moussaka and enjoyed the topping ... I was skeptical of it too :-)

I like these 'mini' versions, a great idea for helping to enforce portion control (which I often need).

Ning said...

I'm actually looking for a recipe with eggplants too! This dish sounds delicious. Will definitely try this!

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

NICE! I love those minis- In fact I want some right now! :)

Jen said...

Kat- I think that you could make this with squash but you really can't taste the eggplant at all, especially if you use the tiny ones and cut them quite thinly.

Allen- having a set portion is always a good thing in our house- then I can be sure something I intend to feed us for dinner and lunch actually does.

Ning and Jenn- thanks for the comments.

Sue said...

Interesting recipe. I always go for a bechamel sauce, but this does look interesting. I LOVED the idea of making moussaka in ramekins. That's positively revolutionary.

Ruth Elkin said...

Jen these mini moussakas look so good!!!! Great work using Allen/Peter's recipe!

Thanks for sending it into bookmarked recipes

Jen said...

Thanks Sue- I actually read your post about adding an onion and peppercorns to the milk for the bechamel before making this and really debated making it because I wanted to try it out but time constraints I couldn't...

SweetDesigns said...

Those Mini's look wonderful!! They sound delicious =)

Neen said...

I like the mini versions, they make for a much nicer, jazzier presentation that you usually get from Moussaka.