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Moussakás/moussaka/musaka

A dish occurring in various forms throughout the Middle East – it’s basically a meat and vegetable ‘bake’, whose ingredients vary from country to country. The meat can be minced beef or lamb and the vegetable anything from aubergine through courgette to cabbage, cauliflower or spinach.
We are more-used to the Greek version, which consists of minced meat (usually lamb), layered with aubergines and sometimes potatoes, then covered with béchamel sauce. Here is a typical version of this type, it can be made in advance, and re-heats well – but if intending to do this, make and add the white sauce just before baking.

Ingredients

Equipment needed: An ovenproof baking dish

Ingredients:

- 900g/2 lbs firm Aubergines

- 1 teaspoon (5ml) Salt

- Olive Oil - possibly as much as 100ml/4 fl oz

- 25g/1 oz Butter + a little to grease the oven-poof dish

- 3 medium Onions, peeled and chopped

- 2 medium cloves of Garlic, peeled and finely-chopped

- 900g/2 lb minced Lamb

- 1 teaspoon (5ml) Dried Mixed Herbs - something labelled Provencal if possible - that from www.gourmetherbs.com (http://www.gourmetherbs.com) is excellent

- ½ a teaspoon (2ml) ground Allspice (optional)

- 1 tablespoon (15ml) Tomato Purée

- 175ml/6 fl oz Dry White Wine

- 150ml/5 fl oz Water

- Salt and freshly-ground Black Pepper

- 3 thick/ 4 medium slices of Toast - turned into breadcrumbs in a food processor

- Butter

For the Béchamel Sauce covering:

- 50g/2 oz Butter

- 2 tablespoons (30ml) Flour

- 500ml/1 pint Milk, warmed

- Salt and ground Black Pepper

- 2 medium Eggs, lightly beaten

- 50g/2 oz grated Fresh Parmesan

Method

- Remove the stalks from the aubergines, the cut them in half lengthways.

- Cut them into horizontal slices about 5mm/¼ in thick, sprinkle them with the 1 teaspoon of salt, and allow then to drain in a colander. This removes any bitterness, which although less prevalent in the aubergines of today - still exists, and puts many people off the vegetable.

- After about 40 minutes, rinse them and pat them dry with kitchen paper or a clean tea towel.

- Heat several teaspoons of the olive oil in a big, deep, frying pan, and fry the aubergines in batches, over a medium heat, until they are golden on both sides. You will have to continually add extra oil to achieve this. Set them to one side as each batch is done - leaving any residue oil behind.

- Reduce the heat, and return the pan. Melt the butter, then add the chopped onions and 'sweat' them, without browning for 2 or 3 minutes - or until they"re translucent.

- Add the chopped garlic, and mix in.

- Raise the heat to medium, then add the mince, stirring to break it up - so it doesn't form any lumps.

- Add the mixed herbs, ground allspice, tomato purée, the white wine, the water and salt and pepper. Bring to the simmer, then reduce the heat, and cook for about ten minutes - stirring occasionally, to ensure it cooks evenly.

- While the meat is simmering, start the white sauce topping by gently melting the butter, then blending in the flour with a wooden spoon - away from the heat.

- Gradually blend in the warmed milk and simmer gently, stirring all the time, until slightly thickened. Add half the grated Parmesan, and season with a little salt and pepper - remove from the heat and beat in the eggs. Set aside.

- Rub an ovenproof baking dish - large enough to hold all the ingredients - with a little butter.

- Spread half the grated toast crumbs evenly over the bottom, stirring the remainder into the meat mixture.

- Cover these with a third of the aubergines, then half the meat mixture, followed by a further third of the aubergines and the remainder of the meat mixture.

- Top with the remaining aubergines.

- Strain the white sauce evenly over the top, then sprinkle with the left over grated Parmesan.

- Bake in a pre-heated oven 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4 for 40 minutes, or until the top is golden.

Serve with a green salad and good bread.

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