Mussaka’a (Eggplant, Tomato, and Beef Stew)

If you’ve been following along, you know that I was recently gifted a bounty from my in-laws’ garden. This included three Japanese eggplants and two Italian eggplants. I still have plans for the Italian eggplants, but this morning I transformed the three Japanese eggplants into the most amazing beef tomato stew that I’ve ever tasted. Most of the Moussaka (spelling varies) that I’ve ever seen in restaurants, for example, looks like a mediterranean version of shepherd’s pie, but the recipe that I used (and adapted) is more like a stew.

As a starting point, I used the “Teta Huda’s Mussaka’a” recipe from Palestine on a Plate, but since her version was entirely vegetarian, I took liberties with the ingredients and sequence to include cubed beef. This recipe might seem complicated because of the prep and steps, but honestly it took me less than 30 minutes to get into the oven. Here’s what I did:

Image of partially prepared eggplant, tomato, and beef stew - ready for the oven
Browned meat, fried eggplant, cooked onions/garlic/tomatoes – Ready for the oven!

Get a generous amount of olive oil (1 cup) heating on high in a dutch oven pot (I have my trusty cast-iron, enamel-coated Le Creuset pan that we got as a wedding gift – the lid can go in the oven, I checked!). Remove the tops and ends of three Japanese eggplants and cut into roughly the same size pieces (1-2 inches depending on thickness). Put the heat on medium-high, and fry these pieces for 5-10 minutes until they take on a light brown/gold color. While they are frying, trim your beef and cube it if needed (you can also buy “stew meat” pre-trimmed and cut), pat the cubes dry, and salt/pepper it generously on your cutting board. When the eggplants are done frying, remove them to a paper towel-covered plate and salt it. Using the same pan/oil, brown the beef cubes on all sides (keep the oil hot so they sear nicely). While they are browning, dice a large onion. Then, using the flat side of your chef’s knife, press down onto an entire head of garlic to free all the cloves. Then, using the flat side of the knife again, crush each clove to slip the garlic out of its skin. Discard the skin and slice the garlic pieces into thick slices. Now that the beef is browned, remove it from the pan to a plain plate. Put your onion and garlic slices into your dutch oven pot with some additional olive oil (a generous splash), and cook, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon, until the garlic and onion soften and turn golden. Open your canned diced tomatoes (or you can use crushed or fresh depending on what you have) and your canned green chilies. Once the onions/garlic is ready, pour in the tomatoes and half of a 4oz can of green chilies (or more if you really want it really spicy). Stir to combine and let simmer for 4-7 minutes. While it is simmering, preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (162 C). Once the oven is ready, add to your onion/tomato mixture the beef cubes with any juice on the plate and the fried eggplants. Sprinkle over all a little flour and stir. Put the lid on, and put the dutch oven into the middle of the oven for 2 hours.

If you are more of a nervous or beginner cook, I would recommend following conventional wisdom to do all the prep at once and ahead of cooking (chopping eggplant, cubing meat, and cutting onions/garlic)–mis en place, if you will—but I kind of like having something to do while each step is executed (and it takes less time this way).

My mouth is watering just looking at it

Words cannot adequately express how delicious this tasted. The eggplant made the sauce so silky that you would swear I had used a pound of butter. The tomato sauce was spicy from the garlic and chilies, but just enough to pair well with the richness of the meat and eggplant. The meat was incredible — somehow providing both much-needed texture to the dish (thanks to the sear) and yet stil falling apart on my fork. I was literally praising myself (and the wonderful Joudie Kalla) between bites, it was so good.

I should note that we did make some adaptations, besides adding meat, from Kalla’s recipe including not adding any tomato puree because, for some reason, it always makes Mr. Foodie’s stomach ache when we use it. It still came out incredibly rich and perfect. See my sequence above for other options to substitute ingredients based on what you have. The one thing I would not recommend replacing is the eggplant (but feel free to use other types of eggplant). Trust me when I say that it MAKES this dish. At the same time, it is incredibly subtle. Even non-eggplant lovers will likely love this dish (Mr. Foodie included). As a potential revision note for future me, I might consider adding *more* eggplants/tomatoes for a better meat to veg ratio, but I’m also very happy with how it all worked out.

As a side note, this is kind of the perfect moment (if you live in the northeast) to make a dish that both uses summer veg (which is still very abundant) and which requires the oven to be on for hours because it was 50 degrees this morning! Brrr. But also that means it will be 70 and sunny later on today. Yay! I made this in the morning because stews only get better with time and are perfectly fine eaten at room temp or reheated. Also, I have plans to meet up with my friends for a socially-responsible happy hour, so making a 2 hour stew will not be what I want to do when I come home from a relaxing visit.

What are your favorite eggplant recipes? And do have a good one for eggplant parm? Please share!

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