Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Just like cinnamon

I have the same issue seasoning meat in the kitchen as I do with making other people's coffee. I just can't seem to get it right. Ground beef, or turkey is an oft-used ingredient in the kitchen. We make pasta "Bolognese", ktzisot, which are beef (or turkey) patties and a sort of meatloaf, that's not really meat loaf, (no eggs, or breadcrumbs, just seasoned beef (or turkey) kind of patted together in a loaf form. C. likes to call it rollada.
In my home, I don't use ground meat that often- sometimes I'll make hamburgers, or weeknight ragu, but that's about it.  And when I do, I don't season the meat with much more than salt and pepper. I've never really had a reason to. The women in the kitchen, however, they season their meat with all sorts or spices- allspice, tumeric, cumin and baharat all get used in copious amounts. When I get called upon to deal with the meat, I often find myself staring miserably at a vat full of a good 9 kilo of meat, wondering what to do. Inevitably, when all is said and cooked, I will have under-seasoned the dish. I just can't get used to both the types and spices and the amounts required. I try to overcome my natural, less-is-more instincts, but I fail. It's something I'm working on.

There's is an exception to the general rule I mentioned above. Sometimes in my own home I do season my meat with something other than salt and pepper (or rather, I did season my meat). Before I developed my allergy to eggplant I used to make moussaka. Claudia Roden's moussaka that is. Claudia Roden's moussaka (which originates in Egypt) is lighter and fresher than your normal, everyday moussaka. It isn't doused in tomato sauce or bechemal sauce (kosher!). She uses fresh tomatoes and allows the eggplants to be grilled, not fried. And while the meat is seasoned, it is not heavily so. It's a winter dish turned springy, which is exactly what you need in the winter. Cinnamon, allspice, garlic, onion and fresh parsley- my exceptions to the rule.

Claudia Roden's Moussaka

Adapted (lightly) from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden

2 lbs (1 kilo) eggplant, thinly sliced
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 lbs (1 kilo) ground beef
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped (more, or less)
1 1/2 lbs (750g) tomatoes, thinly sliced

1.  Sprinkle the eggplants with salt and leave them for a half an hour to an hour. Rinse and dry them. Brush them with oil and grill them under a hot broiler until they are lightly browned (they will cook more later).

2. Saute the onions in oil until soft and golden, add the garlic and saute until you can catch a whiff of it, about  one minute. Add the meat, cinnamon, allspice, salt and a lot black pepper. Cook, stirring with a fork to break up the meat until the meat changes color. Add the tomato paste and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley.

3. Preheat oven to 350.  Assemble the moussaka. Arrange a layer of eggplant at the bottom of a baking dish. Cover with a layer of tomato slices. Sprinkle lightly with salt and then add the ground meat on top. Cover with a layer of eggplant slices, and top with tomatoes.

4. Bake uncovered for 30-45 minutes.