As the holidays are in full flow, our attention is drawn to foreign dishes. Take Moussaka, now-days regarded as a symbol of Greek cuisine, what would be our surprise if we were told that it has been "borrowed" from another land.

Let me tell you a tale which will blow your hat away.
Moussaka originates from the days of Sinbad, Shehrezade and Aladdin. It's a dish which was enjoyed by Caliphs in the glorious days of Baghdad.

Muhklabah as called by the persians in Medieval times was originally a simple and tasty dish, composed of meat (lamb or beef), aubergines and topped with cheese.
On its way to Greece, it stopped over in Armenia and it that ancient land it became a traditional fare, a family dish made with lamb meat, topped with eggs and cheese.
It's only when it arrived in the country now known as Greece that it acquired its white sauce topping. Now-days there are many moussaka variations and many vegetables can be used instead of aubergines, e.g. potatoes, pumpkin, tomatoes etc....

Last autumn when we hopped from a Greek island to another among the many marvels which left me wide-eyed, my jaw dropped when on a street corner, where a few stalls had been hastily put together, I spotted white aubergines.
I have absolutely no idea what these albino eggplants taste like but I never had never seen such a thing before nor ever since. Of course all these fabulous things were duly recorded.
Greek cuisine is one I would love to love, the ingredients are healthy and superb but I have had too many rip-off, luke-warm dishes in restaurants where nobody cared so I am slightly wary. But I will be the first to recognise that nothing beats a glorious home-made moussaka, preferably hot.

If a whole book could be written about Moussaka, there is a few essential things to know.
First, it's a dish of many components which takes a long time to cook, so a few cheats won't go amiss.
Then, there is a debate about the aubergines. Should they be salted? though it's not necessary since current aubergines have had the bitter taste removed, it's still favoured by some chefs, as when they are salted they don't absorb the oil as much.
Last but not least, the bottom of the dish must be layered with parboiled potatoes to absorb the oil.
This is His moussaka recipe. A delicious home-made moussaka from an old recipe book by Marie Stone

3 medium aubergines
400g onions
250ml olive oil (give or take)
500 to 650g mince raw lamb or mutton
pinch of cinnamon
3 tbsp chopped parsley
1 crushed garlic clove
2 potatoes parboiled and sliced
salt and pepper
210 ml stock
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp tomato paste
225ml bechamel sauce
4 tbs grated cheese
Heat the oven to low temp 180C (mark 4/ 350F)
Cut the aubergines into slices, about 1cm thick, salt and put aside to drain.
Dry them and fry them gently in olive oil. When they are soft, remove from the oil.
Put the onions finely chopped adding more oil if needed. When the onions begin to colour, add the meat, cinnamon, parsley, sugar and garlic.
Cook until brown.
In the meantime parboil the potatoes and when ready slice them about 1cm thick.
In a ovenproof dish place the potatoes and then layer the aubergines with the cooked mixture, season.
Repeat until you run out of both, always finish on a layer of aubergines.
Warm the stock and add the tomato paste, pour over the layers and cook in a slow oven (180C) for about 1 hour.
Make the bechamel sauce, add 3 tablespoons of cheese. Cover the aubergine layer with the sauce, sprinkle the last spoonful of cheese over it turn the over a little higher and cook until the top is brown which will take about 20 minutes.

post in association with Schwartz

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