I have had the pleasure of eating a lot of fresh figs as of late. I hope that you have too. If not, consider making this moussaka. My mum’s friend Keith grows figs and he told me recently that figs were good in moussaka. I tend to trust Keith since he was the first person to feed me quiche and lives on a diet that seems to consist almost exclusively of gourmet food that he has caught, grown or foraged for himself (Salmon, oysters, mussels, plums, figs and fennel). I did not need a lot of convincing. I am a big fan of meat paired with fruit (Chicken baked with Prunes, Capers and Green Olives, Cranberry Brisket, Garam Masala Baked Chicken with Pickled Plums, Pork Chops with Boozy Jam Sauce, Apple Cider Brined Chicken with Star Anise and Cinnamon and so on…)
You do not need perfect figs for this recipe. If you have perfect figs, for heaven sake just eat them fresh! Eat them while standing directly under your fig tree if possible. But let’s pretend that your fig tree is full of not quite ripe figs and you know that you will get frost before they all ripen….or le’ts pretend that you bought a bunch of figs from the grocery store and each and every one of them is either too ripe or not ripe enough. That’s okay. You are going to bake the figs and they will be delicious.
The figs are not the only awesome thing about the recipe. The eggplant is baked in egg whites (left over from the bechamel) and bread crumbs rather than in a bath of oil and the bechamel used less egg yolks and has yogurt added to it. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a rich dish. Moussaka can spare some oil and egg yolks, trust me.
This recipe takes a while to make. You can do a lot of it in advance and assemble it at the last-minute. You can also make the whole thing ahead of time. It re-heats very well. If you need to feed a lot of people, the recipe is easy to double.
LAMB, FIG and EGGPLANT MOUSSAKA
- 1 pound of eggplant
- coarse salt
- 1 pound of potatoes
- 2 pounds of fresh ripe tomatoes
- 1 pound of fresh figs
- a tiny bit of olive oil
- 3 eggs
- about 1 cup of bread crumbs ( I use Glutino brand gluten-free bread crumbs or rice bread toasted and ground into powder)
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 2 large onions, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and minced
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- a generous amount of salt and pepper
Bechamel and Cheese Topping
- 6 Tablespoons salted butter
- 1/2 cup flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free flour or a mix of sorghum, tapioca and rice flours)
- 2 and 1/4 cups milk (room temp or warm)
- 1 bay leaf
- a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 cup of plain greek yogurt
- 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Preparing the Fruit and Vegetable Layers (can be done in advance)
- Set a medium-sized pot of salted water over high heat.
- Slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch rounds. Toss the eggplant in a colander with a lot of coarse salt (don’t worry, you’ll rinse it off later). Place the colander on a plate to catch the bitter juices that the eggplant will sweat out. Put a large heavy bowl on top of the eggplant to squeeze the juices out and set it aside while you prep everything else.
- Scrub your potatoes and peel them (or not). Slice them into 1/4 inch slices. By now your water should be boiling. Drop the potatoes in the water and allow them to cook until they are just tender. When they are done, pull them out with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Leave the water boiling.
- Cut a shallow x on the ends of the tomatoes and drop them into the boiling water. Pull them out after a few seconds and set them aside to cool as well.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Rinse and stem the figs. Slice the figs in half and lay them sliced side up in a single layer on a baking sheet. Pour a little bit of olive oil into the palm of your hand and use your hands to touch at least most of the figs with a bit of oil. Bake the figs for 10 to 15 minutes or until they look a little glazed and their juices have started to run out into the baking sheet and make fig syrup. Set the figs aside in a bowl.
- Take a break to scrape all of the fig syrup off of the baking sheet and eat it! Your doing great and you deserve a treat…also you need the baking sheet for the eggplant.
- Rinse the eggplant slices and dry them with a clean towel. Separate the eggs and set the yolks aside for the bechamel. Whisk the whites with a splash of water. Put the bread crumbs in a shallow dish.
- Dip the eggplant slices in the egg whites, dredge them in the breadcrumbs and lay them in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake the eggplant slices for 15 minutes, flip them and bake them for another 15 minutes on the other side. While the eggplant bakes you can start the lamb.
Preparing the Lamb Sauce (can be done in advance)
- Saute the ground lamb in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat until the pink color disappears. While you are waiting you should slip the tomatoes out of their skins and roughly chop them.
- When the meat is no longer pink, add the onion and cook until it is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute or until you can smell the garlic.
- Add the wine and let it reduce almost completely. Add the cayenne, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and diced red pepper. Give a few stirs and then add the chopped tomatoes. Let the tomato sauce simmer over medium high, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. The amount of time will vary depending on how juicy your tomatoes are, but you want the sauce to be quite dry and chunky by the end. You can do a batch of dishes, start to assemble the moussaka and maybe even make the bechamel while the tomato sauce is cooking down. When the sauce is done, season it with sugar, salt and pepper.
Preparing the Bechamel (should be done just before baking)
- To make the bechamel, melt the butter in a heavy sauce pan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking for just a few minutes until it is smooth and combined. Do not brown.
- Slowly add the milk in a steady stream, while whisking out the lumps. Add the bay leaf, and lower the heat. Cook it, whisking frequently until it forms a thick sauce. I find that gluten-free flour mixes thicken up quickly, but it is important to cook the sauce until all of those wacky raw flour flavours chill out a bit.
- Remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in the egg yolks followed by the yogurt. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Again, if you are using gluten-free flours you may want to use more nutmeg than normal to mask any odd flavours.
Assembly and Baking
- To assemble the moussaka, lightly oil a deep baking dish and dust it with bread crumbs. I forgot the bread crumbs one time and it was not the end of the world.
- Layer the potatoes on the bottom of the dish, leaving some space around the edges.
- Layer the eggplant on top of the potatoes followed by the meat sauce and about 1/4 cup of cheese.
- Layer the figs on the meat sauce, followed by another 1/4 cup of cheese.
- Pour the Bechamel over the whole thing and smooth it with a spatula. Be sure to get some along the sides too. Sprinkle the other 1/4 cup of cheese on top.
- Turn your oven down to 350 degrees and bake the moussaka for 45 minutes. It may take a bit longer if you made the layers and sauce in advance. Let it cool 15 minutes before eating it.