February 3, 2017

Which Came First: Lasagna Or Moussaka?

by Marjan

Dear readers, I need your help! My Italian friends insist the Greek tweaked lasagna by adding eggplants and béchamel sauce, calling it moussaka. On the other hand, my Greek friends insure me their moussaka was altered by their Italian neighbors; omitting eggplants and béchamel sauce and replacing these ingredients with pasta and cheese, calling it lasagna. So which came first, lasagna from the Italians or moussaka from the Greek? Is moussaka greek for lasagna or vice versa?


Thankfully, Alexander the Great cannot conquer this Persian Savorychick, as I put my own twist to moussaka slightly altering their rich and delicious traditional dish with layers of potatoes and pasta. Believe me, I wish not to seek revenge for King Cyrus; rather, creat peace through gastronomy.

I've always enjoyed my moussaka accompanied with a slice of bread. I needed some starch to further enhance and support the rich layers. Therefore, I wondered if placing lasagna noodles in between layers along with thinly slices of potatoes on the bottom to capture all the delicious flavors of the meat sauce would further enrich each bite? Believe me, and try it for yourself, it did! Pasta layers distinguished the flavors of my roasted eggplants from the meat sauce while the potatoes soaked up flavors of tomatoes, beef, onions, herbs and spices on the bottom of the dish. Topped with a creamy béchamel sauce infused with nutmeg and cinnamon, each bite is complete, comforting and a culinary travel all onto itself.
We have so many reasons to thank the Greek; they have enriched our language, laws, architecture, design, philosophy, and food. I wish we could resolve conflicts of the world through food. Why not? It begins at home; bake a dish of lasagna, moussaka, or even cookies and share it with those whose opinions vary from yours. Let's bake with love and win each other's hearts.
Serves 8-10

Ingredients
2 onions, finely chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
8-10 oz organic ground beef
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
32 oz of organic tomato sauce
8 oz of organic tomato paste
3 large russet potatoes
3 eggplans
3/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
8-10 pre-cooked, oven ready lasagna sheets
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bechamel sauce:
3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon
3/4 cup warm milk

Peel and slice eggplants into 1/4 inch thick cuts. Sprinkle a light amount of salt on each side of eggplant slices and place in large strainer for 30 minutes until it sweats.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Using thick paper towel, wipe off excreted liquid from eggplant slices and place on a greased baking sheet. Dash a little salt and pepper along with olive oil over the eggplants and place in the oven to bake for 7 minutes each side. Remove from oven and cool.
Meanwhile, peel and slice potatoes into 1/8 inch thin cuts. Remove eggplants from the oven once roasted on both sides and set aside. Toss potatoes with 2-4 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread to cover baking sheet and roast in the oven for 15 minutes until slightly cooked. Remove and set aside to cool.
Decrease oven temperature to 375 degrees F.
Meanwhile, in a large frying pan over medium heat, toss in ground beef and onions and sauté until brown (10-12 minutes). Season with 1 teaspoon salt and pepper, oregano, garlic, chile flakes, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir and cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add tomato paste and sauce; simmer for 10 minutes.
In a well greased 9x13 inch baking dish, evenly lay out roasted potatoes. Top with 1/2 of meat sauce. Place one layer of lasagna noodles and top with all of eggplant slices. Evenly toss 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese over eggplants; spread remaining meat sauce on top of cheese. Finish with one final layer of lasagna noodles.
Prepare béchamel sauce, in a medium size sauce pan over low heat; melt butter. Add flour to hot melted butter and using a French whip stir constantly for about two minutes until slightly golden and well blended. Gradually stir in warm milk and nutmeg while stirring until mixture is thick and smooth (consistency similar to thick gravy), approximately 15 minutes.
Pour entire Béchamel sauce over noodles evenly. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Garnish with pinches of cinnamon and crushed dried oregano. Bake for 55-60 minutes until golden on top.
Remove from oven to cool for 15 minutes prior to serving.

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