Over at the j weekly, I've had an article on the wonderful photo exhibit at the BJE Community Library in San Francisco on Balkan Sephardic Jews. Called "Images of a Lost World" it documents the lives of a population killed during WWII or dispersed afterwards. The photos and accompanying interviews document these communities in Bulgaria, Greece, Bosnia, Turkey and more. You can read my article here. The exhibit continues on display through the end of January.
Many of the folks who were interviewed mentioned the food their mothers and grandmothers had cooked, but without naming any specific dishes. I started to think about the Greek and Turkish influences on the cuisine in that part of the world and developed this recipe in response to the exhibit. Lemon-Egg Sauce Moussaka with Lamb is lovely to eat, with rich, bright flavors, but only so-so to look at. So make this in your prettiest casserole dish and garnish with some chopped parsley and maybe a handful of fresh diced tomatoes on top to doll it up. Once you taste it, I think you'll agree, looks aren't everything. (Plus the leftovers were great, even cold.) There is no milk or cream in this moussaka, so it might work well for lactose-intolerant guests.
Lemon-Egg Sauce Moussaka with Lamb
The finished casserole may look a bit homey, but the taste is decadent and complex. The dish’s citrusy zing works well with the richness of the sauce and lamb, both of which help mellow the assertiveness of the eggplant. Use the full cup of juice for a stronger lemon flavor. Try serving with rice or potatoes to soak up the creamy (but definitely not dairy) sauce.
1 large globe eggplant, peeled and sliced into ¼” rounds
½ small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground lamb
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbs. tomato paste
¼ tsp. salt or to taste
¼ tsp. ground black pepper or to taste
½ tsp. dried ground oregano
1 tsp. lemon zest
3 Tbs. flour
2 cups chicken stock, divided
¾ to 1 cup lemon juice
2 eggs, beaten
½ tsp. paprika
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Prepare the Eggplant
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large baking tray and place eggplant slices in single layer (use two trays if necessary). Brush tops of slices with a light coating of olive oil. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, turning and brushing tops with additional oil occasionally until the eggplant slices are soft throughout and golden brown. Set aside.
Cook the Lamb Filling
Over medium high heat, heat 2 Tbs. of oil and sauté onion until beginning to turn golden. Add garlic, sauté until the onions are beginning to brown. Add lamb, stirring to break up meat. Sauté until the outside of the lamb is just browned. (Drain if desired, discarding fat). Add tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper and oregano. Sauté until lamb is cooked through and tomatoes have begun to soften. Taste and correct seasoning. Add lemon zest, mix well. Set aside.
Make the Lemon-Egg Sauce
Have all ingredients for the sauce ready. In a large saucepan over medium high heat, heat 2 Tbs. oil. Quickly stir in the flour until it is just incorporated. Be careful not to scorch the flour-oil paste. Add in half of the chicken broth. Stir or whisk constantly until the flour mixture and the stock are smooth. Add remainder of the chicken stock and the lemon juice. Reduce heat to medium. Bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally. Remove a half cup of the hot chicken stock mixture and stir into the beaten eggs until well combined. Now slowly drizzle the egg and stock mixture back into the pot stirring the sauce in the pot the whole time until the egg mixture is fully incorporated. Stirring occasionally, bring the sauce back to a low boil. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture has reduced to about half. Taste and add salt if necessary. (Makes about 1 ½ cups of sauce.)
Assemble and Bake the Moussaka
Preheat (or turn oven down to) 350 degrees. Grease an 8 to 9” round casserole. Cover the bottom with half of the baked eggplant slices. Layer with half of the lamb filling. Pour half of the egg-lemon sauce over the lamb. Repeat. Sprinkle top with paprika.
Bake uncovered for 50 to 55 minutes or until top is browned and the sauce is set (it will still be a bit loose when served). Let sit for 10 to 20 minutes before garnishing with chopped parsley and serving.