This Middle Eastern eggplant dish, called Mussaka or M’saka, is seasoned with pomegranate molasses and spices for an aromatic, slightly sweet-tangy flavor.
When I moved to Jackson about 6 1/2 years ago, there was only one real Middle Eastern restaurant, and it was actually a grocery store with a few tables where people could eat the hummus, tabouli, and other delicacies available in take-out containers. It was a small place, but their baba ganoush and tabouli were the best I’d ever tasted.
Since then, the Mediterranean Grocery has expanded and is now the Mediterranean Café, with plenty of seating and a wide selection of menu items. In the last few years, two other Middle Eastern restaurants have opened, one just in the last couple of months, so we’re definitely beginning to get more variety in Middle Eastern food around here.
Though we’re very devoted to the Mediterranean Café, D. and I recently decided to check out the newest restaurant, Jerusalem, which specializes in Lebanese food. The one dish that stood out (and that isn’t on the menu at our favorite restaurant) was Mussaka, an eggplant appetizer that was aromatically seasoned and delicious (no burned eggplant here!)
As I ate it I tried to decipher just exactly what was in it so that I could recreate it at home. After all, my garden is producing a record number of Japanese eggplants, and I’m constantly looking for new things to do with them.
When I got home, I did an internet search and didn’t find much under “mussaka” or “musaka.” Finally, using the spelling “moussaka,” I found an often-repeated recipe of Nigella Lawson’s for Lebanese Moussaka that looked similar to what I’d eaten, though it contains chickpeas while the dish I had at Jerusalem did not.
I decided to give it a go, with some changes of course, but leaving in the chickpeas so that it would be heartier and more of a main dish. It turned out to be delicious, and with my simplified recipe, very easy to make.
- 1 pound eggplants 3 long Japanese eggplants or 1 large globe
- 1 large onion sliced thin
- 6 cloves garlic sliced
- 1 16- ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses see comments for substitutes or use pom juice mixed with agave or sugar
- 1 15- ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- generous pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- salt to taste
- fresh mint leaves for garnish
- If you’re using regular eggplant, you can cut it into 1-inch cubes. I used the long Japanese kind and cut them into 1 1/2-inch pieces which I then quartered lengthwise, so that my slices were long and thin.
- Heat a large, non-stick pot and sauté the onion on medium-high until translucent, adding a splash or two of water or broth if it begins to stick. Add the garlic and the eggplant, and sauté for about 3 minutes more. Add all the remaining ingredients, except the mint, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 30-40 minutes, until the eggplants are tender.
- Serve sprinkled with chopped fresh mint. I served it as a main dish over couscous, but you could serve it with a whole grain or pita bread or alone as an appetizer.
Nutritional info is approximate.
About that drink in the background: it looks like iced tea, but it isn’t.
While I had out the pomegranate molasses, I thought I’d create an original mixed drink. Since it looked so much like iced tea, and since I was making Lebanese moussaka, I decided to call it Lebanese Iced Tea (like Long Island Iced Tea, you know?)
Well, I thought it tasted good, but D. took one sip and practically spit it out, sputtering “Lebanese Iced Tea? More like Lebanese Raw Sewage!” So, since I don’t want to insult the people of Lebanon with a drink that 50% of the testers thought was horrible, I’ve decided to rename it Pomegranate Raw Sewage, and I present the recipe here. But don’t say you haven’t been warned.
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
mint leaves for garnishMix the vodka and pom. molasses in a glass. Add the ice and fill with club soda. Serve garnished with fresh mint leaves. Enjoy! Or not!