Chef/partner Jim Botsacos of Molyvos, NYC, and author of The New Greek Cuisine, has been serving Greek cuisine for nearly 16 years. He adds his own creative spin to traditional Greek cuisine by paying homage to time-honored recipes and infusing them with modern touches. Here’s his recipe for Moussaka.
From: Chef/Partner Jim Botsacos, Molyvos, NYC.
½ cup dried currants
28-oz. can of whole plum tomatoes
2¼ cups olive oil
1 lb. 90% lean ground beef
1 lb. lean ground lamb
to taste, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. ras el hanout (Moroccan spice blend), or more to taste
1 Tbsp. aleppo pepper, or more to taste
1½ tsp. ground cinnamon, or more to taste
4 cups onion, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, sliced
2 cups dry red wine (such as Agiorgitiko, Cabernet Sauvignon or Sangiovese)
18 ¼”-inch thick slices eggplant (from about 2 lb. eggplant)
3 cups yogurt béchamel sauce (recipe follows)
1 cup freshly grated Kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese (about ¼ lb.)
Yogurt Bechamel Sauce:
1 bay leaf
½ medium onion, peeled
2 whole cloves
1½ cups whole milk
1½ cups heavy cream
1½ Tbsp. unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
to taste, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
to taste, freshly ground nutmeg
½ cup Greek yogurt
For Moussaka: Place the currants in hot water to cover. Set aside to soak for 30 minutes. Drain tomatoes, reserving the juice. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes. Measure out 2½ cups and combine them with the juice. (This will probably leave ½ cup tomatoes.) Set aside.
Place a large skillet over medium heat. Once skillet is very hot but not smoking, add 2 Tbsp. olive oil, swirling to coat pan. Add a quarter each of beef and lamb and cook, stirring to break up the meat, for about 5 minutes or until meat has browned lightly. Season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper, then with ¼ tsp. each ras el hanout and Aleppo pepper, and a pinch of cinnamon. Using slotted spoon, transfer mixture to colander placed in mixing bowl. Return pan to medium heat and repeat three times to brown and season all the meat. Discard oil.
Return skillet to medium heat. Add ¼ cup remaining oil. When hot, add onion along with a pinch of salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until onion is soft and translucent. Add garlic, stirring to combine; cook for another minute. Add wine, stirring occasionally for about 25 minutes or until pan is almost dry. Add reserved tomatoes along with their juice, stirring to combine. Bring to a simmer. Add reserved meat mixture, stirring to combine well. Adjust seasoning to taste. Lower the heat and cook at a bare simmer for 6 to 8 minutes.
Drain the currants and stir them into meat mixture. Taste and, if necessary, season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 30 minutes, then transfer meat mixture to mixing bowl set over an ice bowl to cool. When cool, set aside.
Place a large sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add ¼ cup of remaining olive oil, swirling to coat pan. When very hot, add potato slices, 6 at a time, and dry, turning occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until blond. Transfer to a double layer of paper towel to drain. Repeat process with remaining potatoes, adding more oil as needed. Once all potatoes have been fried, drain off half the oil in pan. Return pan to medium heat. When hot, add ¼ cup remaining olive oil, swirling to coat the pan. When very hot, add peppers and sauté for about 5 minutes or just until wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste; remove from heat. Transfer to a plate to cool.
Preheat oven to 500°F. Combine ½ cup remaining olive oil with salt and pepper to taste in small bowl. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat both sides of eggplant slices with seasoned oil. Season slices with additional salt and pepper to taste. Place half the slices on a baking sheet. Do not crowd the pan. Place in preheated oven and roast for 6 to 8 minutes, or until lightly charred. Turn and roast for another 8 minutes, or until both sides are equally charred. Transfer to platter to cool; continue broiling until all eggplant is well-cooked and charred. If baking moussaka immediately, lower oven temperature to 350°F.
Place potato slices in one even layer over bottom of a 13”x18”x2” deep rectangular baking dish. Place eggplant slices slightly overlapping, in one even layer over potatoes. Follow eggplant with an even layer of peppers. Spoon meat mixture over peppers, spreading it out with a spatula to make an even layer. Top with a thin layer of béchamel and sprinkle with cheese. At this point, moussaka may be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days before baking.
Place moussaka on baking sheet in preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes or until bubbling around the edges. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving.
For yogurt béchamel sauce: Attach bay leaf to onion half by piercing it with 2 cloves. Set aside. Combine milk and cream in a medium-heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook without stirring for about 5 minutes, or just until mixture begins to simmer. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat butter in another medium-heavy saucepan over medium heat. When melted and hot, add flour and cook, stirring constantly until mixture is thick and smooth. Cook, stirring constantly for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming, add hot milk mixture in slow, steady stream.
When well-blended, return mixture to medium heat. Add onion half and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. When cool, fold in yogurt and set aside until ready to use.