Not Your Yia Yia’s Moussaka

Fall is in the air. I forgot how much earlier summer ends in Boston than in Washington, D.C., where the swamp-like humidity and heat persists through October. In Boston and greater New England, the signs of fall begin well before Labor Day. The corners of the leaves start to crisp and turn golden. The evening breeze has a chilly edge you barely notice at first, and the scent of wood-burning smoke wafts so subtly you wonder if it’s actually there. The days get shorter, the air gets colder, and the desire for warm, hearty suppers heats up.

I’ve been ready for fall since, oh, about the 4th of July. It’s my favorite season — I yearn all year for the vibrant burst of colors across the landscape, abundance of root vegetables overflowing farmer’s market stalls, and a good excuse to sip a mug of hot, mulled cider. Rich and savory flavors are another favorite aspect of fall, when I tend to use cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice quite liberally. And the casseroles – oh, how I love casseroles.

Growing up (and while I was still eating meat), one of my favorite fall dishes was classic Greek Moussaka. My mom would bake slices of eggplant and layer it in a casserole dish with minced beef, veal, and pork simmered in a tomato and wine sauce. Some use lamb in the minced meat mixture – but my mom loves her “Meatloaf Mix,” as she calls it. After the eggplant and meat are layered like a lasagna, the dish is topped with béchamel sauce and baked golden brown. A thick slice is creamy, flavorful, fall perfection, and I say “fall” perfection for two reasons. 1. The nutmeg. While only a scant amount is included in the béchamel sauce, it really comes through with each bite and conjurs images of Thanksgiving, pumpkins, and a bowl of Autumn Harvest potpourri. 2. The texture and weight. This isn’t a dish that will leave you hungry. It is quite dense and borderline heavy (thank goodness we never added golden potatoes to the layers of eggplant), but oh, so satisfying. Afterwards, you are warm and full – which is not how you want to feel after eating a meal in the summer. But fall? Yes.

I was not aware that other versions of moussaka existed until flipping through the July/August version of Clean Eating Magazine. Chef Philippe Massoud, co-owner of New York City’s ilili Restaurant, shared a recipe for meatless Lebanese-style moussaka that is described as “a lighter dish that still has big flavor.” Naturally intrigued, I made it for dinner that night – and about six times since. It has become a go-to meal in my house that is greeted by my husband with fanfare each time.

Lebanese-style moussaka, prepared and garnished with parsley

While Lebanese moussaka has some of the core elements of classic Greek moussaka – eggplant, tomato sauce, and spices – it is very different from its Greek counterpart. Instead of a rich, creamy lasagna, Lebanese moussaka is more of a velvety, eggplant stew. It is hearty and filling without being heavy (let’s be honest, fabulous though Greek moussaka is, it will sit in your gut afterward like a lead sinker). The first time the dish was baking in the oven, I cracked open the lid and the smell of heaven (aka cinnamon and allspice) immediately filled the oven. My fall-loving heart soared. 

I did not change much from the original recipe by Chef Massoud. Since the serving size wasn’t really enough for my husband to take leftovers to work, I doubled the quantity and tweaked the ratios. In place of water, I used vegetable broth for added flavor as the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices simmered. Speaking of simmer, I slowly simmered this stew base for much longer than Chef Massoud indicated, allowing the liquid to reduce by half so the stew was much thicker. Eat straight with a spoon thicker. It is just that good.

Lebanese style moussaka, garnished with parsley

Not Your Yia Yia's Moussaka
Adapted from Chef Philippe Massoud
Servings
6
Servings
6
Not Your Yia Yia's Moussaka
Adapted from Chef Philippe Massoud
Servings
6
Servings
6
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat oven to 450 F. Wash and trim eggplant. Dice into bite-size, 1/2 inch pieces. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and arrange the eggplant in a single layer. (You may need a few baking sheets to do this). Let sit for 15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Dice the onion, mince the garlic, chop the parsley, and set aside.
  3. Remove eggplant from paper towels and lay directly on the baking sheet(s). Spray lightly with cooking spray, tossing to coat. Arrange in a single layer and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven. Lower oven heat to 350 F.
  4. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or heavy pot over medium. Saute the onions for about 5 minutes, until translucent and softened. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  5. Fold in the tomatoes, vegetable broth, cinnamon and allspice. Stir gently until combined. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 25 minutes or until liquid has reduced by half.
  6. Remove pot from the heat and stir in the roasted eggplant. Cover with a lid or transfer to a roasting pan and cover with foil. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove foil/lid and bake for an additional half hour.
  7. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Serve atop quinoa or brown rice. Garnish with chopped, fresh parsley.
Share this Recipe
Powered byWP Ultimate Recipe

Medley of farmer's market vegetables

The Start of a Vegan Adventure

I’ll admit, it took me a long time to write this post. It would be presumptuous of me to think people care or should care about my lifestyle/diet choices. Also, people can be judgmental and critical – especially online. With all that said, I decided to share my story for two reasons. 1. Every blogger has a… 

Read More »

Taste the rainbow power salad

Taste the rainbow power salad

A new post. Finally. Between moving from D.C. to Boston, breaking an arm, and working a full-time marketing job, finding the time to cook and blog has been, well, challenging. Excuses, excuses – I know. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Even though I’ve become a BOSS with my left hand (up for debate with my husband),… 

Read More »

Father and daughter at wedding

What would Dad eat? Father’s Day Special

This post is truly a labor of love as I am typing it out, very slowly, with one hand. Thanks to a cycling accident a week ago, my dominant arm is currently out of commission due to an unpleasant radial head fracture. Turns out, it’s an essential arm bone for elbow movement. It could have been worse,… 

Read More »

IMG_2633rev

Good Eats: Back to Boston

After a four year stint in Washington, D.C., I am once again a Bostonian. More to come on that. First, I want to talk about chowder. Or, chowdah. Clam Chowder is home. New England Home. Ever since I first watched Pete’s Dragon as a kid, touched by the scene when the kind, lighthouse keeper’s daughter offered a runaway orphan… 

Read More »