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Moussaka, straight from Greece July 5, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World.

There are many variations of the Greek moussaka, which almost always includes layers of meat sauce, eggplant, and white sauce.

But Petros Markopoulos, a small, unassuming man with a big, easy smile, makes a mean version. His rich dish begins with a bed of potatoes.

When Markopoulos moved here from Greece 14 years ago, he wanted to perpetuate the culinary traditions he was raised on and ”duplicate the foods from home.” At his 8-year-old restaurant, Ithaki Mediterranean Cuisine, Markopoulos insists that authentic Greek dishes like moussaka, pastitsio, another casserole of pasta, meat sauce, and white sauce, and baked lamb remain true to their heritage. He might fiddle with other recipes, tweaking them to appeal to American tastes, cutting back on frying and excess oil, but he leaves the classics alone. Especially when he got his recipes from his mother.

In Greece, says the restaurateur, moussaka was once made only in the summer. That seems incredible when you consider how rich and layered the dish is, and what ideal hearty winter fare it makes. But summer is the season that produces fresh eggplant and ripe tomatoes, another common ingredient. Because these days the vegetables are available off-season in Greek cities, just as they are here, the dish is now made year-round. Markopoulos, too, offers moussaka in summer and winter, served in individual clay pots.

Markopoulos has two secret ingredients: dry sherry in the meat sauce, which, he says, adds a little sweetness and helps cut the richness of the meat, and Greek mizithra cheese in the white sauce, also called bechamel, its saltiness and dry texture offset the creamy mixture.

This many-layered dish has several components, so it’s time-consuming, but the various elements, even the entire dish, can be made in advance.

Ithaki Mediterranean Cuisine, 25 Hammatt St., Ipswich, 978-356-0099.

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