For those of you who don’t know, October is National Cookbook Month. I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity for me to buy a cookbook (great excuse, right?) and try out some new recipes. Throughout October I’ll be posting recipe reviews in between my regular posts.
When deciding on which cookbook to buy, it took me some time before I decided on A Taste of Greece: Recipes, Cuisine & Culture. First of all, it’s hardcover and the cover is beautiful. Yes, yes, I know, don’t judge a book by its cover blah blah blah. But honestly, look how pretty. I was instantly drawn to it. Second, it’s co-written by Princess Tatiana of Greece. How badass is it that this book was written by a princess? You rarely come across a cookbook author whose title is Her Royal Highness.
One factor that makes this cookbook so special is that it compiles many well-known personalities’ stories and special bond to Greece. For me, I’ve never been to Greece nor have I experienced a variety of Greek dishes. My only tie to Greece would be that my Japanese grandma used to own and run a Greek restaurant in Osaka when my mom was young. Greek sailors would get off at the port, come to my grandma’s restaurant and request dishes they were missing from home. If it was something my grandma didn’t know how to make, she’d invite them into the kitchen to teach her how to make it. Sadly, the restaurant was closed by the time I was in the picture and I never got to taste my grandma’s Greek food.
I chose moussaka as my first recipe to try. I’m not sure if my grandma served it in her restaurant, but it’s one of the most iconic Greek dishes.
Slice the eggplants, sprinkle with salt and set aside for half an hour to get rid of any bitterness. After the 30 minutes, rinse with water and pat dry with paper towels. Heat oil in a skillet and fry the eggplant in batches until they’re golden. Lay them on paper towels and drain the excess oil.
For the meat sauce, heat a large saucepan over medium heat and cook the finely chopped onion until they become transparent. Add the ground beef and cook until completely browned. Add white wine (I used Chilean Sauvignon Blanc), crushed tomatoes, parsley, cinnamon (I used powdered as I didn’t have cinnamon sticks), sugar, salt, and pepper. Simmer until it isn’t watery. The book suggests about 20 minutes of simmering, but my meat sauce took 30 minutes.
When I got to making the béchamel, I realized that the recipe called for large volumes of the ingredients which didn’t match the amount of béchamel shown on the photo. So I cut the recipe in half, but even that seemed like more than what’s on the photo. In a saucepan, melt butter on low heat. Stir in the flour and cook until the flour starts to turn golden. Add the milk, stirring constantly with a whisk to get rid of any lumps. Season with salt pepper, and nutmeg. The egg was labeled as optional so I skipped it.
To assemble, take a 9 x 13-inch dish (I used a casserole dish) and lay half the eggplants down and top with half the meat sauce and half the béchamel, then repeat. Although the cookbook tells you to leave the béchamel until the very end after all the eggplant and meat sauce have been layered, I decided to put a layer in the middle. Eggplant, meat sauce, béchamel, eggplant meat sauce, béchamel.
When I was about to start assembling, it seemed like I had too much meat sauce. So I took about a cup or two of meat sauce and tossed some short cut pasta in it as a side dish. It’s probably not traditional, but it worked.
Top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (which I also only used half the amount called for in the recipe), and bake at 374°F (190°C) for 1 hour. I took mine out after 50 minutes, as it seemed golden enough. Let it cool for 20 minutes before serving.
I have never tried moussaka before making this so I have no baseline to compare it to, but it was absolutely delicious! Of course, I tasted both the meat sauce and béchamel to make sure I’d added enough seasoning, but tasting them together with the eggplant and cheese took it to another level. The eggplant turned soft and fluffy, almost mousse-like. Although the eggplants were fried and therefore oily, the texture kept this dish very light. The book suggests grilling or simmering the eggplants, or even experimenting with other vegetables, which I might try eventually.
To be completely honest, I was a little bummed out that the moussaka didn’t look beautiful like it does in the book. But one bite and that thought was completely forgotten. It’s that good. After the first bite, I knew I was definitely making this dish again.