Cheater Moussaka: Great Greek in Under an Hour

17 Sep

Picture Perfect Cheater Moussaka

At this time of year, the local eggplant in the farmers’ market stalls flaunt their glossy, shapely, aubergine selves. I love eggplant and use it a lot in my cooking. I enjoy moussaka when someone else makes it (like at a lovely Greek restaurant). But the thought of making a pan of moussaka is too much for me to tackle for a week night meal.

Sexy, sleek eggplant

The answer to my dilemma was discovered in a terrific cookbook called The Student Cookbook: Great Grub for the Hungry and the Broke. I originally bought this as a gift for a nephew striking out on his own, but realized his culinary tastes were not broad enough (yet) for this collection. Strangely enough, most of their recipes are offered for 4 servings, so the one I give you today I have adjusted for two servings. And I have changed the name of this recipe from Moussaka-filled Eggplant to the catchier one above.

For this recipe, I use my convection toaster oven to save energy. The broiler heats up fast and the rack in the oven holds two servings perfectly. Because it is a convection oven, I reduce the baking temperature by 25°F (in this instance from 400°F to 375°F).

Carve out your’boats’

Start by cutting your eggplant in half lengthwise. I slice a bit of the rounded outside edge off, so the eggplant will sit fairly level. Scoop out the flesh of the vegetable, leaving a 1/4 inch shell intact. Set flesh aside. Using your hands, rub some olive oil into the fleshy side of the ‘boats’ you have created. Broil your eggplant boats for 5 – 6 minutes. Remove from broiler and place on a baking sheet. (I covered mine with foil for an easy clean-up.) Preheat the oven at 400°F.
Meanwhile, chop a small cooking onion into a fine dice. Crush a nice fat garlic clove with the flat side of a chef’s knife. In a non-stick fry pan over high heat, add ½ pound [250 gm] of ground lamb. As this is fall in North America, I used NZ Spring Lamb but if you like a milder flavour, go looking for Canadian lamb. Add the chopped onion and crushed garlic and cook for 5 minutes, stirring and breaking the meat into small pieces.
While the meat cooks, chop the eggplant flesh into a small dice. If there are lots of seeds, separate out as many as you can.

After the lamb has cooked for 5 minutes, add the chopped eggplant, cinnamon, dried mint, tomato paste (see note in ingredients list) and 3 tablespoons of water. Sprinkle with pepper and salt to taste. Stir occasionally and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.

While the eggplant cooks in and softens, separate one egg. You will be using the yolk, beaten. Add the plain Greek or Balkan-style yogurt and some ground nutmeg. Stir well to combine.

Spoon the cooked meat mixture evenly into the two boats. Spread half of the yogurt on each of the two boats. Thinly slice a juicy, ripe tomato and place 3 slices on top of each boat.

Bake on a baking sheet in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Since the timer device is easy to set on my convection toaster oven — with the oven shutting off when the time is up — I walk the dog at this stage. When we returned, the Cheater Moussaka was cooked and ready to eat.

Great served with a green salad, steamed spinach or green beans as a side. Tonight I drank an icy glass of Pelee Island rosé with my Moussaka, not expecting it would be a very good match. Somehow it worked wonderfully, possibly just because it was alcoholic!

Topping & tomatoes on. Ready for the oven.

For the second meal I reheat (at about 300°F) the left-over Moussaka boat on a foil plate, covered loosely with tin foil, about 20 minutes.
CHEATER MOUSSAKA                          Ready in: about 45 minutes        Makes: 2 servings
Adapted from: The Student Cookbook: Great Grub for the Hungry and the Broke

Ingredients:

1                                                              medium-sized eggplant
approx ½ tsp                                       olive oil
½ pound [250 gms]                           lean ground lamb
1                                                              small onion, finely chopped
1 large                                                    garlic clove, crushed
½ tsp                                                     ground cinnamon
½ tsp                                                     dried mint
½ Tbsp +                                              tomato paste [Buy tubes of tomato paste at Italian food shops or specialty grocers.

A godsend for single cooks.]
Topping:
1/3 cup                                                  plain Greek or Balkan-style yogurt. [While in these photos I have used Greek, I actually prefer

the Balkan style as it seeps into the lamb mixture, more like a real moussaka!]
1                                                               egg yolk
pinch                                                      freshly grated nutmeg (I use ground nutmeg)
1                                                              firm, juicy tomato, thinly sliced into 6 slices

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