I’ve never been known as a domestic goddess. Most of my spare energy in life has been spent learning how to fly bigger and faster airplanes, and most of my free time was spent hanging around the airport. I wasn’t the type of girl who made cookies in the kitchen with a parent after school. It’s not because I didn’t want to, but because my mom wasn’t that kind of mom. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I finally started to experiment in the kitchen. Movies like Big Night and Julie and Julia inspired me, and it helped that the guys I dated usually liked it. My sister-in-law, my only relative known for her excellent meals, has gifted me two aprons, and though they usually hang un-worn in my kitchen, I’ve always thought they’d do wonders for winning over the in-laws, if they come over.
When I was growing up, my mom was busy with the 5 of us young kids and our various extra-curricular activities, lessons, and events, and though she was a rare and genius mother, there was never much to say about her cooking skills. If we were lucky, we would get canned “Spaghetti-O’s”, a runny, goopy, mess of processed noodles, and if we weren’t, we’d get a lump of ground meat that had been cooked and cooked into a shriveled disc that was supposed to resemble a hamburger. Pair that with some gritty cold mac and cheese, and some lukewarm tap water in a goblet, and that was our dinner. While we sat through it, picking at our food, someone would excuse themselves to microwave the plate or give a bite of it to the family dog. Meanwhile all 7 of us sat patiently at the dinner table, night after night, listening to my mom read us newspaper articles on various topics covering a wide range of history, politics, religion, and world affairs. The food on our dinner table played second fiddle to what was really important – intellectual stimulation. I never realized how that mentality had seeped into my own values until now. Why cook when there were so many other interesting, challenging, and rewarding pursuits that I could be using my valuable life energy on? I could be tutoring my Japanese student, writing a book, renewing my flight instructor ratings, working, or perhaps, online shopping!
It was only when I got to really know the secrets to my Serb’s heart that I realized I better channel my inner domestic goddess lest the Serbian community continue to make snide comments about how skinny my husband was, and oh yeah, what a good cook his late ex-wife was. I wasn’t about to let that happen, and so I learned, with no instruction other than the internet and my own creative devices, how to cook. By now I have a menu of Serb worthy dishes, the pinnacle of which I prepared for the 1st time tonight – Moussaka.
Ok, so I know what you’re thinking – Moussaka is not really Serbian, it’s Greek, but Serbs seem to love it nonetheless, and cook it much like an American family would prepare an Italian style pasta, a household family favorite. So tonight, after spotting a gorgeous eggplant at the grocery that seemed to be calling my name, I decided I was up for the task.
Several hours later and my kitchen looked like a tornado had made its way through. I was painstakingly making every morsel from scratch, and taking no shortcuts along the way. My muž came home halfway through the preparation, and he entered the door smiling and giddy, saying the hallway outside smelled like home (a Belgrade kitchen). Pretty soon he was holding me like he did when we were first falling in love, as I stirred and chopped, and worked my magic. What emerged from my oven hours later was no less than a masterpiece! I was thrilled at my creation and my shoulders arched back in pride as I served moj muž that dish. His reaction was priceless! He gushed over how perfect it turned out, and immediately cleaned his plate and asked for seconds. He even said he couldn’t wait for tomorrow for leftovers. At the moment I am typing, he is in the other room singing and doing the dishes…ahh…..domestic bliss, and I created that! The icing on the cake was when as he scraped the last crumb from his plate he murmured under his breath, “I think this is even better than my Mama’s”.
So take that Mama Z – you ain’t got nothing on me now!
- 2 lbs ground beef
- 1 eggplant
- 3 potatoes
- 1 can stewed tomatoes, or fresh chopped tomatoes
- 1 onion
- ¾ cup grated parmesan
- ½ cup butter
- 4 cups milk
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 2 eggs
- Fresh parsley
- Salt and pepper
– Peel eggplant, cut into bite size pieces, salt, lay on paper towel for 30 minutes to draw out moisture
– Brown beat in pan with olive oil, add chopped onion, simmer for 10-15 minutes
– Add tomatoes, parsley, and oregano, simmer a bit more
– Whisk 1 egg and add to meat mixture, simmer, then add a shake or two of cinnamon
– In a separate pan, brown eggplant with olive oil
– Peel potatoes and slice them into round discs, brown in pan with olive oil, or you can roast them in the oven until slightly golden (eggplant could be grilled instead of fried as well)
– Béchamel Sauce: melt butter in skillet, whisk in flower, heat milk separately in a pot, slowly add the hot milk to the butter and flour mixture, whisking slowly until thickened (may take 5 – 10 minutes)
– Slowly add a beaten egg to the béchamel sauce mixture, whisking slowly, add salt and pepper to taste
– In a greased baking dish, start layering with the eggplant in first, then add most of the potatoes
– Add the entire meat mixture on top of the potatoes, then sprinkle with ½ cup parmesan
– Add the remaining potatoes, then another sprinkling of parmesan
– Pour all the béchamel sauce on top, and finish with a sprinkle of feta
– Bake for about 1 hour at 375 Degrees, monitor at the end – dish is finished when Sauce has baked into a puffed crisp
This recipe is a compilation from several recipes I found online, and has been tweaked a little by yours truly.
- I believe that cooking is an art, not a science, and so all measurements and times are approximate, experimentation sometimes yields successful surprises!
- Dish can be made with either lamb or beef
- You can vary the amount of eggplant and potatoes, I used only 1 eggplant and more potatoes, however many recipes call for the opposite ratio, or to leave out either vegetable, according to your taste
- Veggies can be grilled, fried, or roasted. This part is time consuming, so plan accordingly
- Be sure to stir béchamel sauce until it thickens, otherwise it will be too runny
- Some recipes suggest layering in the béchamel sauce throughout the dish, instead of having it on top