15 October 2010

Back to Greece and Blogging

So after taking two weeks off it's about time I get back to cooking. I decided to head back to Greece for my next dish since I am completely in love with Greek cuisine. Tzatziki alone makes me drool. Now I've been to Greece so I feel like I can share a few of my own fun facts about Greek cuisine and culture having experienced it instead of researching the place.

1. In Greece they really take their siesta time seriously. Stores are closed for a few hours in the afternoon and unless you are in the really touristy parts, the streets are pretty empty so make sure you grab lunch before this happens or you’ll be left eating airplane peanuts you stored away. Embrace naptime instead of hunting for food.

2. Street cart food is super cheap and super delicious. I went at Christmas where every corner had a cart selling roasting chestnuts, coconut pieces, kabobs, gyros, or giant doughnuts. Everything is fresh and the point and pay method works really well, just make sure they don’t rip you off.

3. The restaurant owners love hassling tourists to eat at their establishment and they will follow you down the street no matter how many times you reject their offer. It’s much worse when traveling in a group so just be prepared to say no a lot.

4. Despite the husslers, you might get lucky enough to eat Christmas Eve dinner at a restaurant owned by a large Greek family around closing time where they will offer you free kabobs and spiced desserts because they need to get rid of the food. Take the food and thank them generously and if they offer to adopt you, consider their offer. I’m joking of course. Well about the last part anyways.

5. Greek pastries are like heaven in your mouth. Especially the cheese ones. Yes in fact you should buy as many as you can. Just walk up the Acropolis if you’re feeling guilty afterwards.

So because I had such a great Christmas Eve in Athens, I decided to re-visit and recreate that particular memory. In fact, I have so many fond memories of Greece, mostly due to all the people I had the pleasure of meeting. So as you may guess, Christmas Eve was exactly that. Staying at a hostel definitely has its advantages because you are given the perfect opportunity to meet and interact with people all over the world and around the holidays everyone is just trying to find some semblance of family away from home.

In Athens I shared a room with a great group of girls and on Christmas Eve we decided to go out to dinner. When all the shops would close for a couple hours, most of us would return from our sightseeing for a nap. So in the company of four girls, we began our restaurant hunt well after nine at night and after several blocks of walking we came across a small family owned place away from the tourist traps. We were welcomed warmly and offered the Christmas Eve specials which included either Moussaka or lamp chops along with a complimentary bottle of wine. I told you we were welcomed warmly! I also mentioned the free lamb kabobs and a spiced gelatin dessert. I had the Moussaka and it was absolutely delicious.

Moussaka is an eggplant dish with some form of minced meat with a tomato base topped with a type of baked cream or custard. Not the type of dessert custard, but a sauce called bechamel which is made of mostly of milk, flour, and eggs. The whole thing is baked to a beautiful shade of brown and is absolutely delicious. On that memorable Christmas Eve my moussaka was made from ground lamb and also had zucchini. I decided I should try and recreate the recipe so I began my search for a five star moussaka recipe and tweaked from there. I did end up using lean ground beef instead of lamb (way cheaper!) but my result was just as I remembered. If you love eggplant and zucchini you will love this casserole-type dish. The eggplant came out tender, the spices created a unique flavor without being overwhelming, and bechamel sauce turned a lovely golden brown and was creamy not chewy. I'm praying that the leftovers are just as good since that tends to be what determines whether I keep a recipe like this or not. So far it's looking promising though. Sometimes I don't even feel like I'm living in a dorm, I don't know how other college students can live off mac and cheese!


  1. Servings: At least 6 (I had two helpings, so good!)

    I'll tell you right now, I used every square centimeter of my pan so downsize if you don't have a deep dish to stick this in! It was a tight fit and I had to cut my custard recipe in half to fit it all in the pan (definitely stick this on a baking sheet to catch the overflow!)

    3 large eggplants
    salt and ground black pepper
    Extra-virgin olive oil
    1 medium onion, chopped
    3 garlic cloves, minced
    1 - 1 1/2 Tbsp. oregano
    1 Tbsp. parsley
    1/8 tsp. allspice
    1 lb ground lean beef or lamb
    1/4 - 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
    16 oz. peeled tomatoes roughly chopped (I used a can of diced and added about 1/4 cup of leftover tomato sauce I had in the fridge. As long as you have some form of tomatoes you should be fine)
    1/4 cup red wine
    Parmesan cheese
    bread crumbs

    Peel the eggplants and cut into 1/2 inch slices. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake them at 425F until tender (about 20min). You can fry them too, but baked is less messy. Cut the zucchini in thin slices, brush with oil, and bake as well until a little soft. Lower the oven temp. to 360F.

    Saute onion until soft, add garlic and saute for 1 min. Add ground meat, oregano, parsley, allspice, and cinnamon. Cook until meat is browned. Stir in tomatoes and wine, simmer for 20 min. Add salt and pepper if needed.

    Lightly brush the bottom of A 9 by 13-inch baking dish baking dish with olive oil and a thin layer of bread crumbs. Line with 1/2 of the eggplant slices, they can overlap. Layer the zucchini on top of the eggplant. Spread 1/2 of the meat sauce over the vegetables evening it out with a spatula. Sprinkle with parmesan. Repeat. Cover the top with the bechamel sauce (SEE BELOW) and spread even with a spatula. Bake the moussaka for 30 to 40 minutes or until the top is golden. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.


    Bechamel Sauce (I cut this recipe in half due to lack of room in my dish, came out great)

    5 Tbsp unsalted butter
    6 Tbsp flour
    3 cups milk
    dash of nutmeg
    dash of salt
    1 egg
    2 egg yolks

    Melt butter in a saucepan, whisk in flour when melted. Remove from heat and add milk, salt, and nutmeg. Whisk. Return to heat and bring to a boil while whisking continually. Simmer until thickened. Remove from heat and cool slightly, whisk in egg and yolks. It's important to whisk it quickly.

  2. What a beautifully presented dish! This looks scruptious!