Recipes and Tastes of Greece
Mousaka, the national dish
of the Aegean sea
by Mirsini Lambraki
Cosmopolitan, common talk among friends,
in some cases a bit “abused”, moussaka, for years now, has found itself in
the first place of the Pantheon of so called "national dishes” of Greece
and Turkey along with souvlaki (skewer), tzatziki and Greek salad.
However, as is the case with all things,
the essence of dishes appears to content neither the uniformity of national
dishes, nor the determined biases, since it has been proved in our everyday life
that cooking is a live and vibrant part of every country that develops not only
in savour but also culturally as well.
First of all to the big disappointment
of Greeks and Turks, the word "moussaka" is of Arabic origin!!
The roots of the word “moussaka” which both nations claim, come from
the Persian word "magouma'", a dish with layers of eggplants, onions
and minced lamb meat. The word
"moussaka'" in Arabic means "soaked" because this dish has
to be eaten juicy, served with all the rich juices of its vegetables, meat and
In Lebanon, people name “moussaka” a
pot dish, which is served with layers of eggplants, a sauce of fresh tomatoes
Many of us though ignore that our
neighbours, the Turks, keep cooking moussaka in its Arabic and not in its
European version, that is to say with plenty of eggplants or zucchini, minced
meat and chickpeas. Eggplants or
zucchini are not cut into slices but in small square pieces in the size of the
head of a "bird" and they are cooked in a pot and not in the oven. As
far as potatoes is concerned there is no way that they would be used since this
vegetable of the "New World” has never managed to totally infiltrate the
Middle East dishes.
The French educated chef, born in Sifnos,
Nikos Tselementes was the one who added on the “top”of the dish the white
sauce called béchamel. Thus, the “development"
of Middle East moussaka in the beginning of the century, took a European version
where all is covered with a sometimes thick or sometimes washy "sauce"
depending on the mood of the chef.
The moussaka version which was not made
with the classic béchamel sauce and its last layer was of rubbed rusk or
hardtack or even beaten eggs and cheese was named in the Greek cooking guides of
1930-1950-1960 as "moussaka
kg of lamb minced meat finely chopped
1 small onion thinly chopped
tablespoon of black raisins (optional)
tablespoon grated orange peel
tablespoons of olive oil
½ cup olive oil for frying
1 teaspoon salt
For the topping (option A)
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups fresh milk
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons grated cheese
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
For the topping (option B)
non sour yoghurt
3 well beaten eggs
1 tablespoon flour
Cut the eggplants into slices and put
them in salted water for 1 hour approximately.
Remove eggplants from water and squeeze them so they drain the excess
Heat olive oil in a deep frying pan with
heavy bottom and fry the eggplants until soften without getting brown. Arrange
them on a kitchen towel paper to absorb the excess olive oil.
In a clean frying pan heat olive oil and
sizzle the onion until it golden browns without getting burned.
Add minced meat, stir constantly, add all spices, grated orange peel and
raisins- provided that you use them- along with a bit of salt.
Cook 4 – 5 minutes until
all fluids are absorbed.
Arrange eggplant slices on a medium size
baking dish, sprinkle minced meat and continue with another layer of eggplants.
Prepare béchamel sauce as follows: In a
small saucepan melt butter, remove from the heat and add flour, stirring
constantly with a wooden ladle till the mixture thickens. When
the mush cools, add the beaten egg yolks. Add cold milk and place the saucepan
in the heat, in low temperature, stirring constantly till it becomes a thick and
homogeneous sauce. Sprinkle cheese and add a touch of salt and nutmeg and spoon
the sauce over all.
Bake for 25-30 minutes in a preheated 180 degrees oven until the sauce golden browns. Served warm.
Mirsini Lambraki was born in Heraklion, Crete in July 1965.She studied Political Sciences and Public Administration at the Law School of Athens. She published a first selection of poems in 1990, under the title “Tritones”, and a second selection, “Oneireutis”, in 1992.
In 1993, following a family tradition of three generations, Myrsini Lambraki consecrated herself exclusively to the art of cooking. Her interest in diet has led her to research traditional Greek and Cretan food in al their aspects, turning her into an expert advisor in the art of using, serving and promoting traditional products.
She writes a gastronomic column in one of the country’s most important newspapers “Kathimerini” and has published articles on traditional cooking in Greek, American and European Union + Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Cyprusan magazines. She teaches Traditional Cretan - Greek Cooking in educational programs
She is a member of SLOW FOOD Administration Board, an international organization that promotes traditional cooking, and a member of ARCHESTRATOS, an association promoting the preservation and dissemination of Greek Cooking.
In 1997 she published her first gastronomic research on the edible greens in Crete and Greece “EDIBLE GREENS” which has become a national best-seller (five editions to date), and in 1998 a gastronomic treatise on cod-fish, “SALTED COD” (second edition).
In 1999, Lambraki published her book on the olive tree and its produce “OLIVE OIL: the Elixir of life” with a detailed description of the history of this tree and the use of olive oil in Greece from Antiquity to the present.
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