Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Recipe for Low Carb Moussaka (or Mousakas)

I love unusual recipes - part of having moved around globally growing up I'm sure, and Moussaka (or Mousakas) wa the first dish that made me fall in love with eggplant. I've discovered others since, but it's always been my favorite.

It didn't take much to make this dish low-carb, but I also need to watch the vegetables in here because they fall under the 2nd category of vegetables for Atkins: those where we are limited to one cup while we're in Induction (while having 2 cups of the other, more leafy green, vegetables.) The veggies in here are Eggplant, Onion, and Tomatoes (in the form of tomatoe paste).

There's also a little bit of cheese, and we're to keep under 4 oz of cheese per day while in Induction as well. Not a problem in this recipe (only 1/2 cup of parmesan in the whole recipe, but something to keep track of for the day.

The only tweaks I had to do was replace the flour and the sugar. Since sugar was not needed as a "cooking" ingredient, it was a "no effect" replacement with splenda. I went one-for-one as it was only a pinch, too.

For flour, I'd used Atkins Bake Mix in the past and it was a perfect substitute. I can't find it nowadays, so I had bought some Almond flour from an online health food store ( and had that on the shelf. Local health food stores most likely carry it as well. It turned out to be an interesting choice.

The flour was used in the cream sauce, which has to thicken with egg yolks. It's initially browned in butter (like the beginning of most sauces - white sauce, alfredos, and even a good roux), but it was really nuts, so I thought of how I "brown" nuts and how quickly they start to turn. Word to self: not to overdo this. Generally we want to cook the wheat flour, but in this case, not to overcook or burn the nut flour. It also starts out darker. So, just a few minutes on the heat.

The cream seemed to be getting a bit lumpy when it was supposed to be thickening. This is not looking good. I use a whisk to stir it, hoping to defeat that. I am dubious about the outcome, but let it cook longer on the stovetop in order to thicken as much as it can before I add it to the layering process. Luckily, it's poured over the top of the eggplant and meat layers and it works out perfectly well. The texture is just a bit nuttier, as is the flavor, but the dish is still fabulous!

More greek and middle eastern recipes good for atkins can be found on the Atkins official website. I may try some of them myself next as I love meditteranean cuisine. If you do, let me know how you like them.

Here's the original recipe - taken from Middle Eastern Cooking by Rose Dosti, no longer in publication, but worth a search for any copy anywhere you can find it - and my notes on altering it for low-carb.

Eggplant Casserole ~ Mousakas (Greece)

Meat Sauce, see below
Cream Sauce, see below
2 large eggplants, unpeeled
Oil for frying
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (3/4 oz.)

Meat Sauce:
2 T butter or marg (butter for Low-Carb)
1 onion, chopped
1-1/2 lbs ground lean beef (I use higher fat, then blot the oil out with paper towels)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of sugar (Splenda for Low-Carb)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (no stems)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste

Cream Sauce:
2-1/2 cups milk (whole milk for Low-Carb)
6 T butter or marg (butter for Low-Carb)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (Almond flour for Low Carb, or Atkins Baking Mix)
6 egg yolks
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (3/4 oz.)
Salt and freshly ground WHITE pepper to taste

This is a layered dish that is easy to make once the layers are prepared. Begin by preparing the Meat Sauce and then the Cream Sauce. Set aside. Then prepare the eggplant layers.

Meat Sauce:
Saute onion in butter until translucent, then add ground beef and brown. Add in remainint ingredients, stirring thoroughly and let cook to marry the flavors. Ms. Dosti adds all the ingredients but the tomato paste to the beef while it is browning, then cooks 3 min after adding the tomato paste. I have found that just about anything goes, as long as you brown the beef and stir well after adding the tomato paste.

Cream Sauce:
Heat milk until it begins to bubble around the edges. I've found using the microwave in spurts (cook, stir, check, in short bursts) works well, but Ms. Dosti recommends using a 1 quart saucepan. This is not used again, so I like a cup measure in the microwave to reduce stove top use and the number of dirty pots and pans. Do not burn the milk in any case, nor create a skin over it. If that happens, just remove the skin and go on.

Next, brown the flour in the butter, basically stirring costantly over a low heat. After browning, gradually add the hot milk and stir constantly until thickened. Note that using almond flour, it does not thicken much at this point.

Beat the egg yolks in a separate small bowl and add a small amount of the hot milk mixture to the eggs, stirring so that you raise the temperature and can safely add the yolks to the saucepan without cooking the eggs.

Stir in nutmeg, Parmesan cheese, salt and white pepper. (Black pepper is not a good substitute here; cayenne (red) pepper may be an alternative, but it will change the flavors).

Continue cooking and stirring sauce until it thickens. As said above, this almond flour mixture did not thicken as it does with flour or Atkins Baking Mix, so cook over low, stirring occasionally, as you complete the eggplants.

Leaving unpeeled, cut eggplants into 1/2-inch medallion slices. Sprinkly lightly with salt Let stand 15 minutes to leach out bitter flavor. Pat dry with paper towels. Repeat on other side.

Cooking the eggplants. These can be either fried or broiled. Eggplants are notorious for soaking up oil, so I did some by frying and broiled the others. Those fried will absorb more oil and be tastier, but I had so many slices to do that I had to fry 3 batches and broil 2 batches. For broiling, brush with oil and broil 3" from Hi-broiler until golden brown (about 3-4 min) then turn and brown the other side. When frying, put about 1/2" of oil in a frying pan and fry 3-4 at a time for 3 min per side. Drain the eggplant on paper towels while finishing the rest.

To layer the casserole:
Start with 1/3 of the eggplant slices, then 1/2 of the meat sauce, repeating til all is gone, and you end with the last 1/3 of the eggplants on top. Pour the cream sauce over, spreading it into the corners and letting it fill in the dish, then sprinkle with 1/4 cup of parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until golden brown on top. Let sit for 10-15 minutes before cutting and serving.

I'll post nutritional information as I get it, but the Almond flour I used (Bob's Red Mill) has 6 carbs in 1/4 cup, 3 of which are dietary fiber, so net 3 carbs in 1/4 cup. This recipe called for 1/2 cup, so the total for 8 servings is 6 net carbs. The tomato paste (Del Monte's Organic, but it was on sale, regular is the same) is 6 carbs per 2 T, and 1 carb is dietary fiber, so 5 net carbs for the entire recipe (which was only 2 T). Eggplant, onions, and parmesan cheese are the only other ingredients with significant measurable carbs, while there is some in parsley as well.

In addition, we need to eat less than 1 cup of the eggplant and onions per day while on Induction. If you're in OWL (on-going weight loss), you simply need to measure your total carbs. Adding a salad during the day should help you get the other 2 cups of leafy (think romaine) vegetables you need. [Note that spinach is in the 2nd list and is not part of the 2 cups, but part of the 1 cup allowance. ]

Eggplant: 2.5 carbs in 1/2 cup of raw eggplant. How many cups in 2 large eggplants? 4 cups? 6 cups
Onion: 6.9 carbs in 1/2 cup of raw onion. How many in 1 large sweet onion? 1? 1-1/2?
Parsley: 1.9 carbs in 1/2 cup of fresh, 1/2 carb in 1 tsp of dried (I used fresh)?
Parmesan cheese: .2 carbs per 1 oz; approx 8 oz in 1/2 cup?
Black/white peppers: 1.3-1.4 carbs in 1 tsp - approx 1/2 tsp used in each "to taste"?

From the eggplant: 20-30 carbs per casserole
From the onion: 14-21 carbs per casserole
From the parsley: 1.9 carbs per casserole
From the parmesan cheese: 1.6 carbs per casserole
From the almond flour: 6 net carbs per casserole
From the tomato paste: 5 net carbs per casserole
From the peppers (black and white): 1.3-1.4 carbs per casserole
Total per 8 servings in casserole: 50-67 per casserole, or 6.3-8.4 carbs per portion

(or 12.6-16.8 if you eat two portions - in which case, have to very carefully count the other carbs during the day.) Be sure to measure how many cups your eggplant and onions are, as these are less exact.

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