Day 19: Greek Moussaka and Potato

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Moussaka is the National Dish of Greece. It has three layers that are separately cooked before being combined for the meal: a bottom layer of sliced eggplant sautés in olive oil; a middle layer of ground beef lightly cooks with chopped or puréed tomatoes, onion, garlic, and spices (cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and black pepper); and a top layer of potato that will cook to make a top "mash" potato layer. Optional you can add a Béchamel sauce or savoury custard. The composed dish is then layered into a tinfoil pan and cooked until the top layer is browned. Moussaka is usually served warm, not piping hot; if cut hot out of the crock-pot, moussaka squares tend to slide apart and consequently the dish needs some resting time to firm up before serving.

Greek cuisine has a culinary tradition of some 4,000 years and is a part of the history and the culture of Greece. Its flavors change with the season and its geography. Greek cookery, historically a forerunner of Western cuisine, spread its culinary influence, via ancient Rome, throughout Europe and beyond. It has influences from the different people's cuisine the Greeks have interacted with over the centuries, as evidenced by several types of sweets and cooked foods. Ancient Greek cuisine was characterized by its frugality and was founded on the "Mediterranean triad": wheat, olive oil, and wine, with meat being rarely eaten and fish being more common. This trend in Greek diet continued in Roman and Ottoman times and changed only fairly recently when technological progress has made meat more available. Wine and olive oil have always been a central part of it and the spread of grapes and olive trees in the Mediterranean and further afield is correlated with Greek colonization. Byzantine cuisine was similar to ancient cuisine, with the addition of new ingredients, such as caviar, nutmeg and basil. Lemons, prominent in Greek cuisine and introduced in the second century, were used medicinally before being incorporated into the diet. Fish continued to be an integral part of the diet for coastal dwellers. Culinary advice was influenced by the theory of humors, first put forth by the ancient Greek doctor Claudius Aelius Galenus. Byzantine cuisine benefited from Constantinople's position as a global hub of the spice trade.

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The most characteristic and ancient element of Greek cuisine is olive oil, which is used in most dishes. It is produced from the olive trees prominent throughout the region, and adds to the distinctive taste of Greek food. The olives themselves are also widely eaten. The basic grain in Greece is wheat, though barley is also grown. Important vegetables include tomato, aubergine (eggplant), potato, green beans, okra, green peppers, and onions. Honey in Greece is mainly honey from the nectar of fruit trees and citrus trees: lemon, orange, bigarade (bitter orange) trees, thyme honey, and pine honey. Mastic (aromatic, ivory-coloured resin) is grown on the Aegean island of Chios. Greek cuisine uses some flavorings more often than other Mediterranean cuisines do, namely oregano, mint, garlic, onion, dill and bay laurel leaves. Other common herbs and spices include basil, thyme and fennel seed. Parsley is also used as a garnish on some dishes. Many Greek recipes, especially in the northern parts of the country, use "sweet" spices in combination with meat, for example cinnamon, allspice and cloves in stews. The climate and terrain has tended to favour the breeding of goats and sheep over cattle, and thus beef dishes are uncommon. Fish dishes are common in coastal regions and on the islands. A great variety of cheese types are used in Greek cuisine, including Feta, Kasseri, Kefalotyri, Graviera, Anthotyros, Manouri, Metsovone, Ladotyri (cheese with olive oil), Kalathaki (a specialty from the island of Limnos), Katiki-Tsalafouti (both creamy cheeses, suitable for spreads) and Mizithra.

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Too much refinement is generally considered to be against the hearty spirit of the Greek cuisine, though recent trends among Greek culinary circles tend to favour a somewhat more refined approach. Dining out is common in Greece, and has been for quite some time. The Taverna and Estiatorio are widespread, serving home cooking at affordable prices to both locals and tourists. Recently, fast food has become more widespread, with local chains such as Goody's springing up, though most McDonald's have closed. Locals still largely eat Greek cuisine. In addition, some traditional Greek foods, especially souvlaki, gyros, pita such as tyropita and spanakopita (respectively, cheese and spinach pie) are often served in fast food style.

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Ingredients - serves 6

2 Medium Eggplants, peeled and sliced 1/4" thick Olive Oil (as needed) MEAT SAUCE 1 Lb Ground Beef 2 Medium Onions, finely chopped 3 Garlic Cloves, minced 1 8oz Can Chopped Tomatoes 1 8oz Can Tomato Sauce 1 Teaspoon Oregano 1 Teaspoon Parsley 1 Bay Leaf 1/2 Teaspoon Salt 1/2 Teaspoon ground Black Pepper (Traditional but Optional) 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

BECHAMEL SAUCE 4 Tablespoons Butter 1/2 Cup Flour 3 Cups Milk 1/2 Teaspoon Salt 1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese 2 Egg Yolks (Traditional, but Optional) 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg

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