Bean Moussaka

Bean Moussaka
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bean moussaka
Not moussaka, but tasty!

Eggplants are funny, don’t you think? We think so, too. But we try to put them to good use. Sometimes it’s Ratatouille (our favorite way to use those orbs), and sometimes eggplant sliders. But, during a recent pickup, we got three eggplants, too many for sliders or ratatouille; so, what to do? We went old school and thought of something from one of the oldest cultures on earth: Greece. Specifically, Moussaka.

The only problem was that we didn’t have a handy, time-tested, recipe for moussaka. We’ve had it numerous times and really like it, but, when it comes right down to it, we’ve never made it, nor even really tried. We knew it used a fair quantity of eggplant, which at the time was the main thing. So, we opened a cookbook that we thought would be likely to have a recipe — The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook — and checked it for moussaka.

And, wouldn’t you know it, there was a recipe for Borlotti Bean Moussaka. We’ve never had moussaka with beans in it, but we did have a couple of bags of pinto beans waiting to be used. So, with the thought of two birds and all that, we made it. Or at least something close.

Makes one 9×13 pan

Bean Moussaka

Bean Moussaka


  • 1 cup (8 ounces) dried beans
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 medium eggplant, sliced
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 large can (28 ounces) tomatoes
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (or Grana Pardano) cheese
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

Abbreviated Instructions

Soak beans overnight. Drain and rinse well.

In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring 2 cups water to boil. Add bay leaf, salt, and beans. Return to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit 1 hour.

Bring beans back to a boil, then simmer until tender, about 1 hour. Set aside.

Lightly salt eggplant slices and set in colander to drain for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly. Then toss with 2 Tbs olive oil.

Place oven rack closest to the broiler and turn on broiler to heat. Meanwhile, place eggplant slices on foil-lined baking sheet. Broil slices three minutes on a side, then return to colander to drain.

In large skillet, heat remaining oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and fry until tender. Add tomatoes and oregano, and simmer until tomatoes have broken down and sauce has thickened. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt, pepper, and additional oregano.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease 9x13 baking pan.

Place layer of drained beans in pan, followed by tomatoes, then eggplant slices.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, buttermilk, nutmeg, and paprika. Pour over eggplant. Let stand 10 minutes. Top with Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.

Bake until bubbly and golden-brown, about 45 minutes.

Ingredient discussion:

While the original recipe called for borlotti beans, we didn’t have any, so we substituted pinto beans. We think that the type of bean won’t matter too much, unless, of course, you use green beans (not recommended). Another thing the original called for was a cup of red wine to be added to the tomato sauce. Lacking red wine, we omitted it. For the fresh bread crumbs, we just tore a slice or two of bread into small pieces, and called them crumbs. For the cheese, you want a strong flavored cheese; we went with Grana Pardano (a Parmesan-style cheese from Italy). Your eggs, as always, should be from truly free-range hens. The hens will thank you by providing the best eggs you’ve ever had.

Procedure in detail:

Forewarning. There are quite a number of things happening in the recipe. Making beans, making tomato sauce, broiling eggplant, making a custard, layering the dish. None is difficult, so take your time.

Soak beans. The night before you’re going to make this, soak a cup of beans in water. Let them soak overnight. When we do this, we often make more beans than we need for the dish, so we can have extra beans for later in the week, or to freeze.

draining beans
After soaking, drain and rinse the beans thoroughly. Your colander is going to get a workout with this recipe.

Drain and rinse. The next morning, drain the beans in a colander and rinse them well. Let drain again.

cooking beans
Bring to a boil, then simmer until the beans are tender, 1 to 2 hours.

Cook beans. In a medium-sized saucepan bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add a bay leaf, 1/2 tsp of salt, and the drained beans. Bring back to a boil, then remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 1 hour. Bring back to a simmer and cook until tender, about 1 to 2 hours. Remove from heat and set aside.

salted eggplant
The salt helps dry out the eggplant, as it’s known for giving off liquid as it cooks. Plus, the salt helps eliminate any bitterness that some eggplants may have.

Salt eggplant. Sprinkle a small amount of kosher salt on the front and back of each slice of eggplant and set it in the colander to drain for 30 minutes. You can do this while the beans are cooking so everything will come together at about the same time.

rinsing eggplant
Rinse the salt off the eggplant. It’s done its job and is no longer needed, so down the drain it goes.

Rinse, oil, and broil. Place the oven rack in the position closest to the broiler and start preheating the broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil (for easy cleanup). Rinse the eggplant slices thoroughly, then toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil to coat. Place slices in a single layer on the baking sheet and broil for 3 to 4 minutes. Turn each slice over and broil the other side for another 3 to 4 minutes.

broiled eggplant
In retrospect, we might have kept these under the broiler even a bit longer to brown a bit more.
draining eggplant
Might as well let the eggplant drain while you finish up everything else.

Drain. Place the broiled eggplant slices back in the colander to cool and drain until you’re ready to assemble the casserole.

cooknig tomato sauce
After the onion and garlic are tender, add the tomatoes and simmer until they’ve broken apart and the sauce has thickened.

Make sauce. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat remaining oil until it shimmers. Add the onion and garlic and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and oregano, reduce heat, and simmer until tomatoes have broken down and the sauce has thickened, about 40 minutes.

Adjust seasoning. Taste the sauce and add salt, pepper, and oregano to taste.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly oil a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

layering beans
Place a layer of beans on the bottom of your greased pan. Try to remove as much bean liquid as you can, so you’ll avoid having an overly-liquid casserole.

Layer beans. Use a slotted spoon to drain and place a layer of beans on the bottom of the pan. It doesn’t have to be a single layer of beans, but should be about 1/2-inch deep. Discard, or save for another purpose, excess bean broth.

Layer sauce. Scoop the tomato sauce over the beans to form an even layer, smoothing off the top.

layering moussaka
After the beans come the tomato sauce, and then the eggplant. Pretend you’re making a form of lasagna.

Layer eggplant. Finally, take the broiled eggplant rounds and place them over the tomato sauce. Ideally, they should cover all the tomatoes, but, if not, at least you tried, right?

making a custard sauce
This really isn’t a bechamel sauce, but more like a custard sauce for the top layer of the moussaka.

Make custard. We really aren’t sure what we’d call this, but it seems to be closest to a custard. So, in a medium bowl, combine the eggs, milk, buttermilk, paprika, and nutmeg. Whisk it thoroughly until everything is combined.

adding custard
The original instructions said to wait 10 minutes after adding the custard sauce. Why? We don’t know. But we waited; nothing really changed.

Cover eggplant. Pour the custard over the eggplant, which should make your baking pan very full. Let this settle for about 10 minutes.

Finally! Ready for the oven!

Apply cheese and crumbs. Sprinkle the cheese and crumbs over the surface of the custard.

bean moussaka
While not moussaka, it’s still tasty!

Bake. Slide into the oven and bake, uncovered, for 45 to 60 minutes, or until casserole is bubbly and the topping is a golden brown.

First off, this is not what we think of as moussaka, so we were a bit disappointed with the result. That’s not to say that it isn’t good, because it is pretty good. It’s just that it should be called a bean and eggplant casserole, instead of moussaka, to avoid having hopes dashed. One thing we didn’t like about ours was that it had too much liquid in the bottom of the pan when we served it; we tried to remedy that problem by making it very clear that you want to drain the beans. It probably wouldn’t go amiss with draining the tomatoes before cooking them, too. We didn’t know that beforehand, so we didn’t do it (plus, with everything else being drained, we wouldn’t have had the colander space). We think this should get three stars because it’s a pretty involved recipe, and it didn’t really remind either of us of moussaka. We probably would not make moussaka using this recipe again, but would search out a better one. Live and learn!

Worth the trouble?

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