I shouldn’t call this moussaka but messakaa or messaka,the Middle Eastern version which is very similar, except without the béchamel sauce on top. Formerly, my cousin’s Egyptian wife, Samia, taught her mother-in-law (my mother’s sister), who taught my mother, who in turn taught me how to make messakaa. Long after Samia moved back to her country, her messaka’a remained a dish we went back to whenever we wanted something easy and different to make. This is one of the reasons why I have always liked mixed marriages. Even when they don’t work, you at least come out with a few exotic recipes (which you don’t even need to go to court or get a lawyer for in order to keep).
How I remembered Messakaa after so long, I don’t know. It could be the fact that I already had a beautiful eggplant in the fridge and was thinking of some meat to go with it for dinner. Messakaa as well as moussaka are traditionally made with ground lamb or beef. I made mine with ground turkey. It came out delicious. The meat you choose depends entirely on your taste (and calorie) preferences; although I have to say that personally, I like to try things the authentic way—at least the first time, then I let my desires loose after that.
Not only is messakaa easy to make, it can be prepared in stages over a few days. You could fry the eggplants and get that first step out of the way the day before, then cook in the tomatoes and the meat right before, et voilà! You could serve it as a sandwich, dip or bruschetta for an appetizer.
So many possibilities, so few ingredients, in so little time! I love it!!
4 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium eggplant, peeled (or partially peeled) and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and finely minced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 large ripe tomato, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
¾ to 1 pound ground beef, lamb or turkey
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper
½ cup water
Heat the canola oil in a medium skillet over medium heat and fry the eggplant slices until golden brown and mushy, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Set aside on a paper towel to drain.
Using the same skillet, add the olive oil, onion and garlic. Sauté until the onions are golden and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomato and tomato paste, and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the meat, cinnamon, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir the ground meat constantly to separate it into crumbs. Add the fried eggplant and water and cook until the liquids are well reduced, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and pressing the eggplant slices gently to mash them a little and make them blend in the sauce. Serve warm or at room temperature on pita bread.