Ever catch yourself on a cold, dreary day dreaming of your summer holiday? I find this is me quite often at the moment. If you know me well, I love Greek cuisine. I often go to Greece on holiday – almost every year in the last 3 years in fact.
There is certainly something to be said about Greek food – we’re often very caught up in complicated recipes here in the west when actually all you need is a few good-quality ingredients cooked simply.
This time of year calls for something warming and baked, however. No BBQing fish Santorinian-style in November (just try and stop me though). One of my favourite simple dishes to cook when I need warming up is a moussaka. Moussaka isn’t actually exclusive to Greece, like many Greek dishes it’s favoured by many in the middle-east and in Arabic countries, too. In fact, it’s often thought the dish originates from the Byzantine era in the 2nd and 3rd century which swept through the middle-east all the way to France and brought with it a whole new world of flavours. It’s usually made with aubergine and potatoes, layered with minced beef, chopped tomatoes, and spiced with cinnamon. In Greece, it’s served with a thick layer of set bechamel, but the Arabic version is served without this layer and cold and the middle-eastern version has no meat in it but with chickpeas instead as a mezze dish.
This recipe is based on the Greek version, and it contains a lot less saturated fat than the traditional version which makes it perfect for a regular weeknight dish. It’s also gluten-free too!
Here’s what you’ll need to serve 6 hungry people:
- 250g cottage cheese
- 1 medium egg
- 50g feta cheese
- 600g minced lamb
- 1 medium onion, small dice
- 6 aubergines, sliced thinly lengthways
- 1 can plum tomatoes
- 4 cloves of garlic
- A glass of red wine
- Dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp of ground cinnamon, or even better a stick of cinnamon
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- A few scrapes of nutmeg
- Start by getting the oven heated to 180 degrees Celcius (about 350 degrees Fahrenheit). Arrange the sliced aubergines on a few baking trays with a pinch of salt (no oil) and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. try to keep the slices on one level to ensure they all bake properly. Once they’re brown, take them out of the oven and set them aside.
- Get a large sided pan on a medium-high heat and place the lamb mince to brown (no oil) with salt and pepper. You can do this in batches if you need if the pan isn’t big enough. Once the lamb is browned, place to one side and remove the fat from the pan. Turn the heat down to a medium heat and put a tablespoon of olive oil into the pan. Sweat off the onions first, and then the garlic, making sure not to burn the garlic or the onions.
- Once everything is browned, place it all back in the pan and add in the plum tomatoes, the wine, bay leaf and cinnamon and leave to gently simmer and reduce for 30 minutes.
- In the meantime, put all the cottage cheese into a bowl with the egg, a pinch of salt and pepper and half of the feta cheese.
- Grab a high-sided baking dish and layer some aubergines, then a layer of the rich spiced mince mixture, and repeat as many times as you can until you run out of aubergine and mince mixture. Then spoon the cottage cheese and egg mixture thickly on the top, topping off with the rest of the feta and dried oregano.
- Bake in the oven at 150 degrees Celsius for about an hour. Slice into thick squares to serve.
This goes perfectly well with a quick Greek salad and a glass of red wine. If you close your eyes, it’s like you’re sitting in a Taverna in a small Greek town in the middle of summer.
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