Right, let’s get the aubergine cliche dish out the way.
Moussaka (what a lovely name for a girl!), seems to exist in various forms across the Mediterranean, Turkey, the Balkans, and the Arabic countries. Presumably because a combination of aubergine, olive oil, tomatoes, spices/herbs and mince is a winner in the tasty-yet-economic stakes, particularly when you have the climate to easily grow the first four items and a handy goat or sheep for the fifth.*
The existence of vegetarian mince makes up for the lack of livestock, and if you’ve got the cooking skills for, say, a standard lasagne, what could possibly stand in the way of a successful moussaka recipe….?
*more difficult in the UK, which is probably why it’s an imported recipe. The original British version of turnips, lard, nettles, Worcestershire sauce and roadkill never really caught on, more’s the pity.
Ingredients – Moussaka, 2 servings
(and please read the whole post, before storming on with the preparations, it contains a cautionary tale)
500g vegetarian/soy mince
1 large aubergine, thinly sliced, salted and left in a colander for 30 minutes, then thoroughly rinsed and patted dry
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, chopped
More olive oil
Tomato puree, 1 tablespoon
Large glass red wine (for the moussaka, not the chef. The chef can get their own drink)
Salt and black pepper
The makings of a standard white sauce/roux (flour, marge/butter, milk/soy milk)
Gently fry the onion and garlic in olive oil, then add the “meat”, cinnamon, tomato puree, red wine and seasoning. Simmer gently for 15 minutes.
Pour olive oil into a frying pan and cook the slices of aubergine in batches until golden-brown, then put them on paper towel on a plate to drain off the excess oil (I’m not sure what’s crippling me more financially in the 2013 Great Aubergine Experiment – the olive-oil outlay, or the paper towel mountain).
In a baking tray, layer the ingredients as so; aubergine slice, meat and tomato mixture, aubergine slice etc etc.
Now, over this, you are supposed to pour the topping, a white sauce of marge/butter, flour and milk, with a couple of eggs and some nutmeg and cheese beaten in, then put in oven at medium heat for 30 minutes / til golden brown and bubbling.
I did my milk and cheese-free version; flour, marge, soy milk and two eggs and nutmeg powder. Stuck in oven. Came out golden-brown, rich, and bubbling like the ingredients had lived their whole lives for this one glorious moment. Sat down with a bowlful of the stuff, plus a vodka and coke, plus David Bowie on the iTunes. Aannndddd…….24 hours later I could still taste the bits that had gone wrong.
Now ironically enough, the aubergine/mince mixture came out just fine, with lots of strong red wine and hints of the sun-kissed Mediterranean. But the topping came out tasting like some horrendous Victorian nursery concoction, redolent of wooden rocking-horses and scarlet fever.
Not the best combination.
I don’t know if it was the soymilk + eggs (okay a risky combo), too much egg (possible), or the nutmeg (might account for that overly-milky children’s dessert vibe).
So dear readers, I will to you suggest that you take the first half of the recipe, and then do whatever you think best with the topping, as I’m not sure you can come up with anything worse than I’ve managed here.
If you do, post it. With pictures.
(Personally I scraped off the topping, took the remaining mince and aubergine and added it to mushrooms and leek stir-fried in olive oil, poured on some vegetable stock and simmered the mixture down to the consistency of a stew. With the aid of a wholemeal bread bap to wipe up the juices it was quite an acceptable dinner).