Moussaka is not a character from the Lion King.

I returned home from Winnipeg to find a clean kitchen and an empty fridge, and a sky full of dark clouds ominous with the threat of rain. It felt like an appropriate time for some comfort food, for the both of us. After too many days of fast food, we both craved vegetables and a meal prepared at home.

And while I was in Winnipeg, I thought about moussaka, though I am not sure why. I don’t really care for much of what I’ve tasted of Greek food – maybe it’s because almost every restaurant is identical out here, and I don’t really like oregano or whatever is done to the rice or that particular colour blue.

I fantasize about Greece, however, and imagine that the food there is fantastic – not like every Taverna along Broadway or on every corner in every small town in the world. I imagine lemons and fresh herbs and sea salt and perfectly roasted lamb and big, fat, meaty olives. Everything with the sheen of fresh olive oil.

So we invited over Steve and Sooin, and Paul, who gets me in Nick’s will if Nick dies, and served up a hot pan of moussaka. And it was good. Except that it was a tad too salty, so I’ve tweaked this recipe some. It’s much better now.

Moussaka

  • 1 Japanese eggplant
  • 2 medium zucchini So you can see what size vegetables you'll be working with.

Meaty filling:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 lb. ground beef or lamb
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 small (5 1/2 oz.) can of tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken stock

White sauce:

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • zest of 1/2 lemon (or about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta

Topping:

  • 1 cup bread crumbs (preferably panko)
  • 1 cup crumbled feta
  • 1 finely minced clove of garlic
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Thinly slice your eggplant and zucchini, about 1/4 inch thick. Grease an 9″x13″ pan with olive oil.

In a large skillet, sauté your onions until translucent. Add the ground beef and garlic, and cook until browned. Add your oregano, pepper, thyme, and cinnamon, and tomato paste, and wine or chicken stock, stir until everything’s all mixed together and it smells really good, and then remove from heat.

In a small pot over medium-high heat, melt your butter. Let it get foamy, then add the flour, and stir to blend.

 

This is what the butter and flour should look like before you add the milk.
This is what the butter and flour should look like before you add the milk.

 

Whisk in your milk, and reduce heat to medium. Add your pepper and nutmeg, garlic, lemon zest (not too much!), and stir in the feta. Let this simmer until the feta has melted and the sauce has thickened, three to five minutes. Remove from heat.

Line the bottom of your prepared pan with slices of zucchini and eggplant, not too thick, but until you can’t see the bottom.

Pan with first layer.Drizzle the layer with olive oil, and then add half of the meat mixture over the top, spreading to cover. Drizzle this with about 1/3 of the white sauce. Repeat, adding another layer in this order.

Add the final layer of zucchini and eggplant (there will be three layers of vegetables in total). Drizzle your remaining white sauce over the top layer.

In a small bowl, mix up the panko (or regular bread crumbs), parsley, garlic, and feta. Top the moussaka with the crumb topping, and then drizzle with olive oil, and the juice of the lemon.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and you see bubbling along the sides.

Moussaka!Serve with a salad of cucumber and tomato, tossed with parsley and fresh mint, and topped with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper.

Meal!And bask in the joy of vegetables, even if you are wondering where summer went. It’s still raining, so tonight we are going to eat as if we are elsewhere, like India. Or Mexico. Or both?

LAMBURGER!

Oh. Um. YES.Work has kind of sucked lately, and it’s partly my own doing, but it’s made me really tired. When I left the office on Friday, the digital thermostat showed 31°C (88°F, I shit you not). And I get really cranky in the heat, and my thighs rub together so they get all sweaty and I feel slick all up in places you don’t ordinarily want to feel slick in at work, which is super gross, and I’m only telling you this because I want your pity. There is no air conditioning.

So, in a genius attempt to beat the heat, I’ve been showing up at 6:45 am, so that I can blow that melted popsicle stand by 3:30. Except that I’ve been riding my bike, so I have to leave at 6:00 am, which, I don’t know if you know this, is REALLY GODDAMN EARLY. I’ve been coming home, shotgunning an ice-cold beer, and throwing myself naked into bed for a hearty nap. It’s all that’s kept me going these days. That, and the lamb. I acquired some ground lamb this weekend.

And yesterday we did the izakaya-thing (ten dollar pitchers on Monday!), so today was a day for an easy home-cooked meal. Something on the barbecue, because it’s freaking hot all of a sudden, and my blood is still thick from winter and I cannot bear the idea of the stove right now. And so, LAMBURGERS!

Lamb burgers with feta and spinach

(Serves four.)

  • 1 lb. lean ground lamb (approximately – it may have been more like a pound and a half)
  • 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • Zest of most of a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 cup chopped fresh spinach
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix everything together in a bowl. Use your hands. Form into patties – this should make about four patties. I made two patties and then rolled the rest into ten meatballs, which I will freeze and then throw into pasta on a night when I’m feeling meatballish and lazy.

Meat on grill.Grill burgers about ten minutes, or four to five minutes per side. Serve on grilled buns topped with sliced tomato, red onion, and tzatziki. I would have added pine nuts and olives, but Nick doesn’t like those, and my blood is too thick for tiffs. I’ve never cared much for sweating.

Lamb burger with grilled zucchini.These are amazing. I couldn’t finish mine, because seriously – that’s a huge burger. But Nick packed in a burger and a half, and then asked for the meatballs.

Meatballs. And now, fed and still very warm, I think it’s naked couch time. And Rumble in the Bronx time. (It’s always naked/Rumble time.) “You got the guts? Drop the gun!” And, “I hope next time we meet, we are not fighting together. I hope we are drinking tea together.” And … good night.