Mushroom and Roasted Eggplant Moussaka

This moussaka was my veggie main for Thanksgiving. I made it for my mom (who’s actually pescatarian) and my friend S. who joined us for dinner. She brought along her amazingly talented chef husband and also her little sweet pea, baby V. (We all took turns staring at and holding him. He in turn entertained himself by staring at the kitchen light and spitting up on me.) Anyway, moussaka is perhaps a bit unconventional for the holidays, but we are an unconventional family. Besides, who cares about tradition—this is awesome.

Recipes involving both cooking and baking are often labeled “laborious” and “time-consuming”. I don’t think so; actually, I think those kinds of dishes are total time-savers, especially on days when you know the oven is going to be occupied most of the time by a big, fat turkey. (I had to negotiate with my dad for oven time. He takes his turkey verrrry seriously.) They also have more complex flavors because of the multi-stage prep and cooking time. I roasted the eggplant the night before, made both red and white sauces and assembled the gratin in the morning, and then didn’t think about it again until the turkey came out hours later, at which point I shoved it in the oven and baked it for an hour. See, not complicated; just requires a little organization!

Time-consuming or not, it was delicious. CookThink says the mushrooms “are so rich and meaty” that you won’t miss the meat, and it’s true! I’m sure my mom and S. didn’t miss anything; and I don’t think the rest of us did either. The superstar of the mushroom sauce, though, was really the spice combination of cinnamon, allspice and oregano. Aromatic and bold, they are what truly make the sauce. As for the eggplant, I saw a few versions, in which it is breaded and pan-fried, like in eggplant parmigiana, but I liked them roasted. Maybe I’ll try it that way next time when there’s less competition, i.e. no turkey. One more thing to note is that unlike with lasagna, the bechamel sauce goes on top of the layered veggies. It’s flavor—nutty from the nutmeg and salty from the parmesan—is just as important as the vegetables in bringing the dish together.

This was fun! Too bad I forgot to take photos…guess I was too busy eating. 😛

Enjoy!

Mushroom and Roasted Eggplant Moussaka (recipe adapted from Janet is Hungry and  CookThink)

printable recipe

Serves 6-8

INGREDIENTS

Mushroom Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil

2 medium eggplants, cut into 1/4″ thick slices

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 lb button mushrooms, sliced

2 large tomatoes

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, or more if necessary

1/2 tsp ground allspice, or more if necessary

1/2 tsp oregano, or more if necessary

1/2 cup chopped parsley

2 tbsp tomato paste

salt and pepper to taste

Bechamel Sauce

4 tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 cup flour

2 1/2 cups milk (I used 1%, but any will do, even skim)

1/2-3/4 cup grated parmesan

salt and pepper to taste

Topping

3/4 cup bread crumbs (I made my own with 2 slices of my half-white bread)

METHOD

Mushroom Sauce

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease 2 baking sheets with the olive oil, and arrange the eggplant slices on top in a single layer. Douse and season each side with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake, turning once, 20 minutes. (I did 20 minutes on each side; I wanted them really roasted. And then I wrapped them in foil to continue steaming until cooled.)
  2. Plunge tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds, then refresh in cold water. Peel and chop roughly.
  3. Heat some olive oil over medium-high heat and add onions, garlic and mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms are soft, 15-20 minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes, cinnamon, allspice, tomato paste, parsley, wine, salt and pepper to the mushroom mixture. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and then cover and simmer or 15-30 minutes, or until it tastes right.

Bechamel Sauce

  1. While the red sauce is simmering, prepare the bechamel. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Stir in flour and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and slowly stir in milk. Return to heat and whisk until sauce thickens. Stir in nutmeg and Parmesan. Again, remove from heat and set aside.

Assembly

  1. Spoon alternating layers into a greased 9″x13″ baking dish. Start with a layer of eggplant, then half the mushroom mixture. Then another layer of eggplant, and the second half of the mushroom mixture. Finish with a layer of eggplant.
  2. Spread sauce over last layer of eggplant and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake at 350 F covered with an aluminum foil tent for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and bake an additional 15 minutes until golden. Let sit 5-10 minutes before serving.
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