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
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.
Drain and rinse. The next morning, drain the beans in a colander and rinse them well. Let drain again.
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.
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.
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.
Drain. Place the broiled eggplant slices back in the colander to cool and drain until you’re ready to assemble the casserole.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Cover eggplant. Pour the custard over the eggplant, which should make your baking pan very full. Let this settle for about 10 minutes.
Apply cheese and crumbs. Sprinkle the cheese and crumbs over the surface of the custard.
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!