Opa!

Monday was Greek National Day and true to form, I wanted to create something thematic. A couple months ago, on the recommendation of a Greek former coworker, I ordered a cookbook (it’s GREEK to me!) from a Greek orthodox church in which her theíes contributed. I wanted to tap into some authentic Greek cuisine any day of the year I chose.

Greek National Day marks the Greeks’ independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821. It also coincides with the Greek Orthodox Church’s honoring the day in which the archangel Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary and told her she would bear the Christ-child. So to say the day holds weight, would be terribly inadequate verbiage.

Who remembers the scene in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” when the little Nia Vardalos is sitting in the elementary lunchroom and she’s eating lunch alone? The other little girls seated behind her ask her what she’s eating and she responds, “moussaka.” The other little girls make fun of her, but that scene has always struck me with curiosity. What exactly is moussaka…?

Moussaka is a layered eggplant casserole in the vein of lasagna. As a matter of fact, we started calling it “Greek lasagna” and leftovers sure didn’t last long. You start with a layer of pan-fried eggplant. Pan-frying eggplant can be tricky. Often it can soak up all your oil like a sponge. I’m told there are ways to prevent this, but I have not been successful yet. In all honesty though, it didn’t affect the way this recipe turned out.

The layer of eggplant is then topped with a rich, tomatobeef/lamb (I used both) mixture. Parmesan is sprinkled on top and a flood of ricottabéchamel and Parmesan crowns the dish. It’s baked in a 400° oven for 30min and the resulting casserole is akin to a hearty, albeit low-carb lasagna. The eggplant when cooked down is reminiscent of zucchini – so tender and delicious. This recipe makes one full 13×9 baking dish.

If you have any recommendations for regional/national/cultural cuisine cookbooks, shout ’em out/link ’em in the comments below! (Who knows, you could be featured in one of my posts!)

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