Eggplant and Chickpeas
Musaka’a. Just the name invokes the idea of the classic Greek dish layered with ground meat and eggplant and topped with a a rich creamy sauce. While that is a delicious meal, that is not what I’m sharing today.
Today’s dish – Musaka’a- is a Middle Eastern dish of roasted eggplant and chickpeas, along with tomatoes, braised in warm spices. The recipe below is my own interpretation of the many variations I found in my research. Like most Mediterranean dishes – there is no one true “authoritative” version. Plus I’ve added a few of my own “touches”
I started by invoking the idea of the classic Greek Moussaka, a genuine “comfort” food. But that dish is a relative newcomer in the culinary timeline of the Mediterranean. Although spelled and pronounced similarly, it is not the same dish as eggplant and chickpeas. Thing that they have in common is they both use eggplant. Beyond that the dishes are very different. Of course, you’ll see a lot of eggplant on mezze & tapas because it is so widely used in the Mediterranean.
Musaka’a is a delicious Middle Eastern dish that is sure to delight your taste buds! Perfect for any occasion, musaka’a is a hearty meal that can be enjoyed as an appetizer or main course. This step-by-step guide will walk you through the process of making the dish, from preparing the ingredients to serving it up hot and fresh. With just a few simple steps, you can make a delicious musaka’a that is sure to please everyone around the table. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned cook, this guide will help you make a musaka’a that is both flavorful and satisfying!
History of Musaka’a
Before we begin, how do we get two different dishes with similar names? Because I can be a bit of a history nerd, I spent some time digging into the origins of both dishes. Although there is no way to be certain, it is likely they share a common ancestor. And like all evolution, different variations developed through the centuries. Some theorize that the modern versions of musaka’a and moussaka both have a similar origin. It is surmised they derive from a recipe first documented in the thirteenth century. The Arab cookbook “The Baghdad Cookery” has a recipe for maghmuma, considered a an early ancestor of both version. And it appears that there are more or less two branches of evolution from the “maghmuma” to today’s dishes.
Starting with the Greek Moussaka, as I said that is a relative newcomer. It was “Introduced” by Greek Chef Nikólaos Tselementés in his cookbook in 1910. Tselementés was a classically French trained chef who adapted an older recipe by adding a French Béchamel sauce on top. Over the last century, this version has become the defining Greek comfort food. It may be the most widely recognized modern version of the dish. Similar versions are seen through Greece, Turkey and the Balkan nations. In the Balkans, often potato replaces the eggplant.
The second branch, which more closely relates to our recipe today omits the “modern”béchamel sauce. It relies primarily on the eggplant as the core ingredient — sometimes fried, and sometimes roasted. Occasionally, it includes meat, but is more often meatless. This version influences dishes such as Sicilian Caponata, French Ratatouille, and even Italian Eggplant Parmesan.
Middle Eastern Eggplant and Chickpeas Musuaka’a
This version also remained the more popular version in the Middle East, and is the basis for my interpretation today. I have kept my version vegetarian, and use chickpeas to go with the eggplant. Onions and tomatoes are the other core ingredients, and I also added some bell pepper. To keep it simple, I’ve relied on canned chickpeas and tomatoes, but there is no reason you can’t prepare it with dried beans and fresh tomatoes. Just be sure to soak and cook the beans first, which will add much more time to the cooking process.
Another thing from researching this recipe. I’m sure it would not surprise you to learn that there are a lots of variations and regional adaptations. Most center around how the eggplant is cut and prepared. Many versions cut the eggplant into large sections and lay them on top of the casserole dish for final baking. Still others cubed it. I chose cubed because I felt it gave a more consistent presentation.
More important than presentation is how you cook the eggplant. Many recipes fried the eggplant, many others roasted it. I chose roasting for two reasons. First — It is easier and requires less of a mess. Second – and more important. Roasting the eggplant will dry it out some, and when you cook it with the tomatoes and chickpeas, it will act like a sponge for those flavors. When you fry it, you fill the eggplant with oil, so there will be no room for the other flavors in the final dish.
How to Make Eggplant and Chickpeas Musuka’a
To that end, start by peeling stripes in your eggplant. Then cut it into cubes of about 3/4 inch think. Toss with some olive oil, kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and pop the oven. A quick roast — about 20 minutes — in a hot oven — 400oF — should be just about right. You want to the eggplant to be starting to soften, but not mushy. The color should begin to be browning too.
While the eggplant is roasting, you can saute the onions and pepper. You want these to begin to soften and the onions become a bit translucent. Add the chickpeas, 1/2 cup of chickpea liquid, the diced tomatoes, and the spices. When the eggplant cubes come out of the oven, go ahead and add them too. the eggplant pieces. Once the eggplant is in, stir it all to combine and let it come to a gentle boil.
Once boiling, carefully transfer the entire mixture to a casserole dish. If you’d rather, and your skillet is oven safe, just leave it there. Either way, slide it into the oven, uncovered, and let it bake for 20 minutes.
When it comes out, top with some chopped parsley. I also uses som crumbled feta cheese, which makes it no longer vegan. Skip this (or use a vegan feta) to maintain the vegan status. I find Musaka’a is best when you serve it hot. But you can allow to cool to room temperature and serve it that way, which is also quite common. Either way – can’t be wrong.
There are many variations of musaka’a, so feel free to mix and match the ingredients to create the perfect dish for you! Here are a few popular variations of this dish: – Lamb Musaka’a which adds spiced ground lamb to the dish. Labneh Musaka’a: This variation of the dish replaces meat with labneh, a Lebanese cheese. Musaka’a can be eaten on its own or as a side dish. Often served with pita bread, it also pairs well with tabbouleh. Like most meals from the Mediterranean, the options are yours. Variation is the name of the game, and really can’t be wrong.
Go ahead and make the Greek Moussaka recipe if you’d like. It is really a delicious treat and you can go wrong. But if you’re looking for something a bit lighter, give the Middle Eastern Musaka’a a try. It’s easier to make, lighter, and tastes great too. Put another way — Simple, Healthy and Delicious. Can’t go wrong!
Eggplant and Chickpea Casserole – Musaka’a
- lb Eggplant about 1 large eggplant
- 1/4 cup divided Extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 cup diced onions about 1 medium onion
- 1/2 cup green pepper diced about 1/2 large pepper
- 2 clove garlic chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp Ras Al Hanout (see note)
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes
- 1 can chickpeas liquid reserved
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Chopped fresh parsley to garnish
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese optional
- Preheat Oven 400F
- Peel stripes around eggplant
- Dice into 3/4” cubes
- Salt and rest for 20 – 30 minutes
- Toss with 1 TBS olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 20 minutes, until softened and brown
- While eggplant is roasting, add 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat
- Saute onion and pepper until onion begins to become translucent
- Add garlic, bayleaf and spices. Stir and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute
- Add eggplant, fire roasted tomatos, chickpeas, and about 1/2 the liquid from the canned chickpeas. Stir to combine.
- Bring to a boil for two to three minutes or so. Stirring occasionally
- Carefully transfer to a casserole dish and place in the oven, uncovered.
- Cook in oven for about 30 minutes until eggplant is fully cooked through and very tender.
- When eggplant is ready, remove from oven and garnish with fresh parsley (or other herb)
- Sprinkle with feta cheese (optional) and serve immediately
- Or Allow to cool to room temperature and serve.