Midweek Moussaka recipe

Autumn is a great time to try harvest foods like aubergine and make casserole bakes that warm the house. Greek food is something I rarely make at home, preferring to indulge at a restaurant or friend’s home, but this moussaka recipe is hard to resist. Moussaka is a bit like Greek lasagne: usually layered, meaty and loaded with cheese. The béchamel sauce may be daunting, but I’ve made this recipe a mid-week version that will hopefully calm your aversion. Something magical happens in the oven when the sauce thickens and browns across the top – it’s absolutely worth a try.

My family enjoy this dinner so much. I don’t think there’s anything better than sweet and savoury to get kids interested. The meat is browned with cinnamon and balsamic vinegar, and the béchamel is creamy with milk and parmesan cheese. The aubergine, or eggplant, is lightly fried in olive oil, but I use cubes rather than taking the time to thinly slice for layering. The final product is worth every ounce of effort, and I guarantee this moussaka recipe takes less than most. Even if you think you don’t like aubergine, I think you’ll be surprised at how flavourful, hearty and delicate this dish really is.

Midweek Moussaka Recipe

You’ll need:

  • 2-3 aubergines/eggplants peeled and cubed
  • 2-4 TB olive oil
  • 1 lb minced beef (the leaner the better so you don’t have to drain)
  • 1 cup chopped white onion
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp garlic granules
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 8oz tin of tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 4 cups warm milk
  • ½ cup salted butter
  • 6 TB all-purpose flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1-2 cups grated parmesan cheese

The method:

To begin, peel the aubergines and cube them into 3 cm/1 inch cubes. Some say you should salt the aubergine to absorb water … I usually can’t be bothered, but give it a try if your eggplant seems particularly wet.

cooking-the-aubergines

In a large pan, warm a tablespoon or two of olive oil before adding about half of the aubergine cubes. Be sure to leave space between pieces and fry off in two or three batches. Allow the slightly golden-edged aubergine to rest on kitchen roll while you finish batches and the meat.

Once you’ve spent ten minutes or so lightly frying the cubes, you can reuse the pan for the beef.

Add the chopped onion, minced beef and dry spices to the pan with what remains of the oil and any aubergine bits.

Cooking mince for moussaka.jpg

Allow the meat to brown nicely before adding the tomato sauce and balsamic vinegar. Bring to the boil before reducing the heat to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Now is a good time to preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

While the meat simmers and reduces, it’s time for the béchamel sauce.

I begin with using a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl to warm the milk. Microwaving 3-5 minutes on high should do the trick, but you want to be sure the milk is nearly boiling.

In a non-stick pan, melt the butter and add the flour. I use gluten free, and may use a bit less than stated above, but the roux you create will be thick. Mix well with a rubber spatula until smooth.

Gradually add the hot milk, stirring quickly to smooth into the roux. This sounds intimidating, but it’s really going to come through for you.

Once the milk is fully incorporated into the butter and flour, allow it to lightly boil over a low heat and thicken slightly. Remove from the heat and mix in ½ cup of the parmesan.

Cooking bechamel and tomato sauce for moussaka.jpg

Now for the assembly: pour the partially-fried aubergine cubes into the bottom of a large baking dish. Sprinkle about ½ cup of the parmesan cheese over the top of the cubes.

Moussaka ready to bake.jpgPour the meat mixture over the aubergine and add another layer of parmesan sprinkle before pouring the beaten egg over the top.

Pour the slightly cooled béchamel sauce over the top and give it a little wiggle to settle the casserole before popping it in the oven.

Bake at 180C/350F for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the top is golden and solid. Allow the dish to cool before serving to preserve the layers, or dish up straight away if you’re not fussed about presentation.

Enjoy!

plated-moussaka

Sparkly Mummy
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Recipe for Albondigas (Mexican Soup)

This is a recipe that’s been handed down in my family and adapted for family life. My grandfather, the chef of the house, would take the time to make meatballs, as the standard Albondigas is a meatball soup, but over the years I’ve fallen out of using that method. It is a different experience to have moist meatballs with broth, but this recipe maintains all the flavour without all of the fuss.

This recipe is my version of a traditional family chicken soup: perfect for a cold! It’s also a celebration soup; it’s on the back burner at most family gatherings or parties, ready for anyone to scoop up a bowl with a few corn chips and some guacamole on top. It’s truly a delicious, healthy dish that emits amazing aromas all day.

I serve this soup over rice for my kids, draining a fair bit of broth, but loading meat and veg onto the top. They love guacamole, and the promise of a few corn chips for dipping. My son especially likes shredded cheese on top, and my daughter likes soured cream. My husband and I prefer a nice deep bowl with a handful of corn chips crushed on top, a handful of shredded cheese and dollop of guac. The cheese gets gooey and gorgeous, and the corn chips soften, adding an almost enchilada flavour that’s divine.

This post includes my coveted guacamole recipe as well, so make sure you have a couple of ripe avocados on hand (or more), and a bag of salted corn chips for dipping. You can make this soup as thick or as brothy as you like, and it gets better as it simmers. It freezes well, if you make a big batch, and can be stored for quick dinners another day. If you’re only making this for a grown-up crowd, add plenty of chilli to kick up the heat – it won’t disappoint.

Mexican albondigas soup.jpg

You’ll need:

  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1-1.5lb ground/minced beef
  • 1 TB minced garlic
  • 1 cup chopped white onion (I use frozen)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dry oregano
  • ½ tsp (or more) chilli powder or chilli flake (optional)
  • 1 tsp or 1 cube beef stock concentrate
  • 1 cup shredded/grated carrot (about one medium carrot)
  • 1 can chic peas/garbanzo beans drained and rinsed
  • 1 can chopped tomato (optional, but don’t use crushed – you want chunks of tomato)
  • 1-2 cups topped, tailed and halved green beans (I use frozen in a pinch)
  • 1-2 cups chopped coriander/cilantro with stalks (usually one good sized bunch)
  • ½-1 cup chopped red pepper
  • 2 med ripe avocados
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) garlic powder or fresh garlic
  • ½ teaspoon cumin or smoked paprika or both
  • Salt to taste
  • Corn chips, rice or tortillas for dipping (optional)

The method:

This recipe begins, like all great dishes, with garlic, onion and beef mingling in the pot, browning together with a bit of oil. The best method is stirring infrequently, allowing the beef to brown while the onions soften. I’m usually a “full-wack” cook, so I start out on a high heat and break up the beef with a wooden spoon.

After a couple of minutes, there should be a liquid forming from the beef and onion. Add your dry spices and mix into the beef as you continue to break the beef into small pieces for browning. Once it’s pretty well broken up, leave it sit on that high heat to give great colour and flavour. Don’t worry if the spices start to stick a little to the bottom, it’s all flavour that will come off with the addition of water.

Once your dry spices are in and the beef is browned nicely, add the beef stock concentrate and a splash of water, and mix in the beef.

Add drained, rinsed chick peas, shredded carrot, red peppers and tomato. I usually chop as I’m cooking, so the chick peas and tomato are easy to throw in first, then chopped carrots and peppers once they’re finished. If these go in after the water, it’s not going to change the flavour.

Add enough water to thoroughly cover the mixture and bring to a boil. I usually add the water after the chick peas and tomato have had a chance to fry off a bit. If the mixture is getting too dry, reduce the heat or add a splash of water at any time.

Add chopped coriander, reduce heat to med-low and allow to lightly boil for at least twenty minutes. This soup can simmer away for hours, but it’ll be ready in thirty minutes if you keep the lid on. Be sure to save some of the coriander leaf for your guacamole.

This may sound odd, but a dollop of fresh guacamole is delicious with this soup. If you’ve never added a cool topping to stew, you’re missing out. I love guacamole, and keep it pretty simple to let the avocado speak for itself, but some swear by adding a little Greek yogurt or soured cream and salsa to theirs, and it’s still delicious. This is my method, and I only add yogurt or soured cream if the avocado isn’t quite ripe, because it adds creaminess.

Mash 2 medium avocados in a bowl with a fork with lime juice, dry or fresh garlic and cumin and/or smoked paprika. Once the avocado is mostly smooth, add salt and give it a taste. You may find another sprinkle of any of these flavours as needed to taste, but try not to overdo it and mask the avocado. Sparingly add more lime juice, because it can overpower with citrus.

homemade guacamole

I rip up a small handful of coriander leaves left from the soup, avoiding stalks for this fresh side dish, and mix the leaves into the guacamole for a final smashy stir. I like my guac with bits of avocado, but you can smash until it’s completely smooth if you prefer. Best to taste test with a corn chip so you don’t go overboard with the salt.

If you’re feeding a crowd, amp up the quantities and I guarantee the guacamole will be gone by the end of the night. I usually put a tower of bowls, pile of spoons, a bowl of shredded cheese with the chips and guacamole beside the pot of soup at a party and let folks serve themselves. My kids will happily eat the soup over rice (drain the broth a bit), and my son likes smashing the chick peas in his bowl. It’s another fabulous, veggie-packed meal they scoff without hesitation. And if you’re sick of chicken soup, give this one a go … it’s sure to clear your head!

Mummy in a Tutu

Chinese take-away pork & green beans recipe

We’re all so temped by take-away food – the ease, convenience and speed, and the taste! Over the years, I’ve lived with people from a lot of different cultural backgrounds. East Asians, Pakistani, Greek, Italian and English tastes have now fused with my own and had a major impact on my cooking.

Anyone that’s been following this recipe blog will remember the Tandoori Chicken and Dahl recipe I shared, fine-tuned with tips from a Pakistani friend of mine. The dish I’m sharing in this post was learned from my wonderful Chinese housemate – and like most of mine, it’s one that you can make your own in no time. The recipe I’m sharing here is one variation, and it can easily incorporate more or different veg, Quorn or ground turkey.

This is a super-fast, kid-friendly meal that’s also gluten free. It can be vegetarian if you prefer to stir-fry tofu or Quorn. My hubby always goes for seconds on this one, and there’s just so much less oil, MSG and other restaurant add-ins. Trust me: try this and you won’t even miss the local Chinese.

You’ll need:

  • 1lb ground pork
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1-2 tsp Chinese five spice (or your own with clove, anise and black pepper at least)
  • 2 cups topped and tailed green beans (fresh is quicker, but frozen is fine)
  • 1-2 tablespoons Oyster sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce (we use gluten free)
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp or one cube concentrated chicken stock
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • Optional sweet chilli sauce (for grown-ups and adventurous kids)
  • 1-2 cups white rice (gauge your family’s love of rice)
  • Chicken or veg stock in the rice (optional)
  • 1 tsp of Chinese five spice in the rice (optional)
  • 1 cup frozen peas in the rice (optional)

Chinese stir fry ingredients

The method:

If you’re lucky enough to own a rice cooker, by all means use it, and well done you. I am a sad sap and have no such luxury, so with this recipe I get the rice started first, in a pot, on the stove. I add a bit of chicken (or veg) stock, a dash of Chinese Five Spice and some frozen peas to the water, bring it to the boil and add the rice. Some rice cookers are cool with spices and stock, but if you’re not sure, maybe just make plain white rice, and the stir fry will still be amazing.

Mix the Oyster and Hoisin sauce with the five spice and onion powder and set aside.

If you’re using frozen green beans (they’re already topped/tailed/halved!), I recommend starting with the beans in the wok with the sesame oil. Toss the beans around to lightly coat with the oil, and then turn the heat to high. If the beans are fresh, add them after the meat has begun to brown.

Rice and stir fry on the stoveOn a high heat, keep the beans from sitting in one spot for too long while they thaw a bit. Once they’ve started to soften, they should only take 2-3 minutes.

Add the ground pork and break it up in the wok. Be sure the sesame oil is in the wok if you’ve not added the beans yet.

Add your pre-mixed sauces and spices (Oyster, Hoisin, five spice and onion powder). Mix it into the meat as you’re breaking up the mince. The benefit of pre-mixing the sauces and dry spice is these can all be added in one swift motion, allowing you to continue stirring and breaking up the meat.

Once the mince is broken into nice small bits and all coated with the sauce, stop stirring for about a minute or two (phew!) to allow some colour to brown onto the meat. It won’t take long, maybe five minutes, to partially brown the meat.

Pork and beans in the wokIf you’ve chosen fresh beans, now’s the time to toss those beauties in. Stir them frequently for about 3 minutes.

The liquid that’s created from the beans and meat is now perfect for mixing the chicken stock concentrate into. I use a liquid concentrate, and it mixes right in. If you prefer to use dry stock, I suggest you crush it and add a splash of water to dissolve it first.

Allow the mixture to reduce slightly for about 3-5 minutes, and check that your beans are soft enough for the kids. Total time from turning on the wok shouldn’t exceed 15 minutes.

The rice should be ready now (either method usually takes about 20 minutes) so give it a little fluff.

Serve your pork and green beans over rice and enjoy! I love adding sweet chilli sauce (or just chilli flake if I’m watching my sugar) to this dish to add a bit of fire.

Go on, give your Chinese Five Spice an adventure outside of the cupboard, try cooking with Oyster sauce if you haven’t, and for sure add the Sweet Chilli sauce if you want to liven it up. The Hoisin sauce adds a sweetness kids love, and the addition of peas and five spice to the rice makes the whole meal feel exotic and special.

Best of all, it’s delicious and healthy!

Kids portions of minced pork and green bean stir-fry

Sparkly Mummy