19 August 2010
My mother used to make a version of moussaka out of Craig Claiborne's "New York Times International Cookbook," a book she loved dearly. It was a towering affair, filled with lamb and eggplant and tomatoes and topped with a thick bechamel sauce. When my mother made it, it always came out looking a bit like the tower of Pisa, and you wondered which slice would finally send the concoction sliding off, meat in one direction, eggplant in another.
Years later, I discovered that there was a Lebanese version of moussaka, also with eggplant, but very different in composition. Here moussaka, from مسقعة or "chilled," is a simple vegetarian stew of eggplant, tomatoes and chickpeas. Despite the name, it can be served hot or cold, and falls into the category of many Levantine vegetarian dishes often eaten during times of fasting or abstinence, such as Lent.
I can't remember where I learned to make it the way I do, leaving few eggplants whole, and arranging them artfully for presentation, but I like the way it looks. This dish works best if you can find small and slender eggplants.
6 small slender Japenese-style egpplants, or 3 larger eggplants, halved
2 onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups diced tomatoes, preferably fresh but canned is okay
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
chopped parsley for serving
1. Peel the eggplants in alternating strips, leaving strips of the black flesh. Trim the tops and bottoms of the eggplants.
2. Choose a large wide skillet, a 9 inch cast iron or ceramic pan is great. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in the skillet. Add the eggplants to the skillet and cook over medium heat until browned in spots, but not cooked through. Work in batches if necessary. Remove to a paper towel to drain.
3. Take 2 of the eggplants (or eggplant halves) and dice.
4. Add more olive oil to the skillet, there should be about a 1/4 cup of olive oil to the skillet. Add the onion and garlic and saute until softened. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and let cook down for about 10 minutes.
5. Stir in the chickpeas and the diced eggplant. Nestle the 4 whole eggplants in the skillet and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook for 25 minutes, flipping the eggplants once halfway through.
6. Test the eggplants for doneness, and add more water if the tomatoes get dry. The dish is done when the eggplant is tender. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.