I only know two Greek people and neither of them are big or fat which is hugely disappointing. This could soon change though; one of them (my friend’s girlfriend) is a relentless feeder and is determined to fatten everyone up she knows with copious amounts of delicious food swimming in olive oil. I’m totally cool with her feeding habits because Greek food is delicious. If I were Greek I would certainly be big and fat because I’d never stop eating.
Recently I found myself green with envy as the feeder invited her boyfriend to Greece to visit her family. Cue mass excitement amongst her many hundreds of aunts – immediately every single one of them was on a mission to feed her boyfriend their moussaka and all claimed to make the best one. Win an Olympic gold medal? Not fussed. Win the lottery? Meh. Be judged to be the Moussaka Queen? “YES YES YES THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN PUT ON THIS PLANET TO DO!” The quest for the ultimate moussaka is the holy grail to the feeder’s aunts and what a noble cause it is. What could possibly beat this wonderful dish served with a classic Greek salad? Soft rich lamb, subtle herbs and spices, a big tomato hit, aubergine which melts in the mouth all hiding under a soft creamy zingy coating. Served with the salty freshness of a greek salad, frankly nothing can beat it. Sadly for the aunties slaving away in hot Athenian kitchens trying to perfect their recipe and win our admiration the recipe for the worlds best moussaka is no secret; in fact it’s right here….
My Big Fat Greek Moussaka
serves 4 big fat Greeks.
600g minced lamb
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
3 chopped anchovies finely chopped
2 tins of peeled plum tomatoes
A big squeeze of tomato purée
2 medium sized aubergines sliced into 1/2 cm slices.
100ml red wine
Small handful of fresh mint finely chopped
1 generous tsp of dried oregano
1 tsp ground cinnamon
350ml Greek/natural yogurt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 a nutmeg
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1. Brown off the mince in a big pan and once done transfer to a big bowl.
2. Soften the onion and the garlic in the pan for a few minutes before the chopped anchovies adding the tomatoes and lamb. Crush the tomatoes with a wooden spoon to break them up before adding the tomato purée. Reduce the liquid on a high heat.
3. Put the grill on high and after brushing the aubergine slices with olive oil grill them for a few minutes on each side until they change colour. It will probably be necessary to do this in batches. If you have the time and inclination you can cover them in salt to draw any excess water out before you cook them, and then wipe the salt and water off with kitchen paper – 3o minutes or so will be sufficient but it’s not essential.
4. Once the meat mixture is thickening up nicely, season generously and then add a good glug of wine, the fresh mint, oregano, cinnamon and continue reducing down. The cinnamon adds a lovely rich sweetness and enhances the lamb no end so don’t miss this out. While this continues reducing down, prepare the topping.
5. Mix the yoghurt, egg, lemon zest and nutmeg thoroughly before adding a good twist of black pepper. Once the sauce is thick and delicious, put the oven on to 190 and start assembling the moussaka.
6. In a large baking dish build up the moussaka by putting in alternating layers of lamb and aubergine, ensuring that you finish with a layer of aubergine. Spread the yoghurt mixture evenly over the top and bake uncovered in the oven for around 30 minutes until golden brown. Whilst your waiting throw together a simple but delicious Greek salad and you’ll be all set.
Classic Greek Salad
3 large ripe tomatoes
1 small/medium red onion
A handful of olives (mixed or black)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp of dried oregano
Quarter the tomatoes, and then cut each quarter into 4/5 bite sized chunks. Cut the cucumber into similar sized chunks and half the red onion before slicing it into thin ribbons. Combine all of these into a bowl, scatter on the olives, and break up the feta with your thumbs into irregular chunks before throwing this in too. It will have loads more character and the flavours will seem more balanced if you don’t chop the feta up evenly so get your hands in there. Dress the salad with a little extra virgin olive oil, mix gently, and then sprinkle on the oregano and add some freshly milled black pepper. Leave for 10 minutes to let the flavours combine.
Serve the moussaka with the salad and bread to mop up any juices. Serve big fat portions and then immediately take a bow and sit back to enjoy the show as Zeus rains down thunderbolts in recognition of the worlds best moussaka. The aunts are going to hate you, but your stomach certainly won’t.