Whether you like your moussaka meaty or meatless, this popular Mediterranean specialty is eminently suitable for serving in the succa.

Moussaka is perfect for the harvest holiday, as it is rich in vegetables and is portable. In Greece, this celebrated casserole is usually made of layers of fried eggplant, a ground meat filling and a topping of béchamel sauce, but in much of the Mideast, including Israel, moussaka often has no dairy products; it is topped with sliced tomatoes or with a thick tomato sauce before being baked.

Occasionally we add a layer of cooked macaroni to our moussaka because the pasta tastes good with the eggplant and the filling. The macaroni also helps the casserole hold together better when it’s cut into portions.

Adding potato slices is another way to make the casserole firmer and easier to serve. Benny Saida, author of Food from the Balkans (in Hebrew), uses this technique, adding a layer of fried potato slices to his casserole. For the meat filling, he prefers ground lamb.

Saida tops his moussaka with a kosher velouté-type sauce instead of the milk-based béchamel. To make the sauce, he uses chicken broth as the liquid, thickens it with a roux of flour and melted margarine and flavors it with crushed tomatoes. He enriches the sauce with beaten eggs, which help the topping turn golden during baking.

Moussaka is also delicious when made without meat. Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, authors of Veganomicon, make eggplant- potato moussaka from vegetables roasted with olive oil. They layer the vegetables with a wine-flavored tomato sauce enriched with garlic and shallots sautéed in olive oil, and serve the casserole with pine nut “cream” thickened with tofu.

The moussaka principle also works well with flavors from other regions of the world. To vary the recipe, we sometimes use the seasonings of East Asia. Instead of tomato sauce, we make mandarin moussaka with Chinese hoisin sauce as well as soy sauce and fresh ginger.

This moussaka is faster and easier to prepare than classic versions of the dish, and is convenient on busy days when you need to prepare a holiday dinner quickly. While the moussaka is baking, we steam rice and prepare a fresh vegetable salad to complete the easy-to-make Succot meal.

Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.

MIDDLE EASTERN MOUSSAKA

This recipe is from Cooking from the Nile’s Land (in Hebrew). Author Levana Zamir writes that moussaka is also made with zucchini, cauliflower or potatoes. She considers it a simplified version of stuffed vegetables because cooks layer the components in a casserole instead of hollowing and filling each vegetable.

For a richer dish, some add roasted pine nuts or roasted blanched almonds to the meat filling.

1 large onion, chopped finely
1 Tbsp. oil, plus more oil for frying
500 gr. (about 18 ounces) coarsely ground beef
200 gr. (about 7 ounces) tomato paste pinch of salt pinch of ground allspice
1 1⁄2 kg. (31⁄4 pounds) eggplant, peeled or unpeeled, sliced 1 cm (scant 1⁄2 inch) thick
1 cup broth or water
freshly ground black pepper

Fry the onion in 1 tablespoon hot oil until it begins to turn golden. Add the meat and continue to fry, stirring and mashing the meat with a fork, until the color of the meat changes.

Add half the tomato paste, 1⁄2 cup water, salt and allspice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meat is tender and has absorbed the liquid. Let cool before continuing.

Sprinkle salt on the eggplant slices, put them in a strainer and let stand for 1⁄2 hour. Squeeze out the juices. Rinse the slices and pat dry.

Fry the eggplant slices in oil on both sides. Remove from the oil and pat dry on paper towels.

Heat oven to 180ºC (about 350ºF). Put a layer of fried eggplant slices in a square baking dish. Cover with a layer of meat filling. Continue layering, alternating slices of eggplant and filling and ending with a layer of eggplant.

To make the sauce, mix remaining tomato paste with 1 cup broth and salt and pepper to taste. Pour it over the casserole. Cover and bake for 45 minutes, or until the eggplant is very tender and has absorbed the juices. Serve hot in square pieces.

PARVE MOUSSAKA WITH PINE NUT CREAM

This recipe is from Veganomicon. Authors Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero write: “Just imagine delicate layers of roasted eggplant, potatoes and zucchini topped with a sublime cinnamon-spiked tomato sauce and a creamy pine nut custard...This reheats nicely and tastes even better the next day. Serve with slices of crusty peasant bread, and a simple tomato and cucumber salad with olive oil and lemon.”

To make the sauce, use the softest tofu you can find; the best is silken tofu. Large, long baking potatoes are perfect for this recipe.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Vegetable layers:
450 gr. (1 pound) eggplant
450 gr. (1 pound) zucchini
700 gr. (11⁄2 pounds) baking potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
1⁄4 cup olive oil

Sauce:
1⁄4 cup olive oil 3 garlic cloves, minced
4 large shallots, sliced thin
1⁄3 cup red wine or vegetable broth
two 400-gr. (15-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes, with juice
2 tsp. dried oregano
1⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 bay leaf

Salt Pine Nut Cream:
1⁄2 cup pine nuts, plus additional pine nuts for garnish if desired
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
450 gr. (1 pound) soft silken tofu
1 garlic clove
1 tsp. arrowroot powder or potato starch
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 1⁄4 tsp. salt, or to taste white pepper
1⁄2 cup dry, fine white bread crumbs (for sprinkling)

Preheat oven to 200ºC (400ºF). Lightly oil three baking sheets or shallow pans.

Wash eggplant and zucchini and trim stems. Slice eggplant, zucchini and potatoes lengthwise into approximately 6-mm. (1⁄4-inch)-thick slices. Rub eggplant slices with a little salt and set aside in a colander in the sink or in a big bowl for about 15 minutes to drain. Briefly rinse with cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.

Place each vegetable on a separate baking sheet. Distribute 1⁄4 cup oil among the three sheets and sprinkle zucchini and potatoes with salt. Toss to coat the vegetables on each sheet, making sure each piece is completely coated with oil. Drizzle a little extra oil on the eggplant. Spread out the vegetables on each sheet; some overlapping is okay. Roast the pans of zucchini and eggplant for 15 minutes, or until tender. Roast potatoes for about 20 to 22 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Allow vegetables to cool.

Note: The zucchini will likely be very watery after roasting, so when it’s cool enough to touch, gently but firmly squeeze the slices, by the handful to remove any excess water. This will prevent an overly wet casserole and will help concentrate the flavors.

While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the sauce: Combine 1⁄4 cup oil and minced garlic in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat over medium heat and let garlic sizzle for about 30 seconds, then add shallots and cook until soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add wine and simmer until slightly reduced, another 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, oregano, cinnamon and bay leaf. Partially cover and simmer over medium- low heat for 12 to 14 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sauce should reduce slightly. Turn off the heat, remove bay leaf, and adjust the salt.

Make the pine nut cream: In a food processor, blend pine nuts and lemon juice, scraping sides of bowl with a rubber spatula, until a creamy paste forms. Add tofu, garlic, arrowroot, nutmeg, salt and white pepper. Blend until creamy and smooth.

Lightly oil a 23- x 33-cm. (9 x 13-inch) pan and preheat oven again to 200ºC (400ºF), if necessary. Spread 1⁄4 cup of sauce on pan, then add successive layers, in order, of eggplant, potatoes, sauce and half the bread crumbs. Spread all the zucchini on top of this. Top with a final layer each of eggplant, potatoes, sauce and bread crumbs. Use a rubber spatula to evenly spread the pine nut cream over the entire top layer. Scatter a few pine nuts on top, if desired.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until top is lightly browned and a few cracks have formed in the topping. Allow to cool 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

MANDARIN MOUSSAKA


This recipe is from The New Casserole by Faye Levy. Like classic moussaka, this casserole is composed of layers of sautéed eggplant alternating with a ground meat filling. But this version of the dish is much lighter, as it does not require deep frying.

Instead of a cheesy topping and a tomato sauce, this casserole boasts the pungent flavors of East Asia – fresh ginger, soy sauce, hoisin sauce and chili oil. If you don't have hoisin sauce, you can substitute sweet and sour sauce. Serve the moussaka with steamed white or brown rice.

Makes 3 or 4 servings

450 gr. (1 pound) slim eggplants
225 gr. (8 ounces) ground beef
About 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 1⁄2 cups sliced celery
1 red bell pepper, cut in strips
3 Tbsp. minced peeled gingerroot
1⁄2 cup beef or chicken broth
3 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
2 green onions, cut in 5-cm. (2-inch) strips, thick pieces halved lengthwise
1⁄4 teaspoon hot pepper oil

Preheat oven to 200ºC (400ºF). Cut eggplants in diagonal slices about 1 cm. (3⁄8 inch) thick. Put on a lightly oiled baking sheet and brush lightly with oil; use a total of about 1 tablespoon. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake about 10 minutes or until just tender. Reduce oven temperature to 180ºC (350ºF).

Combine meat and 1 tablespoon soy sauce in a medium bowl and mix well; set aside.

Heat a wok or large skillet, add 2 tablespoons oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add celery and red pepper and sauté about 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove with a slotted spatula. Add gingerroot to skillet, stir, then add beef mixture and sauté over medium heat, stirring to break up meat, about 4 minutes or until beef changes color.

Add broth and remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce and bring to a simmer. Add green onions. Return celery and red pepper to pan. Add hoisin sauce and heat 1 to 2 minutes over low heat. Remove from heat and add chili oil.

Lightly oil an 8-cup casserole. Layer eggplant and meat mixture in casserole in 3 layers, beginning with eggplant and ending with meat. Cover and bake about 30 to 40 minutes or until eggplant is tender and casserole is hot and beginning to bubble.

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