I watched Mrs Paschalia make this dish back in 1972, and tried this “no-bechamel” version for the first time at her house. It’s a very tasty dish that was part of her everyday repertoire, she told me, just as it had been for her mother “back home” in Asia Minor.
- To make our no-bechamel moussaka with kasseri and tomato, we begin by rinsing our eggplants.
- Discard the stems, and slice the eggplants into 1 to 1 1/2 cm (approx. half-inch) slices.
- Place the slices in a bowl with water and 3 tbsp of salt.
- Put a plate on top of the eggplant slices, in order to weigh them down and keep them submerged in the water, and set aside for 45 minutes.
- Squeeze the eggplant slices, and spread them out on kitchen towels to dry.
- Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium to high heat. The oil to be at least 3 centimeters (1 inch) deep.
- Fry the eggplant lightly in batches, until just slightly golden and softened.
- Place the fried slices on paper towels, to blot up any excess oil. (Everything until this stage can be prepared the night before.)
- In a thick-bottomed pan or a shallow pot, heat the olive oil (or oil and butter), and add the ground meat.
- Stir and break apart the meat using a fork.
- Once the meat is browned, add the onion and sauté for a little while longer.
- Add the cinnamon stick, the tomato, and a bit of salt.
- Cook for approximately 15-20 minutes, until the juice of the tomato has evaporated. Taste and, if the meat's not done, add a little bit of hot water. (If the meat is done, you won’t need to add water.)
- Once the excess liquid has evaporated or been absorbed, remove from heat, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and stir.
- Preheat your oven to 180°C.
- Cover the bottom of an oven dish with breadcrumbs and add half of the eggplant slices in an even layer. You don’t need to add salt again, as they’ve already been salted in the water before frying.
- Add the ground meat mixture in an even layer, and top with the rest of the eggplant.
- Cover completely with the cheese, and top with the tomato slices.
- Drizzle with olive oil, and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes.
- Remove your moussaka from the oven, and leave it to settle for about half an hour. Then serve.
This rich dish needs a similarly rich companion. Try it with a Greek Syrah or Merlot.