Friday, February 13, 2009

Cooking Backlog - Greek Eggplant Casserole

Before I went vegan, one of my favorite Greek dishes was Moussaka. If you aren't familiar, it's basically a Greek lasagna. It has eggplant, beef, tomato sauce, pasta, and cheese. Sometimes the pasta and cheese layer is mixed with egg and some other ingredients to form a sort of custard. Most importantly, the dish is flavored with cinnamon in addition to the spices you might normally expect. What a difference that makes! For years I couldn't put my finger on what that spice was, I just knew it tasted different and wonderful and I wanted more.

There is another similar Greek dish called Pastitsio. It also involves pasta, cheese/egg/custard, tomato sauce, and beef. It also uses cinnamon as a spice. I tell you, Greece knows what the eff they're doing when they spice their dishes.

So the other day I was really craving something similar. I didn't want to just use veggie beef or something, however, because I am trying to eat healthier and increase my veggie intake. I've also been interested in trying eggplant, which i've always avoided (with the occasional exception in Moussaka, although i'd normally pick around it).

After poking through a few recipes and brainstorming, I came up with my own Greek Eggplant Casserole. It uses a wonderful creamy sauce, so while it doesn't have the thick custard/pasta top layer that Moussaka and Pastitsio traditionally do, I think it mimics the flavor and spirit of those dishes pretty well.

Then again, i'm not Greek.

This is a pretty long recipe, because it involves cooking the pasta, making the eggplant, making the cheese sauce, prepping the pasta sauce, and then combining everything into a casserole dish and baking. But trust me, it's easy and doesn't take terribly long. Otherwise I would never make it myself.

From Foodsies!

Greek Eggplant Casserole

Master List of Ingredients (it will be broken down and re-iterated later, but this is so you can scan and make sure you have everything you need):

1 Eggplant
1 Bag Pasta
2-4 Cups Tomato Sauce (Pasta Sauce, whatever you want to call it)
2 Cups Flour
5 tsp Salt
2 tsp Oregeno
1 tsp Garlic Powder
2.5 Cups Soymilk
3 Cups Water
1 Package Silken Tofu
1 Cup Vegetable Broth
4 TBSP Tahini
1 TBSP Onion Powder
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1/2 tsp White Pepper
1/2 tsp Paprika
2 TBSP Corn Starch
1/4 tsp Mustard Powder

OK got it all? Now preheat the oven to 350 so you don't forget to do it later.

To prepare the Pasta:

Grab a bag of pasta. I used shells, but any non-spaghetti style pasta will do. Heck, you could probably even use spaghetti.

Get a pot of water going on the stove. You're going to need to cook your pasta, so get that water boiling now. Then get started on your Eggplant.

To prepare the Eggplant:

1 Eggplant
2 Cups Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
2 tsp Oregeno
1 tsp Garlic Powder
2 Cups Soymilk
3 Cups Water
2 tsp Salt (to go into the water)
1 tsp Salt (to be sprinkled on the eggplant)

Slice the eggplant into round sections. You can peel it if you're into that. Some people like their slices to be about 1/2 inch thick, but I prefer really thin slices so I get them as thin as I can.
Pour your 3 cups of water into a bowl.
Now drop about 2 tsp's of salt into the water and place the eggplant slices into the salt water. They'll float. Liberally sprinkle salt all over the exposed part of the eggplant slices. WTF?! you may be thinking. Well, eggplant is bitter and gross by nature, but if you salt it then the poor salt sucks up all the nastiness, leaving you with tasty eggplant.
So let the eggplant hang out in the salt water for about 20 minutes. During this time, you can make the cheeze sauce (skip down to the cheeze sauce section).

Also, your water should be boiling by now, so throw your pasta in.

Once the eggplant has finished soaking for its 20 minutes, mix up the flour, salt, oregeno, and garlic powder in a shallow bowl or pan.
Pour the soymilk into another shallow bowl.

Oil up a skillet and heat over medium to medium-high heat.

Dip each slice of eggplant into the soymilk and then dredge through the flour mix til its coated. If you want to be a good southern cook, dredge first into the flour mix, then into the soymilk, then back into the flour mix.
Throw the coated slices into the skillet and pan-fry til the outside is crispy and golden-brown.
If you run out of the flour mix, just make some more. You may have to do this in a couple of batches. Just set aside the finished slices on a cloth while you cook the others.

Is your pasta done yet? If so, strain it up and set aside.

To Prepare the Cheeze Sauce (you may have some of this leftover depending on how much you use on the casserole. If you don't want leftovers for dipping veggies etc. in, then please halve the ingredients below):

1 Package Silken Tofu
1/2 Cup Soy Milk
1 Cup Vegetable Broth (read: veggie bouillon in a cup of water)
4 TBSP Tahini
1 TBSP Onion Powder
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp White Pepper
1/2 tsp Paprika
2 TBSP Corn Starch
1/4 tsp Mustard Powder (optional - just makes it a wee bit tangier)

If you're weird like me, put all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix with an immersion blender until it is all mixed and thickens to a sauce-like consistency. If it's too thick, add in more soymilk.
If you're a normal cook, then just throw it all in a blender and blend to a sauce-like consistency, adding more soymilk if it's thicker than you imagine you'd want.

To Prepare the Tomato Sauce:

Pour about 2 cups into a bowl. Now add in about 1/2 tsp of Cinnamon. Taste.
Can you distinctly taste the cinnamon? If not, add in some more.
You want it to taste like tomato sauce with a distinct undercurrent of cinnamon. Or, just add in cinnamon until it tastes yummy to you.
You can also throw in a few shakes of nutmeg. Sorry, I put nutmeg in everything. And it's like the siamese twin of cinnamon. How dare you try and separate them.

To Assemble the Casserole:

You should now have the following:

Some pan-fried slices of eggplant
Some cooked pasta
Some Cheeze Sauce
Some tomato sauce with cinnamon (and nutmeg)

Spray an 11x7 casserole dish with oil or cooking spray.
Layer the bottom with the eggplant slices. You will probably want to overlap them some so that a) you don't have big gaps and b) so you use all or most of your eggplant.
If you sampled the cheeze sauce and really liked it, go ahead and pour a bit of it over the eggplant.
Pour the pasta over the eggplant.
Pour the tomato sauce mixture over the pasta. If you want more tomato sauce, just mix some more up and add. You will probably want to stir it around with the pasta so it all gets coated nicely.
Top with a liberal amount of the cheeze sauce. Feel free to mix it all in with the pasta. Whatever looks tasty to you.

Now bake in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese sauce looks like it's thickened up or is bubbling. Everything was already cooked beforehand, so you're mostly just heating it anyway.

Now eat!

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