Sara Moulton’s Speedy Moussaka

Sara Moulton, the executive chef of the now-defunct Gourmet magazine, reinterprets the look of dinner in her newest cookbook, “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Dinners” (Simon & Schuster).

Why settle for boring ol’ chicken with a veg and starch on the side, when you can whip up the likes of “Fried Eggs with Crispy Kimchi Rice,” “Spring Soup with Bread Dumplings,” and “Reuben Pizza” for dinner instead?

Her recipe for “Speedy Moussaka” especially caught my eye. I love a good rendition of this traditional Greek casserole. But I often feel in need of a serious snooze afterward, what with the greasy, fried eggplant slices and the heavy bechamel sauce covering everything.

Moulton’s version calls for a mix of ricotta, feta and yogurt in place of the enriched French milk-butter sauce. The eggplant slices also are baked, rather than fried. The result is a moussaka that’s not only faster to make, but lighter tasting, too.

It’s still plenty hearty with flavorful ground lamb cooked with red wine, tomato paste, onion, garlic, cloves, and cinnamon. But this is one moussaka that won’t leave you nodding off after the last forkful.

Speedy Moussaka

(Serves 4 to 6)

1 medium eggplant

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

1 pound ground lamb, beef or turkey (see Note)

1 medium onion

2 garlic cloves

2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried

1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 cup dry red wine

1/4 cup tomato paste

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Freshly ground black pepper

6 ounces feta cheese

One (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta

1/4 cup plain low-fat or full-fat Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a large rimmed baking sheet and a 9-inch square baking pan or 10-inch oval casserole dish.

Peel eggplant and cut it crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Combine olive oil with 1/4 teaspoon salt and brush mixture on both sides of eggplant slices. Arrange slices in one layer on the baking sheet and bake them until they are just tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove eggplant from oven and set it aside until it is cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Crumble lamb into skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until lamb is no longer pink. Transfer lamb to a bowl using a slotted spatula, draining as much fat as possible back into the skillet. Remove and discard all but 1 tablespoon lamb fat from the skillet.

While the lamb is cooking, coarsely chop onion (about 1 cup). Heat remaining 1 tablespoon lamb fat in the skillet over high heat until hot. Reduce heat to medium, add onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is golden, about 5 minutes. Press garlic (about 2 teaspoons) into skillet and cook for 1 minute more. Chop oregano (1 tablespoon) and the parsley (about 1/4 cup).

Return the lamb to the skillet and stir in red wine, tomato paste, oregano, and cinnamon. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until wine has almost evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Crumble feta cheese into a medium bowl. Stir in ricotta and parsley. Set aside 1/2 cup of the mixture.

Arrange one-third of the eggplant in the oiled pan or casserole dish. Top it with the lamb mixture. Add another one-third of the eggplant, the ricotta mixture in the bowl, and then the final one-third of eggplant. Stir yogurt into reserved ricotta mixture and spread it over the eggplant. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until moussaka is heated through and the top cheese layer has set. Spoon moussaka onto plates and serve immediately.

Note: If using beef or turkey, it may be necessary to add some olive oil to the skillet before adding the meat.

From “Sara Moulton’s Everday Family Dinners”

More: My Q&A with Sara Moulton

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