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

Greek Salad

Jump right to the Greek Salad recipe or the steps.

Greek Salad from Le Chou Fou

Salad is the first thing I learned to make well. The story of my cooking education begins haphazardly, and in the event of my first husband, Karl, getting sick. The women in his family took for granted that all women could cook. My ineptitude inspired a fair amount of ribbing, some good-natured, some not so much.

But though my confidence faltered when it came to traditional stuff, which I mostly didn’t bother to eat, my status as a native Californian gave me one distinct edge: I knew a good salad. And frankly, torn iceberg lettuce—replete with a tennis ball flavored tomato and Wishbone salad dressing that you added at the table—did not qualify. So I divided and conquered. Soon, I was pretty much smoking them all in the salad department.

I’m not sure when I learned to make Greek salad, but it’s always a hit. If I’ve gotten into some weird funk where I’m too lazy to make salad, it reminds me that they are both easy and delish. The bouquet of dill, mint, and fresh lemon always sings Springtime to me. As part of the upcoming Greek Easter menu (in the works), a Greek salad adds a bunch of raw, crispy, vibrant green that nicely complements the richer items on the menu. It’s also a wonderful light dinner. At one point, I would have thought a crusty baguette on the side was necessary. But now, I’m good with it all by itself. Though the whole wheat naan pictured above served as an excellent scooper, if you like that sort of thing. And spanikopita on the side is yummy, too.

Greek Salad: The Steps

  • Mince garlic, salt it, and add some lemon juice. The salt and lemon juice help the garlic break down. You can do this any time up to 4 hours but at least 20 minutes before you put the salad together.
lemons and garlic for greek salad
  • Either dice some really fresh tomatoes if great tomatoes are available, or quarter some cherry tomatoes. Of course, all tomatoes are best picked right out of the garden in August and September, but cherries are pretty good year-round. Peel a cucumber, seed, and cube it. Put both together in a colander, sprinkle with salt. Let drain, at least 20 minutes and up to an hour or so.
cucumbers and tomatoes for greek salad
  • Depending on how you feel about raw garlic, either remove the garlic pieces from the lemon (you can use them to cook in something else), or leave them in. Add oil so that you have a proportion of maximum one half part lemon juice to one whole part olive oil. Because you’ve got some fat here—from the feta cheese and olives—you can get away with a little more acid. Just be judicious. I don’t like my salad swimming in dressing, so I’m inclined to go lemon juice light—maximum one tablespoon. Whisk the lemon juice and olive oil together.
  • Pit some olives. Slice a red onion very thin. Add them to the dressing. If you like, artichoke hearts, sliced cooked or spiralized raw beets, grated carrot, and minced sun dried tomatoes can go in this layer as well.
greek salad layer 1
  • Crumble on some feta, the best you can find. I like to go to Mediterranean Market in Ann Arbor, the closest Middle Eastern food supplier, and see what’s in the deli counter.
  • Add the drained tomatoes and cucumbers.
  • Top with a mix of greens. Romaine is essential, in my mind. Something dark but not too tough, like a baby kale, arugula, or spinach, is also great. Spring mix is a little flimsy given all the hearty components in this, so I recommend you don’t use it here. I do add plenty of herbs, and I keep the leaves whole. They look pretty, and they taste amazing.
greens for Greek salad
  • Toss.
  • Top with pepper to your heart’s content, and chomp away. Play bouzouki and afterward, dance like these guys.
Greek salad from Le Chou Fou

Greek Salad Recipe

Autumn Greens Salad

Jump to the Autumn Greens Salad Recipe

Jump to the Autumn Greens Salad Step by Step

autumn-greens-salad

I’ve found that there are times when I just kind of go off salad. I think that’s an easy thing to do, because….well, it’s salad. It’s raw greens, some raw veggies—usually a cucumber that you’re not really that interested in eating but that you have in the fridge for some reason—and there’s dressing. Meh.

This type of thinking makes me die inside just the teeniest bit. I mean, I’m all about that health. I need zero convincing that a salad a day is key to all manner of wonderful processes getting fired up in the body: hearty elimination, antioxidants and enzymes from raw food doing all that scrubby work they do, detoxification on a manageable scale.

But I have to admit to succumbing more and more often to salad ennui. It’s cold out; I don’t want raw, crunchy stuff. It’s a pain in the ass to clean all those greens, even though some of them are already clean in the big ass clamshell that they came in because I bought them that way. I mean the laziness appalls me, particularly with my industrious northern European “me? have feelings instead of produce stuff?” upbringing.

I’m convinced one of the absolute best use of recipes is for salads, because I for one desperately need that little joggle to get me out of my rut. This little gem of an Autumn Greens Salad was adopted from this original version in the November 2018 issue of Cooking Light (different name there. I’m not being coy. My primary changes are in technique, but I pretty much thugged the ingredient list, though I played fairly dramatically with amounts. And it IS autumn, and these readily available ingredients in Michigan in November; at least, this year).

autumn-greens-salad-ingredients

Autumn Greens Salad: The Dressing

My primary change from the original is in constructing the dressing and the salad itself. I wanted to keep the olive oil separate here, so I measured off the amount into one good-sized bowl. Then I mixed everything in the main salad bowl, the one in which I’d toss the final assemblage of ingredients.

I chopped some garlic first, then salted it (you don’t need much). Initially,  I grated on just a smidge of orange zest (for photos I forgot that step). Then a little mustard and honey, and finally my acids: in this case, a tad bit of lemon juice and cider vinegar. I chose cider over rice vinegar as in the original because these greens are so sturdy and I like the complexity of the subtle apple flavor. Rice vinegar flavor is so subtle, I prefer it for more delicate greens. This is, alas, my native Californian palate talking, and may be a little over the top in the “Pretentiously Discerning Tastes” category. In other words, use the vinegar you have on hand. But if that’s balsamic, I’d skip the lemon juice.

autumn-greens-salad-dressing

Finally, I added the slivered raw onion and some chopped sour cherries. (The original recipe calls for Zante currants, but…like…what even are those?)

autumn-greens-salad-dressing

Let all of that sit while you go on to the next step.

Autumn Greens Salad: The Greens

I’ve said it approximately 8,000 times, which may surprise you given the low content on the blog: Massage raw kale. This step, mystifyingly, was left out of the original, like you’re just going to eat a bunch of torn kale, happily chomping away like some sort of hominid. I repeat: after destemming your kale, cut it in ribbons, then massage it by dropping it in that bowl where you put the olive oil. Rub the kale through your hands for about 2 minutes.

You’ll be adding this to the salad bowl on top of the dressing ingredients in a minute.

For your other greens: We had some really nice curly endive on hand from the farm. It’s unlikely you’ll find this is a box; rather, it’s going to come in a big old-fashioned head, probably a little (or a lot) dirty around the roots. Separate the leaves, wash it well—3 times is a good rule of thumb, but just keep dipping it in water until the water is completely clean. Spin it dry, wrap it in paper or cloth dish towels, put it in a big plastic bag, and you’ve got a pleasantly bitter green for a month.

I cut the endive in small pieces because, while not as sturdy as kale, it’s still pretty toothy.

Autumn Greens Salad: The Bling

I followed the original recipe by using both a blood orange and a navel orange. Grapefruit in combo or on its own would also work nicely. (Citrus with dark greens falls on the “food magic” continuum for me, something I just made up but that I think we need.)

Cut away the peel, rather than simply peeling it; this gives you something to hold onto when you cut out the sections. Put the round side in your hand, then very carefully, with a curved blade knife, remove the sections from the membranes. (Here’s my full tutorial on how to do this.) Cut the orange over the bowl with the dressing to capture that wee bit of juice that results. Add the oranges to the bowl.

Now, scrape the kale into the dressing bowl, using a spatula to make sure you get all the oil. Chopped endive goes on top. Then I throw on a handful of a baby green or two; we always have a big old clamshell of something. Arugula is my favorite, though I didn’t have any the day I made this.

Finally, I put fresh parsley leaves on top. Basil leaves are superb here, but I had fresh parsley and it worked nicely. Fresh herb leaves really make excellent salad greens, something I learned from Yotam Ottolenghi, who I think should be canonized or something. 

Finally, I tossed the whole thing. You may initially feel like you need more oil, but just toss for a good minute; there’s enough oil on the kale leaves that will eventually coat the other greens. Of course, I’m fond of a fairly light touch with oil, so do add more if you need it.

autumn-greens-salad

Shave some Manchego on top. You know what would also be good? Those Mercona almonds you get from Trader Joe’s. Yep, those are going on for Thanksgiving. But I didn’t have any. And it was still super yummy.

Autumn Greens Salad: The Recipe

oven polenta

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies

Jump straight to the Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies recipe.

I love corn, I love cornmeal, and I adore polenta. Steve wants nothing to do with it. So more for me.

polenta with roasted veggies

But everyone knows that polenta is a giant pain in the ass because of all that blasted stirring. I’ve made it in the crockpot; it eliminates the stirring, but also stiffens up the polenta so it’s like those little tubes you buy of ready made polenta at the store. This, my friends, is not the polenta of the Italian grandmother you may have had, or in my case, pine for on occasion. (I had a German grandmother on one side who could bake but preferred riding horses, and a French/Danish/Irish one on the other, who made weird multicolored popcorn balls and sauerkraut. Never polenta.)

Bon Appetit was one of my early cooking teachers, and it remains one of my favorite arrivals. I still like print magazines and probably always will. Leafing through the October issue, I saw what looked like a lovely bowl of polenta and a pan of roasted mushrooms. Most intriguing, the polenta was baked in the oven right alongside the veggies. The recipe subhead reads: “Call it cheating—we call it 30 minutes you don’t need to spend standing at the stove.”

Count me IN.

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies: The Prep

Look, why just roast a pan of mushrooms when you also have some eggplant and red bell pepper to use up? And why only add thyme when you also have some rosemary growing in a pot? These are questions I ask myself frequently, especially after a recent mild talking-to that Steve and I gave to ourselves about better using the virtual fruit of the refrigerator.

oven polenta with roasted veggies

I cubed the eggplant and pepper; I’d bought the shrooms sliced, so they were good to go. Roasting veggies is not a recipe thing, people. You put them in a bowl, add some oil, fresh herbs and garlic if you’re so inclined, seasonings. Then spread them on a sheet pan and roast them.
One new wrinkle that the recipe provides, and that I decided to give a try: Begin the roasting process at a measly 325º. I typically go for the max carmelization delivered by a hotter oven, but….why not?

oven polenta with roasted veggies

Veggies in oven, I heated broth and water together to a boil. The recipe specified water only, but long ago I learned that if you can sub something for the water, do it; more flavor.

I whisked in the polenta, covered the pot, then put it right in the oven. The nice low temp ensured that the polenta would cook gently all by itself. Then I sat down and played the piano for a while, because that is an amazing thing to be able to do while you wait for the timer to ring.

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies: Finishing

After about half an hour, the polenta was ready to come out. When I looked at it and shook the pan, I thought….this cannot be! The polenta was still liquid. But then I stirred it and found that it had indeed started to thicken to the perfect polenta consistency. I removed it, gave it a good whisk, and left it on the stove top.

oven polenta with roasted veggies

Now I cranked up the oven—the recipe actually instructs, “Crank up the oven”—to its highest temp, which on mine is 550º. Zoinks! The vegetables crisped up after about 10 minutes.

Then we went on a walk for about 40 minutes, with of course everything out of the oven. In that time, the polenta had set up beautifully: pourable, but not a soup, just that wonderful hybrid of liquid and solid that means ideal polenta. Without the walk, I would have kept the stove on its very lowest setting to give the polenta just a little more incentive to thicken.
But seriously, it was lovely.

oven polenta with roasted veggies

Oven Polenta with Roasted Veggies: The Recipe

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

 

broccoli pesto

Broccoli Pesto

As I’ll note in my soon-to-be published post on broccoli (part of the WTF, CSA? series), it’s one of those vegetables to which familiarity has bred some contempt. Ok, maybe not contempt, but a yawn or two. Broccoli again? Sigh. Guess we’ll steam it. Unless you have broccoli pesto. Huzzah!

Read about broccoli pesto’s benefits and uses, or jump straight to the recipe.

broccoli-pesto-ingredients

As is often the case, I came upon this recipe in my beloved Greene on Greens cookbook. Are you sick of hearing about it? Get over yourself, I’m all over that thing. Mr. Greene has a myriad of ways to have fun with broccoli—all of them quite legal, by the way. Given that Steve had come home with a haul of it PLUS a big batch of basil, I quickly seized on this creative way to deal with both.

The taste of broccoli pesto is not discernibly different from that of regular pesto. The biggest departure is the texture: slightly crumbly and chewy in a pleasant way. Where regular pesto is a simple sauce, broccoli pesto tastes and behaves more like a side dish. Naturally, the eater receives the greater benefit of eating raw broccoli, primarily increased fiber. Additionally, broccoli pesto registers slightly sweeter on the palate than its non-broc counterpart.

Broccoli Pesto: Uses

Just as with regular pesto, you can use broccoli pesto as your go-to summer pasta sauce. But don’t stop with durum/semolina/gluten-free noodles. Either pesto works quite beautifully on any grain or starch dish. I love it with gnocchi, or tossed with roasted veggies on top of polenta. Steve and I tasted a pesto-based dressing at K-Paul’s in New Orleans about 6 years ago; he still makes his version of the dressing today, mixing a dollop of pesto with olive oil and balsamic. Spread pesto on the bread of your choice and top with roasted peppers and mozzarella for a superb caprese sandwich. Or ditch the bread, and make a caprese salad. This 4th of July, I mixed broccoli pesto with mayo and Greek yogurt as the dressing for a potato salad. Mix a little into deviled eggs.

You get the idea, yes? Or, to be Italian for a moment, capiche? Well, then. Buon appetito!

broccoli-pesto

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Broccoli Pesto: The Recipe