With all the wonderful, in-season garden tomatoes piling up and a few Amish eggplants I brought home from a farmer’s market two weeks ago (you won’t believe how well they keep in the crisper section of your fridge), I decided to throw together this easy moussaka-type dish. While different cultures have different traditional versions, here is mine:
Eggplant, Beef, and Tomato Moussaka
- 1-2 very large eggplants, sliced thickly (I like my eggplant bitter, but if you’d like to get rid of the bitterness beforehand, refer to my friend Farida’s helpful tutorial).
- 3-4 large tomatoes, sliced thickly
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 t cinnamon
- 1/4-1/2 t nutmeg
- 1/2 to 1 T brown sugar
- vegetable oil of your choice (I use local, unrefined sunflower oil for everything, and I know the guys who grew it, too)
- salt and pepper to taste
- freshly-grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet (mine is 12″) over medium-high heat. Add beef and onions and saute until the meat has browned and the onions are soft (at first the meat will release a lot of liquid, but once the liquid evaporates, the beef will begin to brown). Add garlic and the chopped tomato, reduce the heat to medium-low, and saute everything for another couple of minutes, stirring frequently. Add salt, pepper, sugar, and the spices. Remove the skillet from heat and transfer the mixture into a separate bowl.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Drizzle 2 T of oil over the bottom of now empty skillet (do not wash the skillet). Arrange the eggplant slices in a spiral in a single layer, making sure the slices overlap, until the entire bottom of the skillet has been covered. Sprinkle with more salt and drizzle more oil on top. Spread the meat mixture over the eggplants. Arrange tomatoes on top of the meat in the same way as you did with the eggplants. Sprinkle with more salt and drizzle more oil on top. Sprinkle with a little grated Parmesan (a few tablespoons).
Cover the skillet (my big skillet doesn’t have a cover so used a flat cookie sheet instead) and place it in the oven for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, remove the cover, turn the temperature down to 400 degrees F, and continue baking for another 20 to 25 minutes or so, or until the tomatoes are well wilted (see the photo above), most of the liquid has evaporated, and the eggplants underneath are tender. Serve hot with garlic & yogurt sauce (below) and lots of crusty bread to soak up the juices.
In retrospect, I wish I’d poured a little red wine (perhaps 1/2 C or so) over the contents of the skillet before sticking it in the oven – red wine is a great companion to anything tomato-based, as tomatoes really need the sugar and the alcohol in the wine to bring out their full flavor. I think this would have added real depth to the dish, but for some reason I didn’t think of it at the time.
- 1.5 C plain yogurt (not Greek-style: check out my homemade version)
- 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, crushed
Stir yogurt with a fork until smooth. Stir in garlic and serve (the sauce will become more potent with time, so if you want a real kick, prepare the sauce ahead of time).
I thought this turned out lovely and even my kids enjoyed it, even though my daugther skipped the eggplant, stating that she didn’t like it because she was an American (“Only Russians like it!”). One more reason not to fill your children’s heads with cultural prejudices.