Name: Sarah Poniros
Class Year: 2013
Country of Residence: USA
Why is this recipe great? What’s its backstory?
This recipe is very near and dear to my heart. My family is Greek-American, and we loved my yiayia’s cooking. However, when I was 12, she began to lose her memory. We found that most of the recipes she had written down were all incorrect—she didn’t want anyone to be able to replicate them! But even though she could not remember much, she could tell us exactly what she changed on her recipes. She taught me all her tips and tricks and told me the proper recipe, which I make all the time now. Everyone loves her recipe and people ask me to make it for almost every occasion!
As a funny side-note: Once, before we knew that the recipe had been altered, my mom submitted the original to a charity cookbook. We only realized years later that she had accidentally submitted the incorrect recipe. Somewhere out there, some people are probably making a very soupy version of this recipe. Hopefully putting the corrected version out there makes up for this!
Yiayia Effie’s Moussaka
Serves 8. Takes approx. 2 hours.
- olive oil
- 1 large eggplant
- 1-2 large Yukon gold potato
- salt and pepper
- 1lb lean ground beef (traditionally, a mixture of beef and lamb is used, but it’s very hard to find ground lamb around here! If you’re vegetarian feel free to use faux meat or a mix of chopped veggies)
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste (ok to omit if you don’t have any–you can also make your own by reducing down some tomato sauce in a pinch)
- small can (about 4-6 ounces) tomato puree or tomato sauce (any type will do)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups milk (whole milk is best but any will do)
- 1/4 cup butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- ground Parmesan cheese to taste
- crumbled feta (optional but delicious)
- tiny pinch of ground nutmeg (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Slice the eggplant and potatoes into 1/4 inch circles. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and arrange in one layer on a baking sheet. Bake until slightly golden (don’t overdo it as they’ll be cooked again later).
While the eggplant and potatoes cook, put a skillet on medium heat and drizzle with olive oil. Season the meat with salt and pepper and add to the skillet. Brown the meat and break it up as it cooks. If you can’t use lean ground beef, try to drain some of the extra fat off. Set the beef aside and add onions and peppers to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onions are translucent, then add the garlic. Cook for another minute or two being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the meat back into the pan along with the tomato paste, pureed tomatoes, oregano, and bay leaf and turn the heat to low. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaf before assembling the casserole.
In a small saucepan, slowly bring the temperature of the milk up. In another saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour to create a roux. Whisk in the warmed milk slowly. Whisk constantly until the sauce thickens. Add some salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, feta (add less salt if you’re using feta), and nutmeg. This is your bechamel sauce.
Line the bottom of a small casserole or baking dish with all the cooked potatoes. You can put them in two layers if there are extra. Next, spoon some of the meat mixture on top. Add a layer of sliced eggplants. Continue these layers until you run out of meat and eggplant. Smooth out the top and pour the bechamel in a thick layer over the whole casserole. Sprinkle the top with some extra Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350F for about an hour.
Small tip: when quarantine is over and it’s easier to get groceries, I suggest looking for a creamy goat’s milk feta for the bechamel. You just need a tiny bit, but it’s also great on a quick tomato and cucumber salad (olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, dried oregano), which I highly recommend as a side dish!
Talking to my yiayia, Efstothia Poniros