Moussaka with Saffron Béchamel Sauce
Saffron, often referred to as the "golden spice," has been an integral part of Mediterranean cuisine for centuries. This precious spice, derived from the delicate threads of the Crocus sativus flower, adds not only a vibrant hue but also a unique flavor and aroma to various dishes. One such dish that benefits from saffron's touch is the renowned Mediterranean moussaka.
Moussaka, with its layers of eggplant, meat, and creamy béchamel, takes on a new dimension when infused with saffron. The saffron-infused béchamel sauce imparts a subtle yet distinct earthy flavor and an inviting golden color that elevates the dish to a whole new level of sophistication.
Saffron's use in Mediterranean cuisine isn't limited to moussaka; it can be found in dishes like paella, risotto, and various stews. The labor-intensive process of harvesting saffron threads by hand and the small yield from each flower make saffron a highly prized and luxurious spice.
When incorporating saffron into your cooking, remember that a little goes a long way. Soaking the saffron threads in warm milk or water before adding them to dishes helps release their aromatic compounds and imparts their characteristic color.
In conclusion, saffron's inclusion in Mediterranean dishes like moussaka showcases the region's culinary heritage and its ability to transform ordinary ingredients into extraordinary gastronomic experiences. The next time you savor a saffron-infused dish, take a moment to appreciate the ancient tradition and exquisite flavor that this "golden spice" brings to your table
For the eggplant layers:
- 2 large eggplants, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
- Salt, for sprinkling
- Olive oil, for brushing
For the meat sauce:
- 1 lb (450g) ground lamb or beef
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 can (14 oz/400g) diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Salt and pepper, to taste
For the béchamel sauce:
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- A pinch of saffron threads, soaked in 2 tablespoons of warm milk
Prepare the Eggplant:
- Place the eggplant slices in a colander and sprinkle salt on both sides. Let them sit for about 30 minutes to draw out excess moisture.
- Rinse the eggplant slices thoroughly and pat them dry with paper towels.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Brush the eggplant slices with olive oil on both sides and place them on baking sheets. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until they are tender and slightly golden. Set aside.
Make the Meat Sauce:
- In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the chopped onion and sauté until translucent.
- Add the minced garlic and ground meat. Cook until the meat is browned and cooked through.
- Stir in the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, dried oregano, ground cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Let the sauce simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Set aside.
Prepare the Béchamel Sauce:
- In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
- Add the flour and whisk continuously for a few minutes to create a roux. Cook until the roux is lightly golden in color.
- Gradually whisk in the milk to avoid lumps. Cook and whisk until the sauce thickens.
- Season the sauce with ground nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
- Take the saucepan off the heat and gradually whisk in the beaten eggs. Set aside.
Assemble and Bake:
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
- In a baking dish, layer half of the eggplant slices on the bottom.
- Spread the meat sauce evenly over the eggplant layer.
- Add another layer of the remaining eggplant slices.
- Pour the béchamel sauce over the top, spreading it evenly to cover the eggplant and meat layers.
- Place the baking dish in the preheated oven and bake for about 45-50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the moussaka is heated through.
- Allow the moussaka to cool slightly before slicing and serving.
- Moussaka is traditionally served warm and can be accompanied by a side salad and crusty bread.