Eggplant and Lamb Casserole

Moussaka

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    6 to 8

Appears in

Sephardic Flavors: Jewish Cooking of the Mediterranean

Sephardic Flavors

By Joyce Goldstein

Published 2000

  • About

Moussaka is the ideal winter dish—a rich stick-to-your-ribs concoction. According to John Cooper, in his estimable Eat and Be Satisfied, it was served during Rosh Hashanah. Most of us associate moussaka with a topping of cheesy béchamel custard. According to kosher laws, however, no cheese or dairy may be used with meat, so this Turkish Sephardic moussaka from La table juive takes on a totally different character. Instead of the richness of cheese and cream, it is rich and smoky from the chopped grilled eggplant added to the meat filling. While most recipes suggest frying the eggplant in oil, you can cut back on fat by slicing the eggplant, placing the slices on oiled baking sheets, brushing them with additional oil, and baking them until they are tender and translucent in a 400 degrees F oven. Similar recipes appear in books by Esin Eden and Gilda Angel, but I liked this one the best because of the added texture and richness of the grilled eggplant.

In Turkey, moussaka is usually layered in a rather deep, cylindrical mold, much like a charlotte tin or souffle dish, for baking and then unmolded. This makes for a dramatic presentation, but it is harder to serve. If the moussaka has not compacted well, after the first cut it may collapse. So I have taken the coward’s way out and prepared it in a baking dish: no stress, no unmolding necessary, and definitely easier to serve. Incidentally, while this dish is very tasty after the first baking, it becomes even tastier reheated on the second day, when the flavors have had a chance to meld and mellow.

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds globe eggplants (4 or 5)
  • olive oil for frying
  • salt
  • 1¼ to 1½ pounds boneless lamb shoulder, finely diced or ground
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or 1 can (16 ounces) plum tomatoes, drained, seeded, and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons fine dried bread crumbs

Method

Peel 2 of the eggplants vertically in a striped pattern. Cut the peeled eggplants crosswise into -inch-thick slices. Pour olive oil to a depth of ¼ inch into a sauté pan and place over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant slices, in batches, and fry, turning once, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes total. Be sure that the eggplant is cooked through and translucent but not falling apart. Undercooked eggplant will taste bitter. Using tongs or a slotted spatula, transfer to paper towels to drain and sprinkle lightly with salt. Repeat with the remaining slices, adding more oil to the pan as needed.

Preheat the broiler and broil the remaining 2 or 3 eggplants, turning often, until they are very soft and have collapsed, about 20 minutes. Alternatively, cook them slowly on a stove-top cast-iron griddle, turning them often. Transfer the eggplants to a colander to drain. When cool enough to handle, strip away the skin and remove the large seed pockets. Drain the pulp in the colander for 20 minutes to release the bitter juices, then transfer to a chopping board and chop. You will want about 2 cups coarse purée.

Warm 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the lamb and brown well. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate. Add the onions to the fat remaining in the pan and sauté over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, garlic, oregano (if using), and cinnamon, and season with salt and pepper. Return the lamb to the pan, cover, and simmer until the meat is tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the chopped eggplant pulp, then taste and adjust the seasonings.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brush a 7½-by-12-by-2-inch baking dish or a large oval gratin dish with oil. Sprinkle the dish lightly with some of the bread crumbs.

Line the bottom of the dish with one-third of the fried eggplant slices. Layer half of the meat mixture on top and sprinkle with half of the bread crumbs. Layer on half of the remaining eggplant slices and top with remaining meat mixture. Sprinkle with remaining bread crumbs and arrange the remaining eggplant slices on top. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place in a large roasting pan. Pour hot water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the sides of the baking dish.

Bake until browned and bubbling, 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve very warm.