If Yan Could Cook. . .

Shepherd’s Moussaka, Apple-Pear Salad with Candied Walnuts

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Talking to a friend who lives in another country, I confessed that I had somewhere between six and nine people coming to dinner the next day, and no idea what to make. He said, “Why not make comfort food?”

My own comfort foods are the last remnants of a culture from which I am a generation and a world removed: a particular brand of ramen noodles, seafood rice porridge, jasmine-scented rice, chrysanthemum tea. But that’s not what he meant, he meant the potatoes-and-gravy-1950s-America ideal that I’m not sure ever existed. Our only evidence seems to be the menus at Denny’s and IHOP, where the ideal has been blown up to gargantuan, sopping proportions.

Photos by Laura D’Alessandro.

I couldn’t decide between shepherd’s pie and moussaka, so I combined my favourite parts of both. Three carrots, a small yellow onion, three gloves of garlic, all finely chopped, got cooked with an unholy mound of ground beef, mixed medium and lean. Near the end of cooking, I added plenty of 35% cooking cream and frozen corn (for a moussaka-like creaminess, rather than gravy). This mixture forms the first layer. I used one casserole dish and one 10″ rectangular cake pan.

For the second layer, I sliced a large eggplant and two medium zucchinis lengthwise. The eggplant slices were heavily salted on both sides, drawing out the bitter juices, and then thoroughly washed. These were tossed in oil and then fried in the wok, though I fantasied about grilling them; there is simply nothing better than lightly fire-charred eggplant and zucchini. I laid them across in a single layer over the beef mixture.

The top layer was mashed potatoes. Because I used the wrong kind of potatoes (I had been warned about this, but never encountered it – use white, not yellow flesh) I had to douse the chopped, boiled potatoes in cream and butter and salt and stock to get a reasonable texture. I still thought it was noticeably gluey and glutenous – it reminded me of my parents’ ruddy obsession with mashed taro root – but my guests claimed they didn’t care, and I have to believe them since they went back for seconds. The whole thing was topped with chives fresh from Phil and Laura’s plant and popped in the oven on broil for ten minutes.

The accompanying salad used my leftover apple-wasabi vinaigrette, romaine and iceberg lettuce, sliced granny smith apple, sliced Bartlett pear, and spicy candied walnuts. I toasted the walnuts, spread in a single layer on a pan lined with parchment paper, for fifteen minutes at 350 degrees F, when they just barely started to show a colour change. In a small pot, I melted one part brown sugar to two parts white sugar and about a tablespoon of water into a dark caramel, adding cinnamon and cayenne pepper at the end. The toasted nuts were tossed with the mixture, and then left to cool and harden on the same piece of parchment (removed from the hot pan).

The chive plant was left in my custody. I want to return it as soon as possible; I am, after all, the girl who killed two cactuses, one of them in such a gruesome fashion that I’m still ashamed of it. It involved an elevator, a vacuum cleaner, and a hand like a pincushion.

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Written by skimfu

September 17, 2008 at 10:22 pm

Posted in Beef, Salad

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