Saturday, 10 November 2007

A Sort-of Moussaka

Mince is a very fine thing. Whether it be beef or lamb (and to a lesser extent, pork or turkey), something magical happens when you grind up meat and mix it with other things. The only difficulty with mince is finding interesting ways to eat it rather than just placing it over pasta, or digging in deep with a spoon.

Lamb mince always makes me think of middle eastern cooking. The Moro cookbook has a wonderful recipe for a lamb mince, raisin, and pine nut mixture tucked inside a potato cake. When I don't feel like going through all that effort, though, I usually turn lamb mince into a sort-of moussaka. I skip the traditional bechamel sauce since we try to go dairy-light in the A&N household, but equally I like being able to taste the aubergine and the mince together without it being smothered by a white sauce. I do borrow heavily from the Moro recipe for the mince in order to get it tasting nice and exotic - spicy and warming and just tomato-y enough to bring out the natural flavor of the lamb. I make sure to make enough to have leftovers, since the flavors settle together even more nicely the following day. That's when going after the mince with a spoon is absolutely irresistible.

A Sort-Of Moussaka
Serves 2 for a main course, with some leftovers

  • 1 medium red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, well chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, well chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and well chopped
  • 400 g / 1 lb lamb mince
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Tbs Charmoula (if you have it - otherwise, 2 tsp cumin)
  • 1 Tbs cinnamon
  • 1 clove, ground
  • few pinches of freshly ground nutmeg
  • Harissa paste or chopped chilis (I like to make mine a bit spicy, but spice-level is up to you)
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 Tbs tomato paste
  • 1/4 C water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 medium aubergine, sliced into thin-ish discs (just less than 1 cm in thickness)
  • Olive oil
  • Parmesean

  1. Finely chop the onion, and gentle fry it in a large, heavy pot with some olive oil
  2. When the onion is getting softened, add the garlic, celery and carrot and stir. Allow to cook gently for a couple of minutes to allow everything to soften slightly
  3. Add the lamb mince, and stir until the mince is mostly cooked
  4. Add the bay leaf and all the spices, and stir until it's well mixed into the lamb
  5. Add the harissa/chilis, chopped tomatoes, tomato paste and water, and stir until well mixed. Add 1/2 tsp of salt to flavor and stir well.
  6. Cover and allow to simmer on the lowest setting for about 30 minutes
  7. After 30 minutes, turn oven on to 180 C / 375 F
  8. Taste the mince for flavoring, and adjust as needed
  9. Test also for liquidity - if it looks to be getting a bit dry, add in a bit more water and stir well. The mixture should be thicker than a typical spaghetti bolognese sauce, but still definitely liquid enough to call it a sauce rather than a paste
  10. Try to find the bay leaf and remove it from the sauce
  11. Slice up the aubergine
  12. Spoon a healthy layer of sauce into a deep, oven-proof 7x7 in dish (or something similarly sized)
  13. Place a layer of aubergine slices on top of the sauce; you may need to cut some of the aubergines in half to gain an even layering
  14. Spoon the rest of the sauce on top of this last layer, and then again layer the rest of the aubergine one top. I tend to fit my aubergines together like puzzle pieces so that they cover the sauce without overlapping each other, but overlapping would be fine too - you may just need to add on another few minutes of cook
  15. Drizzle the aubergines generously with olive oil and a pinch of salt, and cook for 15 minutes (or 20 minutes if your aubergine slices overlap quite a bit)
  16. Remove from the oven, and turn the grill rather than the oven on.
  17. Grate a generous amount of parmesean cheese, and sprinkle over the aubergines so that they're mostly covered by the cheese
  18. Grill for a further 5 minutes or until cheese is slightly browned and bubbly - you can increase the temperature of the grill if these feels like it's taking too long
  19. Remove and serve


Wendy said...

I've been in an aubergine mood recently so this will undoubtably be cooked soon. Sounds wonderful. :)

Jeanne said...

Mmmm, that sounds good. I love mince - on pasta, in meatballs, stuffed into squashes, with beans in a chile con carne... you name it. I'll be putting this on my to do list :)

Antonia said...

This looks very good indeed. I have just made a batch of chilli but rather wish I had turned my mince into Moussaka, like you! Delicious - I shall have to make it next time.

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

I love moussaka but don't often make the effort to make it. Your recipe however seems so much less effort it would be foolish, and just rude not to give it a try.