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

autumn-sweet-potato-kale-curry

Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry

Jump to the Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry recipe.

chickpea-curry

So before proceeding to the evolution and execution of this Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry, I must take a moment to pay homage to my guy, Tim Gunn.
For the rest of you: I love Tim Gunn.

I’ve suffered through many a grim episode of Project Runway just to watch him stroll into the studio, impeccably dressed, marvelously discerning and insightful, and most of all, respectful. I’ve been trying to mastermind a Tim Gunn for President of the World campaign for, like, ever. Sigh. Tim, you will also be the secret to making the world fabulous, better dressed, and kinder in my book.
Now a lot of times on Project Runway, one of the contestants will come up with a real Fashion Don’t. And Tim will say, “I’m concerned,” and the way he says it…

…you know that he is the only thing between that contestant and an icy and heart-freezing look from Nina Garcia…

….who would disdainfully raise her eyebrows if Botox hadn’t robbed her of that ability long ago in a way that is all the more soul-destroying because in that moment, said unfortunate contestant realizes that he/she/they simply don’t exist for her and never did.

And then Tim will say, in this wonderfully hearty and stirring way, “This is what we call a Make It Work Moment!!”

Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry: The Mistake

Well, making this Sweet Potato Kale Curry was a total Make It Work moment for me. Because I did a very dumb thing, which was: I didn’t get all my ingredients out before hand. I say why one should never do this. Physician, heal theyself!! Or be forced to get through a Make It Work Moment.

I got my new (October 2018) issue of Clean Eating, and there’s this awesome article on spice blends. And there’s also a recipe for Squash, Spinach, and Chickpea Curry. (I’d give you the link here, but the recipe’s not online yet.)

Well, just a couple of days ago, Steve went to visit our friends at Frog Holler Farm, and he came home with this lovely butternut squash. Also, that morning, he mentioned we had some kale just kind of sitting in the fridge, and I nearly always sub kale for spinach, because the texture holds up better. Chickpeas? Tons of cans lying around. Ditto coconut milk.
Also, it was an overcast rainy day and so really perfect for some curry.

So I start merrily following the recipe. First up: A really terrific homemade turmeric blend. This is a direct copy of the original recipe at Clean Eating (and I’ll link to it when it’s available); I’ve reproduced it below in half the amount.

curry-spice-blend

There’s a little blurb in the magazine on the joy of turmeric, and this particular blend is generous with a bunch of other stuff, so mainly the turmeric adds color, because on its own it’s got kind of a weird dusty flavor. So I mixed that up straight away.

I heated the coconut oil, chopped up half an onion. We’re going gangbusters so far.

curry-sauteed-onions

Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry: The Joy of Improv

Then I say, “Hey, babe, did you bring in that squash from the farm?” 
“It’s in my car.”

I start to exit stage left—and then remember we left the car in Ann Arbor (the details are not that interesting). With the squash in it.

But I did have some sweet potatoes on the counter. So I thought, ok, a sweet potato will Make It Work. Phew! I peel and cube one, throw it in the onion pot that already also has some garlic and the spice blend in it, and add some broth. Everything’s bubbling away making a cozy sound.

Off to the garden to pick a bunch of basil, then wash it along with the kale. I happily chop my troubles away as the sweet potatoes cook up on the stove.

It’s time to add half of them to the blender with a can of coconut milk. Which…we don’t have.

Dammit!

How can this be? I’ve looked a at least 4 cans of coconut milk in my pantry for ages, thinking, why did I think I would use a small case of of coconut milk? (Because I was at Costco, that’s why. That place makes me think I’d better stock up for that army of epicures who are bound to kick down my door, demanding facsimiles of southeast Asian delicacies.)

I search my pantry and my apoteca, which is this kind of cool roll out door that holds the stuff that won’t fit in my smallish pantry, increasingly wild-eyed. There is no damn coconut milk.

Bauer, you can Make It Work! I told myself, feeling plucky despite my trembling lower lip. Quickly, I improvised. I had frozen a bunch of buttermilk in little 1/4 cup batches in the fridge. I threw four in the blender, along with a handful of shredded, unsweetened coconut, and a little almond milk. I blended in the sweet potatoes.

It actually worked. The buttermilk is thick and not out of place in a curry. The almond milk and coconut lent some nuttiness and sweetness.

So that was cool. I poured my coconut milk substitute into the sauce pan, being careful not to boil it (so it wouldn’t curdle), added the kale, and went to find the chickpeas.

vegetarian-curry-sauce

Autumn Sweet Potato Kale Curry: Continued Thrills

You probably saw this coming. I had dried chickpeas for days, which frankly were not going to do me a damn bit of good. But a can of cooked chickpeas? You know, one from the batch I’d bought at Costco that took forever to get rid of?

Forever, apparently, passed me by. Not a cooked chickpea in sight.

But in my frantic can search….what to my wondering eye should appear?
Oh, for pity’s sake.

canned-coconut-milk

Well, I had a half cauliflower on hand. So I roasted it…

cauliflower

….because at this point, the dream of sweet potato kale curry for lunch had evaporated and I just ate some sort of snack.

cauliflower-curry

I also had packs of rice and quinoa from Costco, which are just sitting there like all the six packs of things I get from Costco, so I threw one of those in.

chickpea-curry

My Make It Work Moment tended to be just like the ones on Project Runway—about an hour long. But I did make it work. 
I don’t recommend you reproduce my angst. Please get ingredients out ahead of time. Making It Work is gratifying, but slightly stressful. Then again, sometimes that frisson of panic is exactly the seasoning a dish needs. Bon appetit.

Autumn Harvest Salad

I love a big old bowl of rainbow crunch. This Autumn Harvest Salad, inspired by a June 2017 Clean Eating recipe, fits the bill and sums up for me the things I love about this time of year: the rich colors, the produce bursting with vibrant flavor and color, and that wonderful feeling of newness that hits me every September.     autumn-harvest-salad-with-chicken Read the step by step or jump straight to the recipe.

The dressing is a citrus-y yogurt concoction, though I adapted it to be a little lighter on the acid. I just don’t like dressings that are too liquid or have too high a proportion of vinegar. I did add the juice left over from sectioning an orange I had on hand. The original recipe calls for a bigger amount of juice and no fruit. It made a lot more sense to me to add the sections. The approximate tablespoon of juice that resulted was pretty much perfect, without me feeling like the salad was swimming. See this quick tutorial to efficiently slice up an orange.

how-to-slice-an-orange

Beyond that, it’s a pretty straightforward operation. Make the dressing (see details below if you don’t have the basics down). Chop a bunch of stuff. In my case, that included plenty o’ cabbage….

cabbage-autumn-harvest

….along with  some carrots, mint, parsley, jicama, and fresh corn, with a few hemp hearts and golden raisins thrown in for good measure.

autumn-harvest-ingredients

You can keep your Autumn Harvest Salad entirely vegetarian by adding tofu, tempeh, beans, or nothing….

autumn-harvest-salad-chicken

But if you happen to have some protein on hand, like, say, this tasty best damn chicken (hey, here’s the recipe!), add it, by all means.

best-ever-chicken

Shrimp or salmon would work, too. Build it all up on a dish. Enjoy with gusto.

autumn-harvest-salad

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Autumn Harvest Salad: The Recipe

 

Kale Salad That You’ll Actually Want to Eat

In the kale post (and in the soon-to-be released video), I lament the sad state of kale salad everywhere. Mistreated, disrespected kale garners undeserved Yuck Faces and eye rolls far too often. “NOT KALE,” I have heard many a time.

Jump to recipe.

kale, destemmed and ready to slice thinSo why does this happen? 3 reasons:

  1. The cook fails to remove the big, chewy stems, evident in the picture above.
  2. S/he then tears or hacks the leaves into big, indigestible chunks (as opposed to the delicate shreds the vegetable deserves, pictured directly below).
  3. Adding insult to injury, the cook now throws the kale into the salad bowl as if it were ordinary lettuce.

shredded kale for kale salad

To which I must bellow, Unfair to the eater and the kale! Why, for the love of Michelle, would one create any barriers to ingesting this nutritional powerhouse? Of course kale teems with fiber and vitamin A. But Did You Know that every bite also delivers loads of calcium and potassium? Well, it does (and you can read up on vitamin stats to your heart’s content at this link.)

But the primary reason that I find kale so easy to love is its sturdiness. The stuff holds up under an avalanche of pretty much any dressing you want to slather on it, including heavy ones based in mayo or nut butter. (i provide an easy one with these ingredients below.)

ingredients for an almond butter dressing for kale salad

In fact, it holds up a little too well. Which is why I recommend the kale massage, in which you place the de-stemmed, ribbon-cut slices in a bowl with olive oil and salt, put on some sexy music, and give it a good rub-down for about 2 minutes. The results, especially when tossed with some sweet crunchy cabbage or romaine, will make your palate smile.

kale gets an olive oil and salt massage

Kale salad follows the same rules as other salads: 3 pieces of flair added to the kale/cabbage combo. Some suggestions here:

  • Apple, carrot, beet, and radish are all delightful for crunch; grate any one of them, or cut in a fine julienne.
  • Dried fruit adds wonderful chewiness; for a juicier sweet, sliced kiwi and grapefruit work beautifully.
  • Add roasted veggies like squash or cauliflower.
  • Sprouts and microgreens provide a nice flavor contrast when sprinkled on at the end.
  • For meat-eaters, kale and pig are friends. Crackling bacon is a glorious kale salad adjunct for the unapologetic carnivore.
  • Roasted walnuts or tamari-spiked sunflower seeds add meatless crunch.
  • kale salad ingredients include kale and cabbage, carrot, grapefruit, and an almond butter dressing

As usual, a main salad can go more flair-wild. Should you choose the nut butter dressing here, you’ll get some protein. But add more if you like. In addition to the usual animal options, goat cheese is wonderful for vegetarians, smoked tempeh or coconut bacon for vegan.

For a fully-spelled out recipe for a superb, flair-crazy vegan kale salad, see Teagan’s amazing detox version here. (I eat this one about once a month, but I always shred the kale rather than tearing it roughly as she suggests.) Or make up your own, and instead of carefully choosing three pieces of flair from the list above, go crazy with 5 or 6 or even more. And the fine thing is, kale’s chewy goodness won’t get lost in the shuffle no matter how many things you throw at it.

kale salad with grapefruit, sunflower seeds, and shredded carrot

Kale Salad: The Recipe

 

Sauteed Kale

If you do crossword puzzles, you must be aware that both “kale” and “cabbage” are synonyms for money. Were I a sportscaster, I would now make a forced segue into the bountiful riches that either of these two veggies will add to your holiday table. But, lucky all of us, I ain’t. Nonetheless, sauteed kale does indeed add a touch of grace to any feast. The fact that it couldn’t be simpler for a harried cook makes it that much better.

Jump to recipe.

sauteed kale, shredded and ready for the pan

Sauteed kale epitomizes simplicity. Simply stem your kale, then shred it by slicing it thin. Heat your oil; as usual, olive (not extra virgin, just the regular stuff) or grapeseed work wonderfully. I personally love coconut oil for sauteed kale; the flavors complement each other in their mutual robustness. And for true kale nirvana—vegetarian and vegan readers, please forgive me—kale loves pork. Cooking bacon til crisp, then using the rendered fat to cook the kale and sprinkling the crunchy bacon bits on top: it’s a surefire way to convert those unfortunates who suspect vegetables of ruining all their fun.

The kale should be cooked over medium high heat until it’s well-coated in the fat. A sprinkle of salt and a flash of cayenne—maybe with a little nutmeg—suffices in the spice department. When the kale’s cooked down from an overstuffed pan to a manageable one, sprinkle in chopped garlic. This pic shows how much the kale decreases in volume—and how much the color deepens.

sauteed kale before and after cooking

Then pour in a little broth; homemade is of course wonderful, but any will do. Know your broth well, and taste accordingly. In the upcoming video, I didn’t add any salt, because I hadn’t used this particular broth before. As always, a judicious hand with the NaCl is a good thing. Roasted cranberries or fresh pomegranate seeds popping through the leaves may even elicit a gasp or two at the beauty you have achieved.

sauteed kale, with just a hint of garlic and nutmeg

Of course, there are nearly limitless add-ins. You could sauté sliced onions, leeks, or shallots and bell peppers in the fat prior to adding the kale. Minced ginger and five-spice powder will take your sauteed kale in a decidedly Chinese direction. A light snowfall of toasted coconut at the end, especially if you used coconut oil as your sauté medium, will transport you to some lush Caribbean paradise. It’s up to you. Just know that a big old plate of sauteed kale adds vitamins, fiber, and wholesome earthiness to your fatty, decadent groaning board. And as far as leftovers go, chopped sauteed kale mixed in with mashed potatoes or added to your morning after frittata is more awesomeness.

For more on kale, visit this post.

Sauteed Kale: The Recipe

 

Spaghetti Squash with Arugula, Walnuts, and Cherry Tomatoes

So the other night I saw a recipe for a pizza with arugula pesto and butternut squash and walnuts. And you can read all about why I didn’t make that in the post Recipe Improv: How to Let a Recipe Inspire and not Enslave You. That’s how you can find out about this dandy spaghetti squash arugula dish to come.

Here’s how I made it. First off, spaghetti squash always seems like a great idea—until I cook it. Truthfully, those delicate, angel hair-like strands tend to end up kinda soggy. They definitely don’t absorb sauce the way pasta does.

My way of dealing with this is to cut the squash down the center vertically. Next, I remove all the seeds and then oil and salt the sides. Finally, I place them flat side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. I roast them at 375º for about 45 minutes.

Astute readers will note, “Hey! That squash is cut horizontally AND vertically.” Yep. I decided to follow this advice when I cooked half the squash the other night. The point was to get longer strands, and…well, it wasn’t worth the hassle to me, but I include the link in case you want to try it and have better luck. On this night, I halved the already halved squash and baked as noted above.

spaghetti squash arugula, step one: roast and shred squash

But as you can see, even pulling the fork through the strands gave me kinda clumpy “noodles.” I had to go into my Zen “this will take a couple of minutes” mode, and play with the noodles with my hands a little to separate them. Then a little more salt to draw out the water, and back into a higher degree oven (400º) to dry them out a little.

spaghetti squash arugula, step two: separate strands

The rest was easy. I had some garlic oil I had made a night earlier by gently simmering very thinly sliced garlic in olive oil for about 10 minutes. Steve had picked up some beautiful arugula that I absolutely did not want to crush into a pesto. (Also, I felt way too lazy to deal with cleaning the food processor.) Fresh cherry tomatoes, roasted walnuts, Parmesan, fresh pepper: really, this couldn’t have been easier. And thus, arugula butternut squash pizza became spaghetti squash arugula.

Spaghetti Squash Arugula, the finished version