Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cyprus - Mousaka

Cyprus is called ‘the island of Aphrodite, according to many travel brochures, maybe because, like Aphrodite, it rose out of the sea about 20 million years ago.

It’s a popular tourist destination. You can lounge on one of its gorgeous beaches or explore the Karpas Peinsula, medieval castles or visit the Byzantine frescoed churches of the Troodos Mountains and much more.

For now, you may want to stay away from cemeteries. The body of the former president, Tassos Papadopoulos, is missing from his grave. Thieves stole the remains on the eve of the first anniversary of his death.

The bizarre incident is messing with the peace efforts aimed at reuniting the Turkish and Greek parts of the island. Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded the island after a coup to stop the plans to form a union with Greece. The tensions between the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot have been high since independence from Britain in 1960. Papadopoulos was president from 2003 to 2008. In 2004 he denounced the UN plan to reunite the island.

I decided to make mousaka for our Cyprus meal. I had many recipes to choose from since Cypriot food is a delicious fusion of Greek and Turkish cuisines. I had a selection of seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, grilled lamb, potatoes and souvlaki,. One of the things I found most interesting was the Hallounni cheese that originated in Cyprus in the Medieval Byzantine period. It’s often garnished with mint and served fresh or grilled.

Every year for my birthday, when I was a kid, my mother would make me mousaka. I believe I had it for the first time in Greece when I was about seven and I instantly fell in-love with the cheesy meat and eggplant dish.

I consider mousaka labor intensive and it takes me several hours to make. But it’s always well worth it. I’ve cooked mousaka plenty of times before but each time it brings back fond memories and I always enjoy it immensely.

Cyprus gave me the excuse to tackle the recipe once again.


1 large eggplant, sliced
Vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 lb ground beef or lamb
1 glass of white wine
1 28 oz can chopped tomatoes, drained of some of their juice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp oregano
Grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese (I used both and I grated the cheese over the dish and put on as much as a wanted)
A bit of chopped parsley

Bechamel Sauce

6 TBSP butter
1/3 cup flour
4 1/2 cups milk
1/4 tsp salt
75g grated Parmesan
pinch of nutmeg


Grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese
Toasted bread crumbs (I used plain coutons and crushed them)

Immerse the eggplant slices into salt water for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Fry them in hot vegetable oil until they become golden (they absorb a lot of oil). Drain on a paper towel.

Heat oil in a pan and sauté onion. Add the meat and sauté until the meat turns brown. Pour in wine, tomatoes, spices, salt and pepper and oregano. Cover and cook for twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. Then mix in grated cheese and parsley.

To make the béchamel sauce, melt butter in medium saucepan until melted. Add flour. Cook, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly until smooth. Return to heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from heat. Stir in parmesan, salt and nutmeg.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a rectangular baking dish place half of the eggplant slices on the bottom, then spread half the meat mixture evenly on top and then cover the meat with the remaining eggplant. Spread the remaining meat on and then pour some bechamel sauce over the meat and. Sprinkle with grated cheese.and breadcrumbs.

Bake for 1 hour, until a golden crust is formed on the top. Let it stand for 5 minutes before serving.

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