I’m a sucker for a beautiful plate. When the vibrant colors dance visually, you can practically guarantee they will dance on your palate, right? So, when I was first introduced to Moussaka, a traditional Greek dish featuring eggplant and ground beef or lamb, covered in a creamy bechamel cheese sauce, I did not visualize Zorba the Greek fervently strutting about my taste buds.
Moussaka ain’t the prettiest at the party. It’s a heap of brown and white assembled in a lasagna-like pattern – not particularly “Opa!” inspiring.
Then, I tasted it.
What I adore, even more than a beautiful plate and certainly more important than aesthetics, is an amazingly memorable plate that transports me to another world or embraces me with comfort and happiness through taste and texture. Moussaka does just that. I’m not Greek, but it’s comfort food to me. And, why wouldn’t it be!? I mean, it’s meaty, hearty, and loaded with creamy, cheesy goodness!
The minor obstacle I had to overcome was the fact that most of the time “meat, hearty, and loaded with creamy, cheesy goodness” does not jive with my whole “better choices” mantra for this year.
I could ignore that, but I did write about it on the ol’ interwebs for everyone to see. Not to mention, I’ve actually lost 10 pounds in the first 14 days of 2017 just by making better choices. So, who says I can’t eat what I love and still make better choices?? We can balance it all out. I’m all about harmony (mostly harmony between my taste buds and my tummy, but harmony nonetheless).
Enter My Moussaka! (I really like saying that.)
As I walked through the list of ingredients, I thought about how I could make a faux bechamel topping and how I could keep that comforting aspect even if I took out most of the stuff that makes it comforting.
The idea hit me while we were driving to the store and I was under serious hangry duress. I had not timed my day out properly and was about an hour into a Snickers commercial. Thus, I was craving something hearty and comforting.
Well, with a few minor tweaks, I got this bad boy under 400 calories per heaping serving. Plus, I got through the nearly hourlong cooking process without my hangry hurting anyone! High five!
I drank tons of water while cooking this dish that feeds six, and I was so proud that I stuck to the “better choices” plan because this version was so good! Bear is a big eater, and he absolutely loved it and said it was very filling. While I’m not an authority on Moussaka by any means, for us, this Moussaka recipe is, dare I say, “Opa!” worthy.
2 TBS Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Large Eggplant, peeled
1 TBS Coconut Oil
3 Garlic Clove, minced
1/3 Onion, chopped
2 Portabello Mushroom Cap, chopped
16 oz Ground Turkey
2 TBS C&J Farms Greek Seasoning
4 TBS Tomato Paste
1 Large Cauliflower
1 Cup Unsweetened Almond Milk
1 Cup Low Sodium Chicken Broth
8oz Daiya Vegan Mozzarella Style Shreds
Note: You can add an egg to the creamy mixture right before using it to layer. It will help stabilize and create a fluffier layer, but it’s not necessary.
Preheat oven to 375°.
Peel the eggplant and slice lengthwise to make 1/4 inch oblong-like slices. Place the slices on a baking sheet, trying not to overlap. Drizzle olive oil over both sides of the eggplant and season with 1 TBS of Greek seasoning. The C&J Farms brand of Greek seasoning includes salt. If you use a brand of Greek seasoning that doesn’t contain salt, season the eggplant on both sides with salt. Place in the oven and bake until the eggplant is roasted, approximately 15 minutes. It’s okay if the thinner slices get a little charred, but watch them carefully so charred doesn’t turn into burned. Once the eggplant is roasted, remove from oven and set aside for assembly.
While the eggplant is baking in the oven, in a medium saucepan, break up the head of cauliflower and add almond milk.
Add chicken stock to the cauliflower, season with a dash of salt, and then cover with a lid and allow to simmer on medium heat while everything else is cooking.
Finely chop the mushrooms, onions, and garlic. Add coconut oil to a large skillet or dutch oven and saute the onion, garlic, and mushrooms on medium high until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms have cooked down.
Create a small well in the center of the mushroom mixture, and add the tomato paste. Cook the tomato paste in the center until it has a darker color. Then, incorporate the tomato paste fully with the onion and mushroom mixture. Add the ground turkey and the remaining Greek seasoning, and cook thoroughly. Set aside.
Once the cauliflower has cooked through and is softened, use a hand blender or transfer to a blender to blend into a smooth consistency. Add the mozzarella shreds and blend until well combined. (I’ve never been a huge fan of vegan cheese, but Bear got me hooked on this particular brand. So, it’s the only one I really use when I’m trying to cut down on dairy.)
In a casserole dish, add a layer of the ground turkey mixture. Top with eggplant as if you’re layering lasagna noodles.
Cover the eggplant with a portion of the creamy cauliflower mixture and continue to build, alternating turkey, eggplant, and cauliflower until the last layer is the creamy mixture.
Bake at 375° for 20 minutes. Broil for another 5 minutes to char the top of the Moussaka. Then, grab a bowl, get comfy on the couch, and indulge without that pesky indulgence guilt.
Now, not my norm, but I’m going to throw a quick and easy Greek Lamb Chop recipe in here at the end because… well… it’s quick and easy! And, it’s delicious and uses the same Greek seasoning I use for the Moussaka.
Season four lamb chops with Greek seasoning that has salt. Same as above; if your Greek seasoning doesn’t have salt, season the chops with salt. Cube one sweet potato, french one medium onion, and slice one lemon. Heat up a cast iron skillet on medium high, add the lamb chops to sear until browned on all sides but not cooked through. Remove the chops from the skillet. Add the potato and onion to the skillet and saute briefly. Add the seared lamb chops back to the top of the onions and potatoes. Place the slices of lemon on top of the chops. Add a splash of chicken stock or beef stock to the skillet to deglaze. Transfer the entire skillet to the oven and bake in a preheated oven at 375° for 20 minutes.