Early fall is the right time of year for this classic Greek dish because you can get local, organic eggplant, squash and potatoes that are at their tastiest in season. There are purists out their who would revoke my Greek heritage for this, but I’ve avoided this dish in the past because of the heavy béchamel sauce and extra step of frying the potatoes and eggplants first, then assembling. Too much time and unecessary calories.
This version is streamlined, with just as much flavor, without the extra frying steps or sauce. I don’t think you’ll miss them. My version is also dairy free. What you’ll taste are seasonal vegetables that become tender as they meld with the tomato sauce. The sauce magically becomes “Greek” with the seemingly strange addition of honey and cinammon. Trust me, it’s tastes of the Mediterranean.
As always, Eat WWOFLES- Whole, Wild, Organic, Fresh, Local, Ethnic, Seasonal
Makes 7-8, five oz servings
What you’ll Need
Eggplant, 1 large, Italian or Japanese
Squash, 1 large, *optional
Potatoes, 4 large russets
Ground beef, turkey, or lamb, 1 pound, *optional (This dish is delicious without it)
Tomato Sauce, homemade, 1 large can whole stewed tomatoes, or jarred (Plain tomato or marinara is best)
Onions, yellow, 1 medium, or half of large
Garlic, 2 cloves
Olive Oil, extra virgin, enough for sautéing onions and drizzling between layers
Herbs, fresh basil, oregano and thyme, about 2 tbsp of each
Honey, (I prefer Greek) 1 tbsp
Cinnamon, 1 tbsp
Bread crumbs, 1 cup, I used whole wheat panko
14 in non stick skillet, (I use a Le Creuset braiser)
Large oval or rectangular baking dish. (I use a 3 3/4 qt, or 14 inch Le Creuset oval baking dish)
How To Prepare
Preheat to medium a large skillet (I use a Le Creuset 14 inch braiser). Drizzle a tbsp of olive oil into the hot pan. Chop the onions and garlic and sauté the onions for 3 minutes, then add the garlic and sauté another minute. If making a meat sauce, brown the ground meat in the skillet next until it’s just about cooked through. Add the stewed tomatoes, crushing them by hand as they go in, or use a masher. Add 4 tablespoons of tomato paste, chopped herbs, honey, cinnamon, mix, then gently simmer for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring often.
Assembling The Dish
Preheat oven to 400 F. Wash the eggplant, squash and potatoes, chop off unsightly ends, and slice into 1/3 inch disks. You can cut them long ways about the thickness of a CD case (remember those?). Not too thick or they become too mouthy. Drizzle the bottom of an oval or square baking dish with olive oil and place a layer of potatoes down, side by side, trying the cover the bottom in one layer, without overlapping. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce over the tomatoes. Layer the eggplant the same way, spreading the sauce out before covering with the next layer. Do another layer of potatoes, then repeat with squash, repeating this step with alternating ingredients until you reach the top edge of the dish. Cover with a final layer of sauce and sprinkle with whole wheat panko bread crumbs and a grinding or sea salt. Place in the oven and bake for 60 to 80 minutes, making sure the top browns and a fork easily pierces through to the bottom. Remove, let cool for 10 minutes and serve. Bon Appetit!
*Note- Many recipes recommend you slice and salt the eggplant first, leaving it in a strainer to pull extra water and bitterness out. I never do this and I don’t notice a bitter taste or extra water in the dish.