Moussaka/Pastitsio

Jump to the Moussaka Pastitsio recipe or to the steps.

moussaka eggplant
Which is which? That’s the beauty of these two dishes; from the pan, you really can’t tell.

Two big grand dishes of immense comfort, moussaka and pastitsio or basically the same: a kind of Greek lasagna, where spiced ground meat (or lentils, if you want to go vegetarian) is/are layered with either eggplant or pasta, then topped with a fluffy béchamel sauce that puffs up in the oven.

Of the 2, moussaka is closer to lasagna, given that it boasts 2 layers of eggplant. Patitsio is kinda like a heartier version of macaroni and cheese. You could even do a weird, unholy but tasty hybrid, having both eggplant and pasta layers, because…why not?

And while the steps look long, it’s pretty straightforward. Both the meat sauce and the Béchamel can be made in advance, and you can assemble either casserole in about 5 minutes, once you’ve either fried the eggplant or boiled the pasta.

I decided to deliver them both to you in the same post to demo how similar they are, and how you can kind of game day your decision, depending on what you like and/or are in the mood for—as well as if you happen to have eggplant on hand. Note the bold type at the beginning of each step to indicate if the step is for one or both dishes.

Moussaka Pastitsio: A Note on the Cheese

If you’re up for doing a little bit of extra work—namely, heading to a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean market—I highly recommend you track down kefalotiri cheese. It has a bunch of names that variations on the spelling, but man, it is awesome. Similar taste and texture-wise to halloumi, it makes this Béchamel and the rest of either taste taste rich and perfectly salty. Plus: Every Middle Eastern/Mediterranean market I’ve ever been to is staffed by delightful folks who are very happy to help you discover a lot of wonderful foods. Think about getting a jar of red pepper paste to sub for tomato paste.

moussaka pastitsio kefalotiri cheese

The Steps

  • Moussaka Pastitsio: meat or lentil sauce: Heat a big pan. Pour in some oil when the pan is hot. When the oil is hot, brown chopped onion and minced garlic, a good amount either way. Add half pound of ground meat (or raw lentils in half the amount), and stir til meat is brown or lentils are fully incorporated with the onions. Add dried oregano, a good hit of salt, pepper, a can of crushed tomatoes, a healthy spoon of tomato paste, and about a quarter cup of broth. Let simmer about 20 minutes. Season with allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and cook one more minute, then check to see if it needs more salt an pepper. Cool to room temp; you can make this a day ahead if you like. When the mix is at room temp, add in one beaten egg.
  • Moussaka Pastitsio: Béchamel: For each 1/2 pound of meat or lentils you used, you want to whisk 2 tablespoons of whole milk with 1 egg yolk. Then melt 2 tablespoons of butter and whisk in flour until it’s smooth and bubbly. Gradually whisk in just under 1 cup of milk (the recipe uses one cup, so less 2 tablespoons), 1/4 teaspoon of salt, a pinch each of nutmeg and allspice, and then simmer it. Take the heat back down to low, and simmer while whisking until the sauce is nice and thick. Take the pan off the heat and whisk in the egg yolk and 1/3 cup grated kefalotiri or Parmesan. You can now put it back very low heat, whisking for another couple of minutes. Taste to see if it needs more salt and pepper, and set it aside. You can also make this a day ahead.
  • Pastitsio: Boil some pasta in salted water until al dente. Once again, you can do this a day ahead. Keep pasta covered and toss with a little oil before you store it.
  • Moussaka: slice your peeled eggplant into half-inch crosswise slices. Sprinkle with salt. Line a cookie sheet with towels (paper or otherwise), lay the slices on top, and then weight them down with something heavy and flat, maybe a platter or big casserole. Let them sit like that for 20 minutes.
  • Moussaka: Clean out your pan, or use a new one. Put some flour on a plate—gluten free is fine, especially chickpea flour. Season with salt and pepper. Pat the pressed eggplant slices dry, then dip them in the flour, shaking off any excess. Heat the pan, then heat a good 1/2 inch of oil. Make sure the oil is hot before you add the eggplant slices one at a time. You want them to brown up, but watch them carefully. A minute on each side should do the trick. Remove to drain on paper towels.
sauteed eggplant for moussaka
  • Moussaka assembly: Heat your oven to 325º. Put down a layer of half the eggplant, sprinkle with more grated cheese, add the filling. Top with the rest of the eggplant and more cheese. Pour on the bechamel, and sprinkle with a little more cheese. Bake 30 minutes, then increase heat to 400º and bake 15 minutes longer, for a golden brown top. Moussaka should rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
  • Pastitsio assembly: Heat your oven to 325º. Place pasta in bottom of casserole. Add meat on top. Sprinkle on grated cheese, then pour on béchamel and sprinkle with additional cheese. Bake 30 minutes, then increase heat to 400º and bake 15 minutes longer, for a golden brown top. Pastitsio should rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve with steamed green beans on the side. Greek Salad and Spanikopita are great go-withs.
moussaka eggplant
A steamed green veggie on the side, like these beans, perfectly complements either moussaka or pastitsio.

Moussaka Pastitsio: The Recipe

cold sesame noodles

Cold “Sesame” Noodles with Tons of Veggies

Since Cold sesame noodles have sustained me through many a New York night. After all, weekly Chinese takeout stands as a hallowed tradition in any New York apartment without a decent kitchen—basically, every apartment I ever occupied during my years in the city.Read this little prologue, followed by a step by step, or jump to the recipecold sesame noodles, an easy recipe from le chou fou Once I moved away, in 1999, I pretty much gave up cold sesame noodles. The ones I’ve sampled here in the midwest are pretty, pretty bad. I did have a bang-up recipe for them years ago, from fellow New Yorker Jane Brody’s Good Food Book. But once my daughter left home and the divorce went through, I found I was the only person craving them. My son never developed the taste.And yet, when friends recently popped by in this hottest of summer, I happened on the following version (with modifications, including very little sesame to speak of) and thought, what could be finer?

Note that there is no sesame in this version other than in the oil; I used peanut butter, so honestly, that title is a TOTAL shell game. Ha! I’ll best you yet, Google. OK, that actually isn’t possible. You can buy sesame paste—NOT tahini, which has a different preparation—at Asian markets, and you could replace the peanut butter with that. But you can buy peanut butter anywhere, and you could really use any nut butter you fancy or have on hand, I’m guessing, except coconut, which is distinctly sweet. OK, that paragraph was a lot longer than anticipated.

Here’s my adaptation of the “Saucy Asian Noodle Salad” from Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates (Clarkson Potter, 2003). And here’s the cookbook if you want to check it out.

Step One: Prepare the dressing
The original version of this suggested marinating tofu. I blew this off as I’d decided to (forgive me, vegan and vegetarian friends) tea smoke some chicken as the protein. Here’s the formula:

  • 4 parts nut butter
  • 2 parts each soy sauce and citrus juice (I used limes, and liked them, though the original called for lemon; orange would also work)
  • 1 part brown or coconut sugar (or skip it if you’re sugar averse)
  • 1/2 part each rice vinegar and toasted sesame oil
  • grated fresh ginger and sriracha or gochujang to taste

Either way, add the nut butter last. If you want to marinade tofu or tempeh, use the dressing ingredients first without the nut butter. Then, after an hour or so, remove the tofu or tempeh and mix in the nut butter. Waiting to add it to the end makes it a lot easier to mix. And DO NOT use the marinade on any sort of raw meat, or you’ll have to discard it.

cold sesame noodles, an easy recipe from le chou fou: dressing

Step Two: Noodles and veggies
I used about 1.5 ounces of pasta per person, and I went with the recommended soba; both the texture and flavor work nicely. As an alternative, fresh egg noodles—the Asian kind, not the fat German or Eastern European ones—or ramen will do in a pinch. Grate about 1 carrot and 1 radish per person, and add a handful of chopped or baby greens per person as well. Since I had dandelion and baby bok choy on hand, but once again, any flavorful tender greens should do the trick.

cold sesame noodles, an easy recipe from le chou fou: veggies

Step Three: Mix it all together.
Exactly what the header says. Top with toasted sesame seeds, chopped nuts, crumbled seaweed, minced cilantro—whatever floats your boat. I was going to use sesame seeds, but Steve seems to have eaten them all, and by then I was all, dammit, I’m hungry. Just take the picture already.

cold sesame noodles, an easy recipe from le chou fou

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  • Cold Sesame Noodles: The Recipe

Sopa Seca

A few months ago I discovered the joy of cooking pasta in just enough liquid to bubble up over the top of the noodles. (Thanks to Cooking LIght magazine for the inspiration.) I realized that this dish translates easily to sopa seca, the wonderful “dry soup” of Mexico.

There’s nothing dry about sopa seca, but there’s not a whole lot of liquid. The method defies the conventional wisdom of giving pasta plenty of room in pot as they boil. Indeed, I still cook pasta that way when it’s the right way to cook it.

This method—which uses just 2 1/2 cups of broth for 4 ounces of pasta—behaves in an interesting way with any pasta, and particularly with gluten-free versions. I feared that it might dissolve into mush, which can happen pretty easily when you boil g.f. pasta in a giant pot of water. But Full Circle Gluten-Free Spaghetti, made from corn and rice, stayed stubbornly intact, remained pleasantly “to the teeth,” as they say in Italian.  Additionally, the corn and rice starch soaks into the broth, boosting it with subtle flavor. Given both grains’ close association with Mexican cuisine, it worked perfectly.

(If, by the way, you’re interested and even skeptical about cooking pasta in less water, read this entertaining NYTimes article.)

For the zucchini, I used Steve’s trick for even browning; he’s a stickler for getting all sides seared. Rather than cube the zucchini before hand (thus having to turn over each individual cube), we slice the zucchini lengthwise. We end up with 5 or 6 slices that are easy to turn; then we cut them afterward.

Zucchini is roasted before adding to sopa seca.

It goes together quickly. Non-vegans can add any number of protein choices to it, but it’s wonderfully filling and you really don’t need them, especially if you go a little hog-wild with the toppings. Is the vegan version of hog-wild….I dunno, avocado-wild? I kinda like that. May keep it. Or send your own nominations in the comments section. Above all, simply enjoy this lovely meal.

Sopa seca featuring roasted zucchini, avocado, cilantro, and other garnishes.