While away for the weekend we stopped at a farmers market and when I saw the selection of baby eggplants, I had to buy some...purple, white, yellow, orange and all different shapes. What's not to love? I considered stuffing and baking them, but opted instead for a slightly lighter version of moussaka.
I used ground chicken instead of lamb, as it is not as rich. I also grilled the eggplant, which used a lot less oil. The bechamel was made slightly thinner than usually called for, and I topped it all off with crumbled feta cheese.
To go along with the baby eggplant, I baked the moussaka in individual dishes...why not? It was interesting to taste the differences in the eggplant varieties as we ate; some were sweet, one was quite bitter; some were much softer in texture. All in all an interesting meal.
Cook the meat sauce. In a pan, heat some olive oil, and cook until softened:
1/2 medium onion, diced.
Season with salt and pepper.
1 pound ground chicken
Cook, breaking any large lumps of meat up with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook until the meat is still slightly pink.
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch cayenne pepper
Continue cooking, until the chicken is no longer pink.
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 x 28 ounce can tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped (reserve the liquid)
1 Parmesan rind
Continue to cook, adding tomato juice as needed if it is too dry. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Slice the eggplant into 1/4" thick slices. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil.
Cook the eggplant on a hot grill.
Remove and set aside until needed.
2 cups milk
2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
Use this milk to make a bechamel. Follow the recipe from the post Basic White Sauce (Bechamel). Whisk a handful of grated Parmesan into the finished sauce. Now the moussaka can be assembled.
Turn the oven on to 350F. Have 4 individual ovenproof dishes, or 1 large dish, ready.
Spread a thin layer of bechamel on the bottom of each dish.
Top that with some of the grilled eggplant. Use half of the eggplant for this layer.
Next use half of the meat sauce to cover the eggplant.
Add another layer of bechamel on top of the meat sauce.
Repeat the eggplant and meat sauce layers, and then finish with a layer of bechamel. Sprinkle crumbled feta cheese over the bechamel.
Bake the moussaka until it is heated through and bubbling, and the cheese is golden and crispy. Serve with a salad.
- Moussaka is often made using ground lamb; ground beef can also be used. I actually wanted to use ground turkey, but only had chicken. I find that ground lamb can have quite a strong flavour, and like to use half lamb and half beef when I do use it.
- Fresh tomatoes can be used if you prefer; use chicken stock if the sauce is too dry.
- Use fresh oregano if you have some available...you will need about 1 tablespoon, chopped. Fresh parsley and basil can also be added.
- The meat sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead; it can also be frozen. If you take the time to make a large batch of meat sauce and freeze the extra, you will have sauce for more moussaka; for tossing with pasta; adding to pizza or making pastitsio...meat sauce and noodle layers topped with bechamel and cheese and then baked.
- The recipe for bechamel that I use is a bit thinner than most I have found when making moussaka. It does lighten the dish up without compromising that creaminess. If you want a thicker bechamel, add another tablespoon or two of flour when making the sauce.
- I added the bayleaf and garlic to the milk for another layer of flavour. They can be omitted. Other options to add to the milk include fresh herbs such as thyme, oregano or parslery; chili flakes; fresh ground nutmeg; black peppercorns; 1 or 2 whole cloves; lemon peel; 1/4 of a small onion.
- The bechamel can be made a day ahead and kept tightly sealed in the refrigerator.
- I chose to use feta cheese to top my moussaka as I like the crumbly texture and saltiness. If you are using feta, make sure to taste it before using it...some brands are saltier than others and need to be rinsed under cold water to remove some of the brine before using. Also, keep the saltiness of the cheese in mind when seasoning the other parts of the dish.
- Other cheeses can be used. Try mozzarella, Kefalotyri, mizithra, pecorino or even Parmesan.
- Baby eggplant are not very common, so if you are using purple globe eggplant, or even Japanese eggplant, slice it thinly and grill it as I did with the baby eggplant. This adds a smoky dimension to the dish. The best thing about grilling the eggplant is that it uses less oil...eggplant can be a sponge soaking up oil when pan frying it if it hasn't been salted first, and left to sit so that the excess moisture is drawn out by the salt.
- Use zucchini instead of eggplant for a change, or use a combination of the two.
- Moussaka can be frozen before or after it is baked.