It sounds like the Greek dish Moussaka but it’s not quite the same. For sure both have eggplants but the Lebanese Moussaka’a is a vegetarian dish based on eggplant, chickpeas, tomato, mint, and olive oil. I don’t add any other herbs or spices because I like the taste of the eggplant and chickpeas to dominate in the mouth with a slight touch of tomato and mint.
When I usually prepare it for a friend who’s having a party, I come back with the dish empty and almost clean. The preparation may seem long but the good part about this dish is that it can be prepared in advance. The Moussaka’a is a dish best served cold or at room temperature. You can prepare it in advance and can be kept several days in the fridge.
Prep time: 1 hour and a half
Rest time: 1 hour and a half
Cook time: 2 hours on low temperature
Vegetable oil (500 ml or 2 cups)
Salt to disgorge the eggplant
1 Bunch of fresh mint
1 Tomato can
2 Fresh tomatoes
1 small can of Chickpeas (200g or 7oz)
3 tbs Olive oil
1 tsp Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Cut the stem of the eggplants and cut them lengthwise to make 1cm (1/3 inch) slices. Salt the eggplant slices and let them sweat for 30 minutes. Another way to disgorge the eggplant is to put them in salted water for 30 min. Wipe them off with a clean cloth or paper towel.
Pour vegetable oil in a frying pan (enough to cover the surface). Start frying the eggplant slices on high heat, then reduce to medium heat to avoid burning them. It takes about four min on each side. The eggplant is a real sponge; it will absorb the oil very quickly. You will need to add oil in the frying pan constantly to avoid burning the eggplants.
When the slice is brown, put it upright in a colander to get ride of the oil as much as possible. Line up the eggplant slices in a circle and let them rest for at least an hour. You can prepare the eggplant the day before.
Meanwhile, chop the onion and brown them on high heat in the olive oil this time. When they are transparent, add the chopped garlic. Chop the fresh mint and add them. Stir it all together.
Peal the tomatoes and dice them. Then add the diced tomato can, fresh tomatoes, and the chickpeas to the mix of onion/garlic/mint. Reduce the heat to medium. Add salt and pepper. Stir and let them cook on low heat for half an hour.
Heat the oven to 130ºC (270ºF). Lay the eggplant slices on a baking towel to absorb the remaining oil. You’re not obliged to do it, but I prefer to reduce the amount of oil as much as possible. In a baking dish, place one layer of eggplant. Cover it with half of the sauce. Place another layer of eggplant and cover with the rest of the sauce.
Place the dish in the oven on the lower rack and leave it for 2 hours. It will cook very gently and the result will be a bit caramelized.
I used to cook this dish for an hour on higher temperature but one day an incident happened and made me change the cooking time. Indeed, one afternoon I had to drive my daughter to a birthday party so I asked my son to remove the dish from the oven after an hour. My dear son took a nap but very kindly put his alarm clock on time to switch off the oven and remove the moussaka’a. Unfortunately my son didn’t hear the alarm clock and slept one more hour. The result seemed catastrophic because the top was completely burned but beneath the black layer the eggplant was caramelized with the onions and tomatoes. It was actually delicious!
And voila! Serve the moussaka’a cold with Lebanese bread or pita bread.
Enjoy the taste of the Mediterranean flavor!