Truth be told, this past Summer’s trip to Greece was one of the most memorable with my usual visits to my family’s home in Halkidiki, frequent trips to nearby Thessaloniki, a side trip to Constantinople (Istanbul), down to the capital of Athens, a wonderful first visit to beautiful Nafplio, a visit to the Prefecture of Florina (where my family comes from) and a return to Leonidio, the coastal area of Arcadia in the Peloponnese.
I was graciously hosted once again by Elena of Syntages tis Kardias and her wonderful husband Dimitri. Their home is high atop of the sea in the village of Pragmatefteis. Nearby is the town of Leonidio where the center of growing occurs for the Tsakonian (Tsakoniki) eggplant, an appellation product of the region.
These eggplants are smaller than your usual eggplant, almost know seeds, no bitterness and always sweet and wonderful cooking. I love these eggplants because there’s no need to salt them to remove any of the usual bitterness most eggplants have. Tsakonian eggplants are variegated in colour and they get their “Tsakonian” name from the region’s dialect, routed in ancient Doric.
This dish is a riff on two classic Greek dishes…it looks like Papoutsakia (minced meat-filled eggplants topped with Bechamel) and the more familiar Moussaka, which is more structured with alternating layers of eggplant and minced meat and topped with Bechamel. Moussaka may also have a base of potatoes, varying versions appearing from home to home.
This dish uses the sweet, never bitter Tsakonian eggplants, a variety I found here in Toronto at my local Asian grocer, minced meat is swapped out for diced pieces of chuck beef and for a lighter touch, I finish the dish with a slice of cheese and skip the Bechamel topping for a slightly lighter dish.
Baked Eggplant With Beef and Cheese (Μελιτζάνες γεμιστές με μοσχάρι)
4 Tsakonian ( or other small or Japanese) eggplants
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. chuck beef, cubed and seasoned with salt and pepper
1 large onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
5-6 whole allspice berries
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup dry white wine
4 large ripe tomatoes, passed through a box grater (or one 796ml can of pureed plum tomatoes)
salt and pepper to taste
1 heaping tsp . dried Greek oregano
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
pinch of ground cinnamon
shavings of Graviera cheese (or Gryuyere)
- Slice eggplants lengthwise, cut down the middle, drizzle with oil and season with salt and bake on a greased tray in a pre-heated 400F oven or fry about 1/2 inch of olive oil until softened (5 mins.) reserve. Use a spoon to hollow out eggplants, chop and reserve.
- Season beef and place a large skillet on the stovetop over medium-high heat and brown on all sides, reserve. Add rest of oil and add onions, garlic, bay, allspice and sweat. Add browned beef, wine, reduce then for 3-4 minutes then add tomatoes, eggplant chunks, salt and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes or until the sauce is thick and the meat is fork tender. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and add oregano, parsley, cinnamon. Remove bay leaves.
- Fill each eggplant with meat filling, drizzle with oil and bake in pre-heated 350F oven for 25 minutes. Top with cheese and bake until just melted. Serve on mashed potatoes.
- Pair with an Avantis Grenache-Syrah 2009.
. All rights reserved.