More than a few years ago now, I watched the resident Greek Cuisine Queen of Food Network Canada, Christine Cushing, in an episode of her popular 'Live' show. The program featured a broad variety of cuisines, savoury and sweet dishes, and guest chefs. Although the food of her heritage only made the occasional appearance, and sometimes her mum too, my love of Christine's approach to food was sealed with this dish. Now while we can't deny the instant appeal (at least among those of us with an inkling of a sweet tooth) of the honey syrup pistachio goodness of baklava, or the flaming cheese showstopper, saganaki, it was the moussaka that really got my attention.
The fragrant simmering meat sauce, creamy béchamel, savoury potatoes and roasted eggplant layers all culminate into a wonderful warming dish perfect for nights that the rooftops are frosted and the first smudges of woodsmoke are wafting from chimneys across a windless, moonlit Manawatu (or Maniototo) sky.. If savoury comfort food has a defining dish, moussaka would certainly be in the running.
While Greece is generally credited with 'inventing' moussaka, variations on the theme can also be found in the cuisines of Turkey, where green pepper is a popular inclusion, as well as Serbia, Bulgaria and Macedonia, where it is made with pork and a yoghurt-type topping. I'd encourage anyone who makes this dish to try it with lamb. I find that it's flavour blends perfectly with the oregano, cinnamon and nutmeg. I also embellish the béchamel a bit, adding a bay leaf, garlic and a bit of onion (removed before use) for a litle more complexity. And since we're taking liberties, a little lemon brightens up the potato layer.
And nothing complements this dish like a glass of your favourite red. I highly recommend the Cantina Dorgali Cannonau (gorgeous Sardegnian Grenache) that I decanted an hour before dinner.