For weeks, I had been planning to make Greek food as my next international cuisine, but today, I just wasn’t feeling it. Don’t get me wrong, I like Greek food, but I haven’t really found a recipe that I was excited about it. So, instead I decided to just pick a recipe that sounded good. When Bittman’s book failed me, I headed back to the trusty Global Table Adventure blog, where I perused random main items. I hit upon potato musaka and thought to myself, “Well, moussaka is Greek, so this is practically cooking Greece!” Plus, it featured potatoes, which I like.
In her write-up about this dish, Sasha mentioned that her husband said it reminded him of “hobo casserole,” something his mother used to make. Judging from one of the random recipes I found for hobo casserole, it also has a lot in common with a casserole my mother used to make, called 1-2-3 casserole. While Sasha’s husband thought fondly of hobo casserole, I hated 1-2-3 casserole. I get why my mom made it a lot – it was cheap and easy and she could make it ahead of time for the nights she went to work. My dad isn’t a great chef, but he can heat up an oven. The problem with 1-2-3 casserole or hobo casserole or any number of American casseroles is: cream of mushroom soup.
CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP IS A SIN AGAINST SOUP (and even mushrooms, which are disgusting, so that is saying something).
Potato musaka takes the good parts of 1-2-3 casserole (the meat and potatoes) and instead of making it a condensed-soup mess, makes it delicious. I’d also hazard that it is healthier, since it features no processed foods at all. Granted, the preparation will take more time than just opening a bag of tater tots and a can of soup, but I think you will agree that it is worth it.
Let’s start where I started: with the potatoes. These need to be cut into 1/4 inch slices. I used my mandolin, but a food processor would work just as well. (By the by, if you are a mandolin user like myself, I highly recommend getting one of these gloves. I hate using the safety guard, but after suffering a pretty deep cut while slicing turnips, I no long scoff at the danger of the mandolin blade.)
Once sliced, I turned my attention to the meat. I used a combination of pork and beef (3:1), mostly because pork comes in 12oz packs at the store and the recipe called for 16 oz of meat. I generally like the combination of beef and pork – you get the good pork flavor with the added fat from the beef. This went into a pan with some onions and browned.
Once your solid components are all prepared, layer them like a lasagna. Potatoes, meat, potatoes. Then turn your attention to the sauce – a simple mix of eggs, milk, yogurt, and salt and pepper. While my casserole dish was too small for all the potatoes (I made a mash with the rest), I did use all the liquid. Into a 400 degree oven for about an hour.
Taste-wise, this was pretty good. Very much peasant/comfort food, it definitely fills the belly. However, I did have some problems with execution. While my potatoes were evenly cut, they were not evenly cooked. I think this is mainly to do with my dish, which is tapered. Instead of using it, I think I should of used a 9×13 cake/casserole pan – the potatoes would have been in a thinner and more even layer. I let it go a bit longer than an hour, but it was still uneven (none of the bites were raw, some were just noticeably underdone). I put the remaining musaka back in the oven and let it cook for another 20 minutes, since I think this will make good leftovers.
A few other comments – while it was seasoned fine with just salt and pepper, I think the addition of other seasonings would definitely kick it up a notch. It also could of been meatier. Still, in general, it was really good and about one million times better than 1-2-3 casserole. Perfect for a cold, rainy day like today. Serve it up with some salad and a nice wine and you have a hearty, homey meal.