Land of Moussaka and Honey

by Kristin Yurdin

 

Rock climber high over the Aegean sea on the island of Kalymnos.

Three of my favorite things are climbing rocks, traveling and eating good food. On rare occasion when these things come together the world feels like a perfect place. I was fortunate to recently enjoy one of these moments. I spent the last 3 weeks on the small Greek island of Kalymnos with my husband and two close friends.

Kalymnos is a tiny island approximately 50 miles off the coast of Turkey. The island boasts hundreds of feet of beautiful limestone cliffs overlooking the Aegean sea. Historically known as the sponge diving island, Kalymnos has been a popular summer destination for beach bathing and scuba diving tourists. Over the last twenty years Kalymnos has emerged as a world class rock climbing spring and fall destination. Hundreds of climbers from around the world descend into the main western coastal town of Masouri starting in early September.

The Kalymnians have welcomed climbers to their island with open arms. They have even organized a festival in October centered on climbing. Masouri has dozens of restaurants, stores and small markets that have flourished with the extended tourist season climbing has brought their island.

A typical climbers day involves climbing from 8am until 2 or 3pm then hitting the beach for a swim. In the evening everyone strolls the main street visiting friends, grabbing a drink then ducking into one of the dozens of restaurants for a fabulous meal.

The restaurants in Kalymnos are truly local food paradises. Chefs purchase their fresh produce from the vegetable truck that comes through town every morning from the verdant valley of Vathy. Fish of the day is whatever was literally caught that day. Local goat and lamb dishes are sprinkled throughout the menu. Beef travels the furthest distance from Kos, the next island over.

A typical meal looks something like this. Start with a simple fresh rocket and spinach salad, served with a shaved hard cheese, local pomegranate seeds and dressed with local olive oil and balsamic.

Moussaka is sort of like an eggplant and meat lasagna without the noodles.

Lamb moussaka can be found on all the local restaurant menus, each with a slightly different twist and is always a good choice.

Finally upon completion of each meal a complimentary plate of “honey balls” is presented to the table. Essentially the Greek equivalent of a beignet, these light fried pieces of dough are served swimming in a bed of local thyme honey sprinkled with cinnamon.

Loukoumades: Greek honey balls

Delicious.

Below is a recipe for my version of Greek Style Lamb Moussaka. I have broken the recipe into four parts, Béchamel, Meat Sauce Roasted Eggplants, and Assembly.

Please enjoy!

 

Moussaka fresh from the oven.

Bechamel Sauce

3 T unsalted butter

1/3 cup all purpose flour

3 1/2 cups whole milk warmed

3/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

pinch of ground white pepper

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan on medium low heat. Add flour and whisk three minutes. Whisk in milk and increase heat to medium high. Whisk sauce until simmers and is thick and smooth (approximately 3 minutes). Whisk in salt, nutmeg and pepper. Set aside.

 

Meat Sauce

1/3 cup olive oil

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb

1 small onion finely chopped

1 T minced garlic

6 ounce can of tomato paste

28 ounce can diced tomatoes with juices

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1 pinch red pepper flakes

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground pepper

additional salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup fresh chopped Italian Parsley

1 cup Bechamel sauce

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Add lamb and sauté until lightly brown, breaking up lamb with back of spoon, about 8-10 minutes. Decrease heat to medium and add onions. Sauce until tender and translucent. Stir in garlic, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, wine, oregano, thyme, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered until sauce thickens, approximately 20 minutes.. Cool to lukewarm and add parsley and Béchamel.

 

Roasted Eggplants

1/3 cup olive oil

3 large eggplants (about 1 pound each) cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds

Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. Line 2 large baking sheets with foil. Brush foil with olive oil or spray with nonstick spray. Arrange eggplants in single layer over baking sheets. Brush eggplants with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until slices are tender and golden brown, approximately 12 minutes per side.

 

Assembly

13X9X2 inch baking dish

Remaining Bechamel (2 1/2 Cups)

Meat Sauce (approx. 6 cups)

Roasted Eggplants

1 T Butter

1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

3 Large Eggs

Butter baking dish. Arrange 1/3 of eggplants over bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Spread approximately 3 cups of meat sauce over cheese. Spread 1 cup of Béchamel. Repeat layering of eggplant, meat sauce and cheese (not Béchamel) then cover with remaining eggplant.

Whisk 3 eggs into remaining 1 1/2 Béchamel Sauce.  Pour sauce over the Moussaka. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan. Bake at 400F uncovered until moussaka is golden brown with sauce bubbling, approximately 45 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.