Every time I eat moussaka I think, “I’m going to make this every single week for the rest of my life.” I like it that much. My good intentions last until I dig up a recipe and sigh at the amount of work and calories involved.
I went through the same rigamarole recently after I had moussaka at a Greek church festival. The layers of eggplant, gently seasoned ground lamb and creamy-dreamy béchamel sauce warmed my soul. While walking my dog the next morning I looked forlornly at the empty festival tents and wondered why I hadn’t bought a couple of extra hunks. Well, they were $12 each, that’s why.
I wasn’t ready to give up, though. Over the next few days I came up with a compromise — a grilled cheese moussaka sandwich. Now, hear me out. It sounds strange, yes, but it delivers the essence of moussaka without all the work.
The sandwich is made in three steps so it does involve some work, but not a lot. Ground beef is browned with onion and seasoned with the spices that make moussaka sing: cinnamon, allspice and oregano. Slices of eggplant are pan-grilled until limp in a skillet coated with olive oil spray. Then the meat and eggplant are layered with mozzarella between two slices of crusty bread and grilled. The cheese holds together the components and imparts a bit of the richness the béchamel provides in the real thing.
The sandwich isn’t moussaka, but it’s close enough to tide me over between Greek festivals.
GRILLED MOUSSAKA SANDWICH
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. finely chopped onion
1/2 lb. ground lamb or beef
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. oregano
1 small globe eggplant
4 slices crusty bread
10 tbsp. finely shredded mozzarella
Heat olive oil in a warm skillet over medium heat. Sauté onion in oil until limp but not brown. Increase heat, crumble in meat and season generously with salt and pepper. As meat begins to brown, add the cinnamon, allspice and oregano and break up meat with the edge of a spatula. Continue until meat is brown. Set aside.
Peel eggplant and cut lengthwise in 1/4-inch-thick slices. Heat a grill pan or large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat with olive oil spray. Cook the eggplant slices until they are limp, cooked through and light brown on both sides. Blot on paper towels.
To assemble the sandwich, spread one side of each slice with softened butter. Turn slices over and sprinkle each of two slices with 2 tablespoons of the cheese. Top evenly with 2 to 3 tablespoons (packed) of the ground meat. Top each with 1 tablespoon cheese. Top with a layer of eggplant, cutting pieces to fit the bread. Sprinkle each with remaining mozzarella (2 tablespoons each). Top with remaining two pieces of bread, buttered sides out.
Heat a heavy skillet large enough to hold both sandwiches. Coat skillet with olive oil spray. Toast sandwiches on both sides over medium heat, turning once, until golden brown and melty. Makes 2 sandwiches.
Note: You will have leftover meat and maybe eggplant. Exact amounts depend on the size of your slices of bread. Chop the leftover cooked eggplant into the meat, stir and eat. It’s delicious.
What I cooked last week:
Pan-grilled chicken and apple sausage and a fruit salad of grapefruit, strawberries, jicama and shredded basil; loose meat sandwiches with mustard and ketchup; sliced tomatoes with fresh basil and Kewpie mayonnaise; grilled moussaka sandwich; French toast with sugar-free strawberry preserves.
What I ate in/from restaurants:
A thin-crust pizza with sliced tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and prosciutto and a glass of Chianti at The Glade Pizza & Wine Bar in Hobe Sound (fabulous); a beef empanada and cafe con leche at the Miccosukee Casino near the Everglades National Park; roast pork, yellow rice and vegetable bowl from Pollo Tropical in Jupiter; butter chicken, eggplant curry, basmati rice, naan and rice pudding at India Palace restaurant in Stuart; shrimp ceviche and fresh tortilla chips from Green Apple Produce & Carniceria in Hobe Sound; iced cafe con leche and a Peruvian alfajores (tender butter cookies sandwiched with caramel) at Lopez Cafe Gano Excel, a Peruvian coffee shop in West Palm Beach; half a beef burrito and a steak taco from The Taco Truck in Stuart; a Detox smoothie at Tropical Smoothie Cafe; a “New Haven style” pizza with sausage, pepperoni, onion and peppers from Amato’s in Hobe Sound (yuck).
From Marlene H.:
What I’ve cooked lately:
1. Your Shrimp Scampi with Couscous. So good!!
2. Jacques Pepin’s Curly Hotdogs with Relish. Who knew Jacques likes hotdogs?!
Curly Dogs with Pickle Relish by Jacques Pépin on Salt + Spine
3. Roasted Cauliflower with Browned Butter, Hazelnuts, and Capers from Fine Cooking. Didn’t have hazelnuts so used pecans. My new fave cauliflower recipe!!
You’re my hero this week. You are one of only two people who sent the inspiration I requested. And what inspiration! With recipes!
From Theresa K.:
Sounds like you all are having a great time in Florida! I cooked a beef Irish stew last week which was full of cubed stew beef, leeks, celery, shallots, carrots, parsnips and baby Yukon gold potatoes, I added 1 cup of Guinness to the broth and let it simmer on Sunday night, then we had it Monday for dinner with biscuits. It was some of the best I have made.
The beer takes the flavor to another level, and you don’t know it is there — no beer taste just the best deep, rich broth. A little garlic, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper were all the seasonings I added. I got the recipe from a blog but the Guinness was my idea. Enjoy the rest of your trip!
My other hero! This is the perfect time of year — pre-St. Pat’s — to make a Guinness-spiked beef stew. Thank you so much for the idea.
The rest of you…..what did YOU cook last week?