Yakityak's Baked Eggplant

The origin of this recipe is from my aunt's favorite cookbook - a Sephardic cookbook made by the sisterhood of a synagogue in Atlanta, GA. I have modified their recipe to the point that it's unrecognizable, so decided to write it down rather than rely on my pencil notes. If you look at a variety of Jewish cookbooks featuring the cuisine of the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, you will find variations on this dish of ground meat and eggplant. It is the kosher version of moussaka. Because of the prohibition of mixing milk and meat there is no bechamel sauce or cheese, and as a result these kosher versions invariably have a slightly different, lighter taste. The use of cinnamon and nutmeg in a savory dish still imparts the characteristic complexity to these dairy-free moussakas. It is a two-step cooking process, first step on the stove, second step in the oven.

This recipe makes a large quantity. Use a 6 quart skillet if you have one. Be warned that a regular 9 X 13 lasagna pan is too small to hold this. It serves 8 - 10 people.

Peel the eggplants and cut into 3/4" - 1" slices. (Keep them thick.) Layer these eggplant rounds in a collander, salting each layer. By the time you are done prepping the other ingredients the eggplants will be ready to rinse and use.

Chop tomatoes, slice the bell peppers, chop the basil and strip out the oregano leaves and put them in a large mixing bowl. Add in the ground meat, mixing (with your hands if you have to) to get the meat broken apart and the vegetables/herbs distributed evenly. Add in the rest of the seasonings (onion powder, garlic powder, 2 tsp kosher salt, paprika, curry, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper) and make sure they are well distributed.

Rinse the eggplant slices off and saute in the extra virgin olive oil on medium high heat until they are brown on both sides and softened. Watch carefully so they don't burn (but if you keep the heat too low they get soggy and it takes forever). Layer half the eggplant slices in the bottom of your large casserole - it should form a single layer. Set aside the second half of the slices for later.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Saute the diced onion until soft and lightly browned. Stir in the meat mixture, making sure to break it apart so you don't wind up with a large meat cake. Cover and simmer for 7 - 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, spoon the meat mix over the eggplant. Layer the second set of browned eggplant slices over the top of the meat to form a single layer one slice thick over the entire casserole.

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top of the eggplant slices. Sprinkle some of the liquid left over from the meat saute to keep them from charring.

Bake uncovered in a 350 F oven for 40 minutes. Serve with pasta or rice for a complete meal.

If you use kosher l'pesach breadcrumbs this recipe is then suitable for passover.

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