Bulgarian Mousaka

Mousaka is perhaps most well known to Americans as a Greek dish, but my co-worker Anna assures me that it actually originated in Bulgaria – and who am I to argue? I had no idea that there are so many different versions of mousaka. Usually they involve some combination of meat plus potato and/or eggplant, with a top layer of custard or bechamel sauce.  Some types of mousaka also include tomatoes, and I even saw one that used rice. The version that we made consisted of ground beef, potatoes and zucchini, covered with a fluffy egg custard. Anna indicated that the dish traditionally would not have included zucchini and would probably have had a higher meat to potato ratio – but it was delicious this way and can probably be easily adjusted depending on what you have in your pantry.

Mousaka
olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
4 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. chubritsa (a special herb, see below for substitutions)
2 lbs. ground beef (or beef/pork mixture)

In a saucepan over medium heat, saute the onions in olive oil. Add salt and pepper, and cover to cook until onions are softened, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and add garlic, paprika and chubritsa (shown to the right). Chubritsa is an herb grown in Bulgaria, Satureia hortensis. In the cookbook I borrowed, it was recommended to substitute Greek oregano. Both Anna and Boriana said that savory has been the most similar herb they could find in the U.S., and Anna suggested maybe adding a bit of cumin as well.
Whatever you decide to use, mix in the herbs and cook for about a minute. Add ground beef and raise heat, stir and cook for a few minutes until beef is just cooked through. Pour beef and onion mixture into a deep casserole pan (Anna’s was a deep 10″x14″ pan).
3 zucchinis, peeled and diced
6 c. potatoes, peeled and small diced
Add zucchini and potatoes to beef mixture with about 1 tsp. salt and mix it all together in the pan. Make sure you have enough room in the pan to be able to add the custard topping towards the end of baking. Pour approximately 4 c. water over the meat and potatoes, up to just about the same level as the other ingredients, without covering them.
Place in the middle of an oven preheated to 375F and bake uncovered for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until slightly browned on top, moisture has been absorbed/evaporated, and potatoes are tender (like shown in the photo above).  Towards the end of baking, prepare the topping.

Topping:
6 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 c. flour
3 c. yogurt

With an electric mixer, beat eggs and salt together for about 4 minutes, until light and fluffy and a pale yellow color. Mix in cumin, black pepper, and flour and mix well. Fold in 3 c. yogurt by hand until just mixed.  Pour over the top of the baked meat and potatoes.

Bake for another 30 minutes or so, until nicely browned on top. Let cool for 10-15 minutes (if you can stand to wait, we couldn’t!).  Slice and serve with yogurt on the side.

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