Swiss Chard-Feta Moussaka

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Food memories are such a cool thing. In the case of moussaka – a greek casserole consisting of layers of eggplant, ground lamb in a tomato sauce and a béchamel topping – I have two very distinct ones.

On our honeymoon, one of our stops was Santorini and Mykonos in the Greek Islands. It became an unofficial moussaka tour. The food there was magnificent, and moussaka was out of this world. So was their tzatiki. And the seafood. The one meal we had was an open air restaurant right off the beach, no windows or doors and it was where my love affair with this casserole began. I generally have a bad memory, but that moment I can go back to in a flash. We were so lucky to have been able to travel and have experiences like that.

The other memory is quite a bit different. Will and Emilie were born premature at 34 weeks after a fairly difficult pregnancy that involved a lot of hospitalization. Across from St. Lukes-Roosevelt hospital in Manhattan, there was a restaurant called the Greek Kitchen. We would have take out in my hospital room together after my husband was done with work and frequently got moussaka and other dishes from that place. They did a great version of it. Then, once the twins were born and in the NICU, we would have a break from visiting them every evening while the shifts changed, and we almost always headed over there for that dish. It was a tense, emotional time and this delicious food, and even though we should not use food for comfort, at those moments it was.

I had to take a break from moussaka after the overdose we had of it during the NICU time. But this felt like the right weather and time of year to pull it out.

I was telling my mom she should make it and explained it as a greek sort of lasagna, with eggplant instead of noodles, and a ground lamb tomato sauce spiced with a hint of cinnamon. The béchamel-custard topping balances out the flavors perfectly. This is a wonderful party dish to make – serve with a salad and you have done your job.

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Swiss Chard-Feta Moussaka
Use 9×12 casserole for this. Simultaneously baking eggplant and cooking sauce really reduces active time. Use gluten free breadcrumbs or skip them to make gluten free. Would also need to use gluten free flour for béchamel.
Ingredients
  • 2 medium-large size eggplants, peeled, cut into 1/2″ slices, salted on both sides and let to drain in a colander for 20 minutes. Rinse salt off.
  • 1 container of whole tomatoes or crushed tomatoes (I use Pomi or any glass packed tomatoes – anywhere from 24oz-32oz is cool)
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 lb organic ground lamb or ground beef
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 cinnamon stick plus a pinch of ground cinnamon if needed
  • 1/2 of a block of french feta (come in those packets in the cheese section – ends up being 1/4 cup or so if you buy it in a different form)
  • 1 bunch of swiss chard, leaves torn off from stems, rolled up and thinly sliced then chop into smaller pieces.
  • Bechamel:
  • 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
  • 1/4 cup white flour (or gluten free flour)
  • 2 cups milk (I used 1%)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs for bottom of casserole
Instructions
  1. Oven to 350.
  2. In a large pot or skillet, add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and then the onions and garlic, cooking over medium high heat. Once they soften, 5 minutes or so, add ground lamb, oregano, cinnamon stick and salt and pepper. Cook until lamb no longer pink. If you need to drain off excess oil – I turned down the heat when I put the lamb in to medium and it released some grease but then seem to reabsorb it. Add in tomatoes and swiss chard. Crush up tomatoes with wooden spoon if whole tomatoes. Cook until chard is wilted really well into sauce. Turn off heat, add feta cheese and taste to see if you need salt, pepper or cinnamon (and remove cinnamon stick!). You don’t want to overdo it with the cinnamon but should be recognizable. I added 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon to mine.
  3. While you are cooking the sauce have this going in the oven: place slices of eggplant on a foil lined sheet pan and put in oven for 10 minutes. Flip over pieces and cook another 5-10 minutes. It will depend on how thick your slices are and how hot your oven is – you just want them soft with very little color.
  4. Final step – making béchamel. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium high heat. As soon as melted, add flour and using a whisk, combine the two. It will form a paste. Cook that for a moment until you can’t smell the flour anymore. Then whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil, whisking and stirring constantly, then turn it down a bit. Doing that step thickens it. If you dip a spoon in it and can draw a line thru the sauce and it doesn’t run it is done.
  5. In a medium size bowl beat the eggs. Add in a little bit of the béchamel and mix well – you are tempering the eggs so they don’t scramble when you add them to sauce. Slowly add more béchamel to eggs and keep stirring. Then you can add the rest and stir to combine. Add parmesan, salt and pepper and taste.
  6. In a casserole dish, sprinkle breadcrumbs on bottom of dish and then layer half the eggplant, fitting in an even layer best as possible. Since you rinsed salt off earlier, add a sprinkle of sea salt over eggplant. Put half of meat sauce over the eggplant, then repeat. On top of the final sauce layer pour béchamel sauce and spread carefully to try to keep the two sauces from combining.
  7. Bake 1 hour. If top is getting too brown, cover with foil. However if it doesn’t brown enough you can put under broiler to brown top a bit. I actually forgot to do it and it is just for aesthetics so no big deal if you forget/don’t want to.
  8. Let sit at least 10 minutes before serving.

 

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