Extract from Island of Secrets (Moussaka)
Nick came into the kitchen, hair-tussled from the shower, wearing nothing but a snug white tee and boxers. ‘Who was that on the phone, Angie?’
‘Judy Peabody wants to know when you’re available for a meeting.’ Angie drizzled Cretan olive oil over a Greek salad and used her fingers to mix it through. Determined not to succumb to another bout of jealousy, she decided to ‘woman-up’ and have faith in her future husband. ‘Ms Peabody asked if you’d call her back.’ She concentrated on the food. ‘Open a bottle of Chardonnay, will you?
Nick groaned. ‘What does she want this time?’ he asked. ‘I say, Angie, this afterhours stuff is getting a bit much.’ His eyes narrowed.
‘Take it easy. She’s only doing her job. It’s a shaky time for everyone just now, even the publishers. She wanted to know if she could come over here. Something about a contract, and title papers.’
‘I hope you said no. I won’t have her coming into our home ever again. I know it upset you when she was in the flat.’
‘Nick, if you don’t know that I’m on your side, you shouldn’t be marrying me. I put her off, naturally.’ Angie stopped for a moment. What an idiot she’d been. Of course she trusted him, as much as he could have every faith in her, and that was the end of it.
She placed the Greek salad on the table, nudged him to sit, and slid onto his knees.
Angie remembered how she missed him while she was in Crete. ‘I wish you could meet Yiayá. She’s the most wonderful old lady I’ve ever known. You should have heard the stories she told me, Nick. How she saved the lives of her children in the war. I’m so proud to belong to her family.’ She ran her fingers through his hair, and then kissed him. ‘I love you,’ she said.
They both caught Stavro clearing his throat in the doorway behind them. ‘May I come in?’ he said.
Angie slid off Nick’s knee and giggled. ‘Ready for dinner, Uncle? Just waiting for Nick to get some clothes on. Moussaka and Greek salad okay for you?’ She opened the oven and lifted a deep dish of minced lamb, aubergines, potatoes and creamy egg sauce. Steam billowed up and infused the air with a wholesome aroma of meat, cheese and cinnamon.
‘Mmm, smells delicious, Angelika.'
Moussaka is probably the most famous Greek dish. Look out for it shown as dish of the day in a taverna. There are several variations of the recipe, some chefs adding potatoes and/or courgettes along with the aubergines. I prefer half aubergines and half potatoes in alternate layers.
As with many dishes, there is a quick and easy method for delicious everyday eating, and also a fantastic recipe for dinner parties and special occasions. This recipe takes time, but can be made a day in advance.
The best Moussaka I ever tasted was made by my fantastic Crete lawyer’s sister, Maria Rogdaki, and brought to a BBQ we had at our house in Crete. This house was the setting for my novel, ISLAND OF SECRETS, the place where I dug up the rusted machine gun. As we sat around the cracked marble table, eating and drinking and generally having a great time, I had the idea to start a recipe page on my website.
3 large aubergines
3 large peeled potatoes
2 tablespoons salt
180ml good olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
500 gr finely minced lamb or lamb and beef mixed
250ml red wine
6 large very ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped.
1 teaspoon honey
1 bunch flat leaved parsley finely chopped
250ml meat stock
4 heaped tablespoons dried oregano
2 flat tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 flat teaspoon allspice
+- half teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste
45g plain flour
115g cottage cheese
45g feta cheese
115g graviera cheese (or Gruyere if you can’t get it)
1 flat teaspoon grated nutmeg
6 medium eggs
50g kephalotyri cheese (or parmesan if you can’t get it) finely grated
50g fresh breadcrumbs
Cut the aubergines and into 5mm slices discarding the first and last slice. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of salt and leave in a colander for two hours.
Fry the chopped onions in 3 tablespoons of olive oil, over a low heat, until cooked but not brown. Turn up the heat, add the meat, stir and fry until brown. Add the wine and cook for another five minutes. Add the tomatoes and honey; simmer for 8-10 minutes. Add the stock and all but one tablespoon of the parsley. Add the oregano, cinnamon, allspice, and a flat teaspoon of salt and the same pepper.
Simmer gently until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 30 minutes. Check and adjust the seasoning. Set to one side, or refrigerate overnight.
Pour two tablespoons of olive oil into each of 2 or 3 frying pans. Dry the aubergines and place a single layer in the bottom of each pan. Fry the aubergine over a medium heat until brown on both sides. Drain on kitchen paper. Continue until all the aubergines are browned.
Cut the potatoes into thick slices and blanch in boiling water for 3-4 minutes.
For the sauce: Melt the butter into a heavy pan, add the flour and stir until smooth. Keep stirring over a low heat for 2 minutes until the sauce starts to change colour. Slowly add the milk, stirring continually. Bring to the boil while stirring. Set to one side and add the cottage cheese, crumbled feta, grated graviera and nutmeg. Whisk the eggs and then gradually add them to the sauce, stirring continually.
Heat the oven to 180c
Arrange half the potatoes over the bottom of a large deep dish. Cover with1/3 of the mince. Cover the mince with a layer of sauce. Repeat replacing potatoes with aubergines. Continue alternating potatoes and aubergines until all the meat is used up, ending with a layer of aubergines on top. Cover with the remaining sauce. Mix the kephalotiri cheese and fresh breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the dish. Bake near the bottom of the oven, uncovered for 45 minutes. If the top is browning too quickly, cover with a loose layer of greaseproof paper or foil. The top should be golden and crunchy with the soft sauce below. Best dished out at the table as its appearance is spoiled when cut up.
Serve warm, not hot, sprinkled with the remaining parsley.
Best served with a lettuce salad or Greek salad, and a little tzatziki.