A couple of weeks ago during one of my countrywide work tootles I was listening to a well known radio station in the car when they posed the question - what one meal could you not live without? About twenty dishes sprang to mind within seconds but the one that just pipped the others to the post was my mum's moussaka.
It is divine. And then another thought struck fear into me. I'm moving out soon (now that I am 'with job' again it is time for me to be 'with rent' again) and it's a dish I have absolutely no idea how to make. Now, I am well aware I could simply use a very popular search engine to generate a recipe for me and go from there but what is different about my mum's version is that she doesn't use potatoes in it at all - which is commonplace in most versions. This is simply as she's not into carb-overloading (a la Gwyneth, I s'pose.) and I like it that way. It often means I'll have a side of garlic bread and not feel one iota of guilt.
Anyway - with my next moussaka fix being nowhere on the horizon I thought what better time to learn how to make it than when I have unlimited access to mum's enormous collection of recipes, all with personal notes alongside them so you can be sure to cook it exactly as she does. Fantastic!
So I set to work gathering the ingredients which are (to serve 4-6):
For the meat and sauce:
1 pack of pork mince (500g) (moussaka is traditionally a lamb based dish but really any type of mince will do - I'd even think quorn would work for the veggies out there)
3-4 aubergines (eggplants to those folk across the pond)
2 large onions
1 tin of tomatoes in their sauce
1 parsley plant (the kind you buy in the supermarket pre-grown)
1 tsp ground allspice
1-2 tsp nutmeg
grated cheese (this is to top the dish at the end so use whichever kind you like and as much or as little as you like)
For the white sauce:
1 pint milk
1 dessert spoon cornflower
1 whole nutmeg, grated
I've been told many a time that this is an arduous dish to prepare but knowing the tasty result meant I wasn't deterred so I cracked on, taking pictures along the way for you guys. So let's get cracking.
The aubergines are probably the most lengthy bit so I started with them. Slice them so each 'disk' is about 6mm thick and layer them in a colander sprinkling a little salt on each layer. The salt helps draw the water out of the aubergines which is what we want. The longer you can leave them to do this the better. I left mine over the sink to drip away while I carried on. (You'd be amazed how much water they retain.)
Next, chop those onions!
They don't need to be particularly fine so this shouldn't take too long.
Then, more chopping - parsley. You'll need the whole plant really (not the stalks) as once it's cooked down the flavour is subtle but is key so don't be afraid that it will over-power the dish, it won't.
Then, in a pan cook the meat. Once it's started to brown add the onions, tomatoes and chopped parsley making sure to include the nutmeg, ground all spice and season it all well with black pepper.
Side note: at this point I added quite a lot of nutmeg but that's a personal taste thing, it doesn't *need* more than a tsp or two but I'm a bit of a fan so the more the merrier in my dishes!
Once the meat has browned and the contents of your pan are beginning to look like the above turn the heat down, pop the lid on and leave it on a low heat while you continue with the rest of the dish. As long as it's not burning the longer you can keep it simmering away the better. It makes the overall flavour even richer so don't rush it.
While you've been doing all that the aubergines should have had a good salting session so, using fresh kitchen paper towels, remove the slices from the colander(s) and pat them dry. Spray baking trays with light oil (or if calories aren't a concern for you just drizzle olive oil into the pans instead) and make single layers of the aubergines on each tray. I needed 3 trays in the end - pesky things!
Once done pop these in the oven on about 180 degrees and leave until golden brown. This can take anywhere from 20 - 40 minutes depending on how cooked you want them.
While these are cooking and the meat sauce is reducing it's white sauce time! White sauce has always been something that has intimidated me. I have visions of Bridget Jones' mum bursting into the room shouting about lumps and trying to seive it. But I needn't have worried, it's really simple.
Basically - heat a pint of milk (keeping a bit back) in a pan and gradually add a dessert spoon of cornflower. The key here is to not stop stirring or that's when the risk of lumps comes into play. Keep stirring with a whisk or similar and add the whole nutmeg (grated) in gradually. Once it thickens to the consistency you like remove it from the heat and set to one side in a Pyrex jug or similar. My mum taught me to leave a bit of the milk to one side in case you need to thin the sauce if it gets too clumpy. Luckily mine didn't so I didn't need the little bit over but it's a great tip.
By now it should be time to remove the aubergines from the oven if they're looking done and start the layering process in the dish you're cooking it all in. You'll need a deep, oven proof dish for the main event.
Starting with the aubergine create layers of them then the sauce and keep going until both are all used up.
Once done pour the white sauce over the top and cover in grated cheese. Pop in the oven at about 180 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until it's the golden brown you like then remove.
The good thing about this dish is that nothing is 'cooking' at this stage as it's all pre-cooked by now so the length of time you have it in the oven now is purely personal. I think around 40 minutes is the sweet spot for a nice crispy edge and gooey centre.
I happened to make this on quite a warm day so I rustled up a quick artichoke and olive salad with balsamic dressing to accompany it but it's a great dish in those colder months too with seasonal vegetables and boiled potatoes.
So there you have it - a pretty simple, delicious dish that I can now take to my new home with me.