Every time I eat moussaka, I think about the movie, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."  You know, the scene where the little girl has it in her lunchbox, and the other girl makes fun of her for it.  Oh, if only those other kids knew what they were missing out on, with their paltry bologna sandwiches on white bread.  I myself grew up in a less than adventurous family when it came to food, so it wasn't until I became a teenager that I started to explore the tastes of the world.  I eventually became a librarian, and one of my special research areas became food and culture and how they intersect and change over time.  I always try to approach my subject with respect, learning about another place and people, while adding my favorite things about a cuisine to my cooking repertoire.

Right now, my kitchen smells faintly exotic (the cinnamon and allspice make the meat sauce quite unlike an Italian version) as I prepare the bonus recipe for this week's Cooking Around the World class.  It starts Saturday, when we will be covering Greece.  There are still a few spots left if you would like to sign up.  

There are a number of versions of Moussaka, but the most notable ones are the Greek variety (as outlined in the recipe below) and the Turkish one (which involves green peppers and onions, and is not baked).  Classic Greek moussaka can also be made with ground lamb.  If you are a vegetarian, just omit the ground beef and add some chunky tomatoes in its place.  Remember to allow it to cool for  a while (at least ten minutes) before you cut it, or it won't come out in one piece.  It is meant to be served luke-warm.

1 large eggplant
3 medium potatoes, peeled
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 onion, diced
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 c. red wine
2/3 c. tomato puree
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 c. breadcrumbs
4 eggs, divided
1 c. Kefalotyri cheese, grated
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. flour
2 c. milk
1/8 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg

Peel the eggplant, leaving a few vertical strips of peel about an inch and a half apart.  Slice the eggplant into 1/2" thick pieces.  Place a colander in the sink.  Salt both sides of the eggplant, placing each slice into the colander as you salt it.  Cover with a plate and something heavy as a weight and let drain for about an hour.


Place the potatoes in a medium pot over medium high heat.  Bring to a boil and cook until the potato can be pierced with a fork.  Drain the potatoes and let them cool enough that they are easy to work with.  Slice the potatoes into 1/2" thick slices.  Sprinkle a few breadcrumbs into the bottom of a 13"x9" baking dish and assemble the potatoes in a layer on top of them.  Sprinkle on a third of the grated cheese. 

In a large heavy skillet over medium high heat, heat the olive oil.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion turns translucent.  Add the the ground beef and cook, stirring frequently, until it browns.  Add the wine, tomatoes, parsley, cinnamon, allspice, sugar, salt and pepper.  Continue cooking until the liquid has reduced and the sauce is thick.  Pour the sauce over the potatoes in the baking dish.  Add a third of the grated cheese.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Rinse eggplant, then dry using paper towels.  Line  baking sheet with parchment paper.  Beat the egg whites until well combined and a little frothy.  Place the egg whites into a wide shallow bowl, and add 1 tsp. of water.  Place the breadcrumbs on a flat plate.  Dredge the eggplant into the egg whites and then into the breadcrumbs, making sure to coat them thoroughly.  Place each slice on the baking sheet.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Flip the eggplant slices.  Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes.  Make a layer of eggplant slices on top of the meat sauce layer.

Meanwhile, in a small pot, heat the milk until steams (but does not boil).  In a medium pot, melt the butter over low heat.  Add flour, and whisk constantly, until the mixture becomes smooth and thickens.  Continue whisking while you add the milk in three additions, making sure that it is thoroughly incorporated and that the mixture is smooth between additions.  Add a good grinding of nutmeg.  Temper the egg yolks by adding some of the hot liquid to the bowl the eggs are in.  When the bowl becomes almost hot to the touch, add the egg mixture to the rest of the sauce in the pot.  Simmer for 2-5 minutes, until the mixture thickens.  Pour the bechamel sauce over the eggplant layer in the baking dish, and top with the remaining third of the shredded cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and golden.

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