For the past 20+ years I have made this version of moussaka every summer when we have an abundance of eggplants. It can be made in one large (very large) dish to serve a crowd. I spread it out into three casserole dishes, one for now, two for the freezer. It doesn’t fit the category of quick and easy but it can be done in steps over the course of two days. First, slice the eggplant and while you are baking it, make the meat sauce. Refrigerate these two components overnight. The next day, prepare the bechamel sauce, grate the Parmesan, assemble the casseroles and bake. A traditional moussaka is made with ground lamb, but if you don’t like lamb, or your supermarket doesn’t carry it, substitute lean ground beef or turkey. Like many hearty casseroles, it tastes even better the next day. Serve it with, you guessed it, a Greek salad.
Serves 15 to 18
5 lb eggplant, strips of skin removed, cut crosswise into ½” slices
6 T olive oil, divided
2 ½ lb ground lamb, turkey or beef
5 large onions, chopped fine
½ cup minced fresh parsley leaves
2-6 ounce cans tomato paste
3 c dry red wine
1 ½ T cinnamon
1 T salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 ½ c dry bread crumbs
1 ½ c freshly grated Parmesan
For the topping
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
½ c all-purpose flour
6 c milk (low-fat is fine)
2 T freshly grated nutmeg
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
1-15 oz container ricotta cheese
Preheat oven to 425°F. On baking sheets covered with oiled aluminum foil arrange the eggplant slices in one layer, brush them lightly with 4 T of the oil and bake them, covered with foil in batches in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes.
While the eggplant is baking, in a large heavy skillet cook the ground meat over medium heat , stirring and breaking up the lumps, until it is no longer pink. With a slotted spoon transfer it to paper towels to drain, discard the fat remaining in the skillet.
In the skillet cook the onions in the remaining 2 T oil over medium high heat, stirring until softened, stir in the meat, the parsley, the tomato paste, the wine, the cinnamon, salt and pepper. Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, for about twenty minutes or until thickened slightly.
Sprinkle 2 T of the bread crumbs over the bottom of an oiled roasting pan, 16 by 10 by 2 ½ inches, arrange one layer of the eggplant slices next. Spread one third of the meat mixture on top of the eggplant and sprinkle it with one third of the Parmesan and one third of the remaining bread crumbs.
Layer the remaining eggplant slices, meat mixture, Parmesan, and bread crumbs in the same manner, starting with the eggplant and ending with the bread crumbs.
For the topping: In a heavy saucepan melt the butter over moderately low heat, and the flour, and cook the roux, whisking for 3 minutes. Add the milk in a stream, whisking, and whisk in the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking, and simmer it, stirring until it is thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Let the mixture cool slightly and whisk in the eggs and ricotta.
Pour the topping evenly over the moussaka and bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden. Let it stand for 10 minutes before serving.
It’s a great time of year to try out some new eggplant recipes. Whether from the farmers market, your local CSA or your own garden, freshly harvested eggplants are at their best. Our garden has produced an amazing array of colorful eggplants this summer. Bright fuchsia Asian Bride, slender dark violet Farmer’s Long, pure white Charming, beautifully variegated Listada de Gandia, all the varieties we have harvested this year have thin skin and minimal seeds.
During the eggplant season I have time to revisit the classics, eggplant Parmesan, caponata, moussaka and to look for new ways to serve this versatile vegetable that’s actually a fruit, but I digress. Stir fry recipes are quick and relatively easy, so why not shrimp and eggplant? Cook’s Illustrated magazine tests recipes countless times to understand how they work and in turn, offer the best version. So I knew I could try their recipe for stir fried shrimp with garlic, eggplant and cashews with confidence.
In perfecting this recipe they discovered several things that make this recipe stand out.
Soaking the shrimp for 30 minutes in salt, oil and aromatics yields a deeply flavored and tender finished product. The salt enters the flesh, allowing the shrimp to stay juicy. The oil picks up the flavor of the aromatics, in this case garlic,and distributes it over the shrimp. They also address the issue of the typical home stove that lacks the high heat of restaurant burners. This problem is solved by cooking the components of the dish in batches and trading in the wok for a skillet to ensure maximum surface area for even cooking.
As with all stir fry dishes, everything should be ready and portioned out when you start the recipe. Soak the shrimp in the seasoned brine. Whisk the sauce together next. My personal trick here is when you are making a sauce with both wet and dry ingredients I measure out the dry ingredients first since they will not stick to the measuring spoon, like soy sauce does.
The components of the dish are cooked in batches. First, the eggplant and scallion greens are cooked until lightly browned and transferred to a bowl. Next in are the aromatics, thinly sliced garlic and scallions. Cook until browned, don’t burn that garlic! To the aromatics, add in the shrimp. The shrimp are cooked to a light pink on both sides, then the sauce is added to the pan. Raise the heat to high to thicken the sauce and finish cooking the shrimp. The eggplant is returned to the skillet and tossed, ready to absorb the flavors of the sauce.
I made some changes to the original recipe. I used one tablespoon of sugar instead of two in the sauce, the oyster sauce adds its own sweetness. I also used more eggplant than called for since it cooks down considerably. Serve with white or brown rice, this is a dish that is quick to execute and quite delicious.
Stir Fried Shrimp with Eggplant and Cashews
adapted from Cooks Illustrated
6mediumgarlic cloves, 1 minced or pressed through garlic press, 5 thinly sliced
1poundextra-large (21-25) shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed
3 T vegetable oil
½ ttable salt
2 T soy sauce (I use low-sodium Tamari)
2Tdry sherry or Shaoxing wine
1 T toasted sesame oil
1Twhite vinegar (I use rice vinegar)
1/8tred pepper flakes
6largescallions, greens cut into 1-inch pieces and whites sliced thin
½ ccashews, unsalted
1mediumeggplant (about 3/4 pound), cut into 3/4-inch dice
Combine minced garlic with shrimp, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and salt in a medium bowl. Let shrimp marinate at room temperature 30 minutes. Depending on your particular brown rice (regular, instant, etc.) start your rice as appropriate.
Meanwhile, whisk soy sauce, oyster sauce, sherry, sugar, sesame oil, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and cornstarch in small bowl. Combine sliced garlic with scallion whites and cashews in another small bowl. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet or a wok over high heat until just smoking. Add eggplant and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, 3 to 6 minutes. Add scallion greens and continue to cook until scallion greens begin to brown and eggplant is fully tender, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer vegetables to medium bowl.
Heat remaining tablespoon oil to now-empty skillet/wok. Add cashew mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown, about 30 seconds. Add shrimp, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring frequently, until shrimp are light pink on both sides, 1 to 1½ minutes. Whisk soy sauce mixture to recombine and add to skillet/wok. Return to high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and shrimp are cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Return vegetables to skillet, toss to combine, and serve.
I couldn’t bear to do it, smash the cucumbers and green beans as called for in this recipe that is. This very easy and flavorful dish from the June issue of Bon Appetit uses a technique popular in many Asian countries. Smashing the cukes and beans with a cleaver or a rolling pin tenderizes them and makes lots of nooks and crannies for the dressing to permeate. But not with the first green beans and cucumbers from the garden this season. Maybe in a week or two but for now I will use a more traditional approach. This recipe is quite similar to pau huang gua, a Sichuan cucumber salad, typically served with rich spicy food.
Start the recipe by peeling the cucumber, I like to leave a small strip of skin for color contrast. Chop into bite sized pieces and toss with a little salt to draw out excess moisture. The beans were an interesting addition, the original recipe in Bon Appetit didn’t call for cooking them, I presume they thought dressing them would do the job of tenderizing them. I chose to blanch the beans for just a few minutes to make them crisp-tender and ready to absorb the dressing.
The dressing couldn’t be easier, the ginger, garlic and serrano pepper are all grated, a Microplane makes quick work of that. Combine these ingredients with white miso, rice vinegar, olive and sesame oil. Miso is a fermented soybean paste traditionally used in Japanese cooking. White miso will provide a more delicate flavor, switch in a red miso for a stronger and saltier flavor. You will find miso in the refrigerated section of Asian grocery and health food stores.
Place the well-drained cucumbers and green beans in a bowl and toss with some of the dressing, just enough to coat the vegetables. You will have more than enough, which is a good thing. Toss sautéed eggplant and zucchini with halved cherry tomatoes with the dressing for another version of this dish.
Green Beans and Cucumbers with Miso Dressing
3 Persian cucumbers or 1 English hothouse cucumber
1 lb green beans, stems trimmed
1 1½ piece ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 serrano or Fresno chile, finely grated
1 garlic clove, finely grated
1/3 c unseasoned rice vinegar
¼ c white miso
¼ c olive oil
½ t toasted sesame oil
Toasted sesame seeds and scallions or thinly sliced shallots for serving
Peel cucumbers and chop into bite-sized pieces. Toss with a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Let sit to allow salt to penetrate.
Bring a medium sized pan of water to a boil with a pinch of salt. Add beans and cook until just tender, 3-4 minutes. Drain beans in a colander.
Whisk ginger, chile, garlic, vinegar, miso, olive and sesame oils in a medium bowl until smooth.
Transfer the beans to a bowl for serving and toss with the dressing. Drain cucumbers well and add to the bowl, toss again. Top beans and cucumbers with toasted sesame seeds and scallions.
Gardeners, let’s face it, we’ve all done it. You watch that cute little zucchini you’ve been nurturing along for several days, waiting for the moment when it’s about eight to ten inches long, bright green with mottled white striping and the blossom still attached, ready for picking. But life isn’t perfect, it rains for several days and you didn’t make it out to the garden and now that cute little zucchini is the size of a miniature baseball bat. Don’t despair, there are ways to still use them, zucchini lasagna is one of my favorites.
Zucchini lasagna “noodles” replace regular pasta for this delicious dish. I first cut the zucchini in half lengthwise so that I have a flat surface to cut my noodles. A mandolin is always my first choice for even uniform slices. If you weren’t aware, a mandolin, isn’t just a music instrument. It is a hand-operated kitchen tool with adjustable blades that in addition to making julienne and waffle cuts, makes uniform slices. Whatever model you choose, use the hand/finger guard, I speak from personal experience. You can also go low tech and use a very sharp knife with a cutting board to stabilize your slices. I make my slices to fit the baking dish lengthwise, if you are using shorter zucchini, it’s fine to cut them the other way, making sure they fit your dish.
Zucchini is 95% water so before you assemble the lasagna it is important to precook it so less moisture ends up in your finished dish. Suggested methods I’ve seen include broiling, sauteing and parboiling. I like cooking them in the grill pan, it gives added flavor to the zucchini and the slices have a nice finished look. Cooking the slices on an outdoor grill would make the process even faster. Cook more slices than you think you may need to allow for breakage.
This dish can be made in stages, make the meat sauce one day, slice and cook the zucchini the next, then assemble. Just like regular lasagna, it tastes even better the next day, if it lasts that long!
Zucchini Lasagna with Meat Sauce
3-4 or more large zucchini, sliced 1/8″ thick
Extra virgin olive oil for brushing zucchini
1 lb lean ground turkey or beef
1 ½ t kosher salt
1 T olive oil
1 c finely chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 quart plain tomato sauce ( I used homemade)
2 T tomato paste
2 t dried oregano
¾ t freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ c part skim ricotta cheese
½ c finely grated Parmesan
1 large egg
4 c shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 375°F and place baking rack in the lower position.
Make zucchini lasagna “noodles”. Cut squash into 1/8″ thick slices using a sharp knife or mandolin. If your squash is long they should fit the pan lengthwise, if you have shorter squash, orient the slices in the opposite direction. You should have enough slices to do four to five layers with a few extra pieces for good measure.
Heat a grill pan or an outdoor grill to medium high heat. Brush both side of the slices lightly with olive oil.
Grill the zucchini slices on both sides so they have grill marks, 3-5 minutes for the first side, a little less for the second side. Squash should be cooked but not falling apart. Line up the grilled zucchini slices on a paper towel lined baking sheet to absorb excess moisture.
Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. When the pan is hot add the onion and cook until onion is softened but not browned, 4-5 minutes. Lower the temperature if necessary. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the ground meat and season to taste with salt. Brown the meat, breaking it up as you cook it.
Slowly pour in the tomato sauce and stir it into the meat. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to medium. Add tomato paste, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer on low, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes. Cover and set aside.
In a medium bowl combine ricotta, Parmesan and egg. Mix well.
Assemble the lasagna. Lightly oil or spray a 9 x 12 glass or ceramic baking dish.
Spread a light layer of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. Layer zucchini slices over to cover. Spread one-third of the ricotta mixture over the zucchini and top with a cup of the mozzarella. Repeat the layers two more times, sauce, “noodles”, ricotta mixture topped with mozzarella. Top with noodles and the remainder of the sauce. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the foil and bake for an additional 20 minutes to dry up excess liquid. Sprinkle the last cup of mozzarella over the top and bake until melted, about 15 minutes. Let lasagna rest for a half hour to allow it to firm up and make for easier slicing.
Zucchini slices cooked in the grill pan.
Meat sauce to cover the bottom of the baking dish.