Cooking with Corneal Abrasions: Italian Moussaka


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My mom just celebrated her 50th birthday this past weekend. I agreed to throw her a party, as I do every year. She invites about 15 of her friends to my house, I make a variety of food and order her a nice bakery cake, and we drink wine and laugh the night away.

Well this year, she wanted to go big. A “memorable” party for her big 5-0…because apparently my previous parties for her weren’t memorable enough. So she invited about 50 people, forcing me to find a venue to rent for the party—and a strategic way to prepare and store crazy amounts of food in my fridge.

In Filipino culture, the worst, most tragic, embarrassing, shameful thing that could ever happen to a party host is to run out of food. So when I host parties for about 20 people, I prepare enough food to feed 30-40 people. I leave out Ziploc bags and aluminum foil, and Filipino women happily pack up the leftovers to bring to their husbands.

So this year, knowing 50 people were on the guest list, I planned a menu for an army. I shopped at one of those grocery stores that are designed for restaurant owners and left with a 19-pound pork loin, 18 pounds of chicken legs, 5 pounds of ground turkey for tamale casserole, 4 bags of rigatoni and giant aluminum catering serving pans.  I even asked people for HELP—which I rarely do.

Friday night before the party, I started prepping all the food. As I was chopping onions, my eye started burning like I rubbed jalapeno into it. I figured it would go away in a few minutes, but it continued through the evening. I woke up with a red eyeball, twitchy swollen eyelid, blurry vision and tears uncontrollably streaming down my face.

My plan was to shake it off, power through the day and hope it would just go away. But my boyfriend convinced me to go to urgent care, and I found out that I gave myself a “corneal abrasion,” a scratch on my cornea from rubbing my eyes too much with my contacts in. I spent the rest of the day twitching my right eyelid while trying to maneuver around the kitchen practically blind, cooking and transporting ridiculous amounts of food.

Despite this setback, once the numbing eye drops and ibuprofen kicked in, everything went well. The food was good, my mom had a good time, and best of all—the party is over!

The next day, my abs were sore and my body felt bruised from lifting the serving pans. My eye still isn’t 100 percent, but at least I didn’t lose it.

Somehow, after all that, I was able to get myself back in the kitchen again. I’ve been craving moussaka, a traditional Greek dish, that I make not-so-traditional. So I’m calling it “Italian moussaka”…or maybe even “Greek lasagna.” It’s basically a lasagna made with eggplant and potatoes in place of noodles. And, since I’m dairy free, I made a non-dairy béchamel-type sauce. I was nervous about how it would turn out…but it turned out well, and I will make it again! It takes some time to prepare, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for a quick weeknight meal. You can also make it a day ahead.

Italian Moussaka

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Feeds 4-6

INGREDIENTS:

1 medium eggplant

2 large red potatoes

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

2 small cans tomato sauce

1 cup spaghetti sauce

1 15 oz can fire roasted tomatoes

1/4 cup red wine

2-3 T chopped parsley

1 pound ground chicken sausage

Bechamel-type sauce

3/4 cup vegan cheese (I used Daiya)

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

1 cup non-dairy milk (I used plain almond)

1 egg white

5 oz. silken tofu

3-6 T soy sauce

pepper to taste

1-2 T dijon mustard

fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Cut eggplant into 1/4- inch thick slices. You can leave the skin on or peel it off, it’s up to you. Spread eggplant slices out on a tray, in a colander or on cutting boards. Sprinkle generously with salt, and let them sit for about 30 minutes, or until you can see the liquid pool at the top. Rinse the salt off the eggplant and try to squeeze out excess liquid. This is supposed to remove some of the bitterness from the eggplant.

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While you let the eggplants sit, chop onion and garlic. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until they just start to caramelize.

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Add the ground chicken sausage and saute until browned and cooked through.

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Add garlic, fire roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce and wine. Turn down heat and let the sauce simmer until it’s time to assemble the moussaka. Stir in parsley.

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To make the bechamel sauce, add all the ingredients to a blender or food processor, except the vegan cheese. Blend until creamy. Stir in the vegan cheese, and set aside. *Note: If you sample the sauce before cooking it, it won’t taste very good. Once it’s baked it tastes good, haha.

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Nutritional Yeast

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The sauce has a pretty color here….but once it’s cooked it looks weird and brownish green…

Slice potatoes as thinly as possible. Lightly salt each slice.

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To assemble, spray a coat of non-stick spray in an 8×11 pan. Spread a layer of eggplant on the bottom of the pan.

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Top the eggplant layer with about 1 cup of the chicken sausage tomato sauce mixture.

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Spread on a layer of potatoes.

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Top with a cup of the tomato sauce mixture. Repeat until you run out of eggplant and potato. Finish with a generous layer of the tomato sauce.

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Bake the moussaka for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

Pour the bechamel sauce over the top. You may not need all of it, I had about a cup leftover that I will use later for mac n’ cheese. Bake another 25 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through and the bechamel sauce is set. Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving to let the casserole firm up, and it won’t be a runny mess. Cut into slices and serve with a side salad, or roasted brussels sprouts. Or enjoy alone, it’s a complete meal!

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It’s not very pretty since it’s not real cheese…but I promise it’s good!

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Italian Moussaka Recipe:

Cut eggplant into 1/4- inch thick slices. You can leave the skin on or peel it off, it’s up to you. Spread eggplant slices out on a tray, in a colander or on cutting boards. Sprinkle generously with salt, and let them sit for about 30 minutes, or until you can see the liquid pool at the top. Rinse the salt off the eggplant and try to squeeze out excess liquid. This is supposed to remove some of the bitterness from the eggplant.

While you let the eggplants sit, chop onion and garlic. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until they just start to caramelize. Add the ground chicken sausage and saute until browned and cooked through. Add garlic, fire roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce and wine. Turn down heat and let the sauce simmer.

To make the bechamel sauce, add all the ingredients to a blender or food processor, except the vegan cheese. Blend until creamy. Stir in the vegan cheese, and set aside. Note: If you sample the sauce before cooking it, it won’t taste very good. Once it’s baked it tastes good, haha. 

Slice potatoes as thinly as possible. Lightly salt each slice.

To assemble, spray a coat of non-stick spray in an 8×11 pan. Spread a layer of eggplant on the bottom of the pan. Top the eggplant layer with about 1 cup of the chicken sausage tomato sauce mixture. Spread on a layer of potatoes. Top with a cup of the tomato sauce mixture. Repeat until you run out of eggplant and potato. Finish with a generous layer of the tomato sauce.

Bake the moussaka for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

Pour the bechamel sauce over the top. You may not need all of it, I had about a cup leftover that I will use later for mac n’ cheese. Bake another 25 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through and the bechamel sauce is set. Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving to let the casserole firm up, and it won’t be a runny mess. 

 

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