Friday, September 24, 2010

PFB Challenge #2: Classic Greek

Thank you SO much to all of you who voted me through to the second challenge.

And here it is: Challenge Number Two: Make a classic dish; not French or Italian. Leave your comfort zone.

I asked my oldest son, The Musician, what cuisine he thought I should explore. He said Tahitian. Really, what kind of help was I actually expecting to get from a teenage boy?!

I thought about making a classic German dish, but as I am almost half German, I didn't feel like I would be venturing into the unfamiliar with that. British food, forgive me, isn't all that exciting and again is not a stretch. I am afraid Indian food would go to waste with my crew of taste testers (aka children). Japanese food would require access to fish not labeled “Chicken of the Sea” in a small landlocked Arizona town.

My options were running out, when it hit me. Greek food. Other than eating gyros periodically for lunch and drooling over recipes for spanakopita, I'd actually never made any. Certainly no one could argue that it was outside my comfort zone. In fact, the last time I ate Greek food at a real Greek restaurant, it was years ago, for my sister-in-law's birthday. She had found a little out of the way place south of Seattle and had all of the extended family gather there one evening. We all sat down at a great big family style table, had ordered our meals and were just getting down to the job of catching up on each others' lives when music started. Out from behind a veiled doorway, came a barely veiled woman. Belly dancing. All four sets of my sons' eyes widened as far as they'd go as that gyrating, not so svelte woman jiggled her way over to the table. I can't even tell you what we ate that night. I was too busy fielding questions and covering boys' eyes.

Yes, I definitely needed to revisit Greek cuisine... Even if it was only to make some new, more comfortable memories to associate with that lovely food.

The fates (Greek reference intended, of course) smiled upon me, putting eggplant on sale, and making the dish choice easy. Moussaka. I am not Greek food ignorant, you see. I am just Greek food inexperienced. So, I Googled every recipe for moussaka I could find, read through every cookbook in the house and then went about making this classic dish...with all of the normal frugality my nature is inclined to include.

Moussaka: (loosely based on a recipe found in a community cookbook called I Love New York and another found on
2 large eggplants, peeled and sliced into rounds ¼ inch thick
½ cup salt dissolved in 2 quarts water
olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef (I know it should be lamb, but beef is a suitable substitute on a budget)
½ onion, chopped
1 quart home canned tomatoes (29 ounces store bought diced), drained
2 Tbsp tomato paste
½ tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp allspice
1 tsp garlic powder
½ cup red wine
1 Tbsp honey (this is dependent on the acidity of your tomatoes ~ mine needed it)
1 summer squash, chopped (optional, it was the last one from my garden and really wanted to be a Greek)
2 large baking potatoes (patA'tes – this is legal, there are several versions with these included)
¼ cup plain bread crumbs
grated Greek cheese, such as kefalotiri (I was able to find Parmesan in my town...'nuf said)

Soak the eggplant slices in the salted water for 30-45 minutes. Remove them from the water and drain on paper towels. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and cook the eggplant on each side until lightly browned. Place on a plate for later use. Wash the potatoes, poke them a few times and then cook them in the microwave until tender. Let them cool down, then peel and slice. While the potatoes are cooking, brown the ground beef in a deep skillet or Dutch oven. Drain the excess fat if you are using 80% lean meat. Add the onions and squash and cook until the vegetables are soft. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, spices, herbs, honey and wine. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring once in a while to prevent sticking. To assemble, butter a shallow baking dish (9X13). Sprinkle bottom of dish with bread crumbs. Layer half of the eggplant on top of crumbs. Spread ½ of the meat sauce on top, then sliced potatoes, remaining eggplant followed by the last of the meat sauce. Pour the bechamel sauce on top of the meat, spreading lightly to reach all the edges evenly. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Bechamel sauce:
3 Tbsp butter
¼ cup AP flour
dash freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp onion powder
3 cups evaporated milk (regular milk or even cream would be fine)
salt and pepper to taste
4 egg yolks (conveniently, my son requested a pie for later this week...the whites will become meringue)
In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Stir the flour into the butter over low heat for about a minute. Slowly whisk the milk into the roux, season and continue stirring until the sauce thickens. (Be patient, this is at least a ten minute process, if not longer). When it is thickened to your liking, add about ¼ cup of the sauce to the egg yolks to temper them (there is nothing worse than scrambled egg pieces in your white sauce!). Add the egg/sauce mixture back into the remaining sauce and heat through.

Egads! This was so good. The subtle spice in the meat sauce, the creaminess of the bechamel, the yummy flavors of the vegetables; I can see why moussaka is a must-make-at-least-once-in-your-life, classic Greek dish. Thank you Foodbuzz, for sending me to visit this delicious cuisine.


Debbi Does Dinner Healthy said...

This looks wonderful! i need to go onto food buzz to see who made it through and when voting starts again. You're on my list of ones to vote for!!

Lyndsey said...

Well done! and contrats on moving to the next challenge! Very inspiring, it would encourage anyone to want to try to make this!

Sue said...

Congrats to you! :) I've never had this dish, but it looks like a yummy Greek fall comfort food. Mmmmmm.

Janis said...

Congrats on moving on to round 2. Your moussaka looks wonderful!

Gayle Martin said...

Congrats on making it to the next round. So far you're the first one I've heard from. Sounds like a fun challenge and a delicious recipe.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on making it to the 2nd round! Your moussaka looks wonderful and I think it's great that you went with something more challenging for you. Great job and good luck!

Allie and Pattie said...

I'm giving you an ovation here! Great job! I love moussaka and was planning on blogging it this winter. You did good!!!
xoxo Pattie

Joseph's Grainery Recipes said...

Oh, how I'd love to be transported to a greek island! Great idea!

Anonymous said...

Looking good! Never made that before.

Classic Kitchen Twist said...

Congrats! This is one of my favorite Greek dishes and yours looks delish!
Now I'm off to complete my research for my entry!

The Dutch Baker's Daughter said...

Congrats, Kristen...and your Moussaka looks fabulous!Good luck in the contest!

Monet said...

So glad to hear that you made it to round two! I will be voting for you once again! I'm going to post my recipe tomorrow...this challenge is so much fun. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful Greek dish. It looks just delicious.

katerina said...

I must say you chose a very demanding dish for your challenge. Although Greek, I always try to find excuses so as not to make this dish. It requires a lot of time and effort. Of course the end result always rewards you but still my time is so limited that I prefer to pass. I will vote for you again on this second round and now I have two reasons for that. First I like you and everything you say and do and second because you honored my country by choosing to make this dish which is kind of a staple along with Greek souvlaki. Thanks! It looks absolutely divine!

Belinda said...

Great job on this!! It's classic and looks absolutely delicious!

Susi said...

I don't care for eggplant unless it comes in the form of moussaka! I love Greek food and have been eating it quite frequently all my life (living in Germany with tons of Greek restaurants helped). This sounds wonderful and I hope it will help you advance to the next round. Best of luck :o)

Anonymous said...

It's been years and years since I made moussaka. Yours looks delicious and I'm sure it will carry you to the next round!

Pacheco Patty said...

Moussaka is one of my favorites and I've never made it at home, thanks for the inspiration. Congratulations on advancing to the next round and best of luck going forward:)

Anonymous said...

Congrats! I love the part about you covering your boys eyes! This sounds good, it's making me hungry. Good Luck!

Drick said...

wow, not the easiest, but then I would not expect you taking the shorter road... interesting variation too, it's so you and sounds so darn good .... so glad you made it, this surely will keep you going --- EVERYONE.. yes I shouted - we need to rally behind and help our friends reach the next level

Lori Lynn said...

I bet it tasted great. The crust looks gorgeous, perfectly done! Good luck!

May Ling Wu said...

Good luck! Looks great. I'll put a vote in for ya!

Anonymous said...

Greece is about 3 hours from my house, so I am quite familiar with greek cuisine. Moussaka is also found in Bulgarian cuisine. I made my mother-in-law share with me her recipe. There are some distinct differences with greek version. Best of luck with PFB!!!

Cookin' Canuck said...

Moussaka is one of my favorite Greek dishes and this looks like a tasty, hearty version.

~3 Sides of Crazy~ said...

It looks fantastic! Good Luck!

Joanne said...

Way to go outside your comfort zone with my favorite Greek comfort food! I know that I would love to sit down with you and eat this dish. Looks fantastic!

I just posted my PFB post as well! you know I'll be voting for you!

Anonymous said...

I think the only thing Greek I've ever made is Greek salad and tzatziki. Your moussaka looks perfect. Very nicely done. I'll be voting for you again.

Evan B said...

I've never made anything Greek even though its one of my favorite cultures to eat from! Your dish looks fantastic.. I would totally do some damage on this :) Congrats on getting to the second round!

Anonymous said...

The Greek part of me is DROOLING! I love moussaka and this looks especially delicious :)

Chef Dennis said...

your Moussaka looks so very very good!! and your images are gorgeous!

I have to admit Tahitian cuisine has me wondering, or perhaps its just the thought of those exotic young ladies serving it...sigh

Good luck in this round of the FB challenge!

Jami said...

This looks delicious. I really enjoy Greek food, but have not ventured into these recipes yet. I'll bet this would be a nice fall dinner. Thanks for the idea!

Delishhh said...

Oh i love moussaka. What a great recipe. I am voting for you!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on making it to round two! Your Moussaka has my vote! Hope to see you in round three!
~ Mary

Belinda said...

Voted, of course!

Magic of Spice said...

Excellent entry...Looks perfect :) Looking forward to your challenge #3 post :)

House of Annie said...


I love moussaka. I would have loved to see you cook Tahitian, but you might not be able to get the right ingredients.

Reeni said...

This is one dish I have not yet eaten either! But it looks delicious! Great job - good luck on this round!

Gina MarySol Ruiz said...

Well done. Looks delicious. You have one of my votes. Best of luck to you!

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