After sharing the recipe for my dad’s famous Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Cheese Dip earlier this summer, I realized that I haven’t shared enough Greek recipes here on the site.
Growing up Greek is to grow up loving delicious, traditional, homemade food. I can still remember the smells of my Great Yia Yia’s house, the fragrant stews and sauces, like Fasolakia, simmering that you could smell as you walked up the driveway, fresh herbs drying in the kitchen, the smells of homemade chocolates wafting up the stairs from the basement, where she did her candy-making. It is amazing how I can still tell you exactly what that kitchen smelled like and that was over 20 years ago. When my great grandmother passed away, it was my dad’s parents that moved into the home, carrying on many of the same traditions, Avgolemeno soup, lamb meatballs, pastitsio, spanikopita, dolmades, plus of course, the Greek pastries and all of that good sweet stuff.
Now that my parents have moved into this home, that was built for my Great Grandparents many years after they moved here from Greece and has been in family since long before I was born, they continue to make many of these amazing traditional foods in the very kitchen that my Yia Yia Faklaris and my Yia Yia Manos once did. My dad makes the best Greek salad dressing around (I will have to share my version of it soon) for the best souvlaki you will ever eat, he can grill up a leg of marinated lamb like it’s no one’s business and he makes a killer rice pudding that will literally have you on the verge of tears, it’s that good. My mom, though she doesn’t have a bit of Greek blood in her veins, she makes incredible pastitsio, amazing Avgolemeno soup and together she and my dad make the best baklava I have ever eaten.
Sadly, going gluten-free nearly 10 years ago now, has meant that I have had to say goodbye to a lot of the traditional foods I grew up on. I have yet to come up with a gluten-free equivalent to phyllo dough, something so integral to so many of my favorite Greek dishes. With that said, it has taken me nearly 10 years and moving across the country away from my family to come to this – but lately I have been thinking that while I may never have many of those classic Greek dishes as I once knew them, there is no reason I can’t reimagine them. Keeping the classic flavors, but making them gluten-free and trying to generally just lighten them up a bit.
Moussaka, a classic layered eggplant casserole of sorts, was something I always liked, but oftentimes I always found it to be a bit too heavy. Of course, as the eggplant is usually breaded or floured in some way, it almost always contains gluten and it always contains a TON of dairy, too. After hearing from many of you on the Tasty Yummies Facebook page a few weeks back, that you wanted some fun and creative recipes for eggplant, I decided it was time I tackled recreating this classic Greek dish. Moussaka.
This Lightened-Up Moussaka is so incredible, it has so much flavor and it is hearty without being heavy or “too much”. To me, it’s comfort food at it’s finest. This Moussaka is totally grain-free, the eggplant is not breaded or floured and it’s grilled instead of fried, so it isn’t soaked in oil. I was even able to recreate a béchamel sauce with olive oil instead of butter and tapioca starch instead of flour. With the exception of a small amount of sheep’s milk Romano cheese, it is dairy-free, so if you have to avoid dairy, you can easily just leave it out. Plus, I even snuck some greens into the recipe, for good measure. Why not, right?
Please don’t let the long list of instructions sway you from making this, it really isn’t all that complicated and in the end when you take a bite of this, you will forget all about the steps it took to get you there. Promise.
Traditionally Moussaka is made with ground beef and/or lamb. I had some of the grass-fed ground beef that our farmer delivers right to our door step, but ground turkey or chicken would also work. To make vegetarian, you could replace the ground meat with chopped portabello mushrooms and/or walnuts, or even just some cooked lentils, for a yummy “meaty” texture.I had the opportunity to serve this Lighten-Up Moussaka to my parents when they were visiting last week and they loved it, which made me so happy. I hope you enjoy this classic Greek dish as much as we do and be on the look out for even more recipes inspired by my family’s recipes. (why oh why have I waited so long to do this?)
Is there a classic Greek dish that you love?
[print_this]Lightened-Up Moussaka (gluten/grain-free with dairy-free and vegetarian options, paleo-friendly)
2 medium eggplants
1/4 cup Terra Deyssa Organic Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, divided in half
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb grass-fed ground beef (or ground lamb) see below for vegetarian options*
1 14.5-ounce can organic diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 tablespoon organic tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup red wine (optional)
2 cups baby spinach
salt and pepper, to taste
Grain-free Bechamel and Egg Topping:
1/4 cup Terra Deyssa Organic Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons tapioca or arrowroot starch
salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups non-dairy milk (unsweetened almond and/or coconut)*
1/2 cup sheep’s milk Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (optional)
3 large farm fresh eggs, lightly beaten
Prep the eggplant. Peel the eggplants, either entirely or leave strips of peel, giving you a striped eggplant, which I find helps keep them together a bit, but still keeps the moussaka easy to cut into when serving. Slice the eggplant into 1/3-inch thick rounds. Place in a single layer on a paper towel lined baking pan. Sprinkle with sea salt and set aside to let some of the moisture get pulled out. About an hour.
Make the tomato sauce filling. Meanwhile heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over a medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic. Sauté for another minute or two. Add the ground meat (or vegetarian substitute) and cook until lightly browned, breaking it up with a fork. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, ground cinnamon, parsley and red wine. Give it all a good stir. Drop the heat to a medium and allow to simmer, covered, for about 35-40 minutes. At the end, add the baby spinach and salt and pepper, to taste, give it a good stir to incorporate and allow the spinach to wilt. Remove from the heat.
Grill or broil the eggplant. To prepare the eggplant, after it has sat salted for about an hour, take paper towels and blot off any excess moisture and salt. Heat your grill to a medium-high heat. Brush one side of the eggplant rounds with olive oil and place oiled side down on the grill and cook for 3-5 minutes. They should have nice grill marks. When they are done on one side, brush the other side with oil and flip over. When the eggplants are nicely grilled and tender, they are done. Remove from the heat and set aside. To broil, line a pan with aluminum foil. Brush both sides of the eggplant rounds with olive oil. Broil for 3-5 minutes until lightly browned on one side, then flip them over and broil for a few minutes more. They should be tender and slightly browned. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF and grease an 8″ x 8″ baking pan (or something similar in size). Set aside.
Make the béchamel sauce. Heat the non-dairy milk in a small saucepan, to a simmer. Set aside and keep warm. In a medium-sized sauce pan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Once the oil is hot and has a slight shimmer to it, add the tapioca (or arrowroot) starch and a little salt and pepper. Begin whisking together to avoid any lumps. Make sure you don’t burn the starch. After a minute or so, you will have a thick, creamy paste-like sauce. Slowly begin adding in the warmed non-dairy milk. Whisking constantly to blend well and remove any lumps. Increase the heat to a high and bring the mixture to a boil so it thickens. Once thick, add in half of the Pecorino Romano cheese and allow it to melt. Remove the sauce from the heat.
Give the béchamel sauce a minute or two to cool down. Very slowly add the beaten eggs to the mixture, whisking constantly while slowly pouring in. Add the remaining cheese. Set the mixture aside.
Assemble the moussaka. Add a layer of the eggplant rounds to the bottom of the pan, making sure to layer so there are no holes where you can see the bottom of the greased pan. Next add the tomato sauce on top of the eggplant. Using a spatula flatten and even it out. Then add the remaining eggplant, layering as necessary. Finally, pour the béchamel sauce over the top. It’s totally OK if is starts seeping into the below layers, this actually helps hold it all together. Sprinkle a little ground cinnamon and just a wee little pinch of ground nutmeg over top.
Place the pan in the preheated oven and allow it to bake for 45 minutes, until the top is totally set and it is nice and golden brown. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting into and serving. I serve this alongside a Greek salad, and I serve some up some cubes of high-quality sheep’s milk Greek feta and kalamata olives. Enjoy.
For an even lighter meat version try ground turkey or chicken
To make vegetarian you can use walnut meat, chopped portabello mushrooms, cooked lentils or any other meat substitute that you would like
I went with 1 cup unsweetened plain homemade almond milk and 1 cup full fat organic canned coconut milk
This can be made ahead and reheated, this really lets the flavors come together. Simply reheat in a 350º F oven for about 30 minutes, covering in foil if it begins to brown too much. [/print_this]
Oh and to top this all off, last night we went to the Long Beach Greek Festival, which was amazing. I ate so much amazing Greek food, and drooled over all of the delicious stuff that I couldn’t eat, which made me even more excited to recreate some of my favorite dishes. Such perfect timing.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using these links – your cost remains the same, but I earn a small percentage to help support this blog. Thank you, your support is so appreciated.