A few weeks ago I held a monthly girls dinner at my house with some friends. We pick a theme and all cook a bunch of food that revolves around that theme (and drink a lot of wine of course). We call ourselves the Dining Divas (clever, huh?) February's theme was GREEK! I named the event The Santorini Sundown.
This was the full menu:
Appetizers: Hummus/Pita Chips, Tzatziki/Pita Bread, Spanakopita (made by me, post to come later)
Salad: Greek Salad, why of course!
Main Course: Spicy Lamb & Eggplant Lasagna, Italian Turkey Lasagna (for those who did not eat lamb)
Dessert: Fruit/Greek Yogurt, Cupcakes, Honey Cake (made by our resident baker - Lizzy)
Drinks: Blue Aegean Angel and lots of WINE!
When the Greek theme was determined, I knew I wanted to do something with lamb and/or feta cheese. They are the first Greek ingredients that came to mind. When I hold these monthly girls dinners, I like to have as much of the cooking done before everyone arrives, so lasagna was the perfect idea! I stumbled upon this recipe, adapted from Food Network and Mr. Emeril Lagasse. He used a lot more red pepper than me so his recipe was Spicy Lamb & Eggplant Lasagna. I left the "spicy" off mine.
It really surprised me how much the flavor of the lamb came out. That just doesn't happen when I make a sauce with beef or turkey meat. The combination of lamb and beef stock penetrated throughout the sauce and gave it a distinct taste. Not to worry - the eggplant still played an integral role in this dish, it just took a back burner to the meaty sauce. The feta cheese added a tang that mozzarella can't compete with.All in all, this dish was an A+ for me!
You will notice that I made a few big changes to this dish. I omitted the Bechamel sauce altogether in order to lighten it up a little BUT then I added lasagna sheets to beef the dish up. I was cooking for a rather large crowd (15 ladies) and didn't know if everyone liked spicy food so did not use as much red pepper as required. Lastly, I added some shredded mozzarella cheese on top to resemble your typical Italian lasagna. Regardless of what you choose to do, I'm sure it will turn out just perfect!
30 slices of eggplant (1/4-inch thick), about 3 lbs
3 cups flour (you really only need half as much)
3 eggs beaten with 2 tbsp milk (I needed an extra egg)
3 cups fine dried bread crumbs
Essence, recipe follows
1 cup vegetable oil
1 recipe of Spicy Lamb Sauce, recipe follows
1 lb Feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 cups Bechamel Sauce, recipe follows
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a deep-dish (11x14) lasagna pan. Season the eggplant slices, flour, egg wash and bread crumbs with Essence. Dredge the eggplant in the flour. Dip each eggplant in the egg wash, letting the excess drip off. Dredge the eggplant in the bread crumbs, coating completely.
In two large pans, over medium heat, add 1/2 cup of the oil to each pan. When the oil is hot, pan-fry the eggplant for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until crispy. Be careful not to burn the eggplant or crisp up the outside before the inside cooks. This can happen if you have the heat on too high. Remove and drain on paper towels. Season with Essence. Fry the eggplant in batches.
To assemble, spread 2 cups of the lamb sauce over the bottom of the pan. Crumble 1/3 of the cheese over the lamb sauce. Lay 10 slices of the eggplant over the cheese. Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients.
Although I did not make the Bechamel Sauce, I assembled the lasagna just the same and cooked it just as long. I put the shredded mozzarella on with 10 minutes left so that it did not burn. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before slicing. Garnish with parsley.
2 1/2 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried thyme
Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight jar or container. Yield: about 2/3 cup. This seasoning is so flavorful and great to have on hand for many other recipes!
Spicy Lamb Sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb ground lamb
2 tsp crushed red pepper (I used 1 tsp)
2 cups finely chopped onions
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
Freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp chopped garlic
2 (28-ounce) can of peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
3 cups beef stock or water
2 sprigs of fresh thyme (I used dried)
2 bay leaves
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano (I omitted this)
In a large nonreactive saucepan, over medium heat, add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the meat and season with salt and crushed red pepper. Brown the meat for 4-6 minutes. Add the onions, celery and carrots. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Add the garlic and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook for 2-3 minutes. Whisk the tomato paste with the water (or beef broth) and add to the tomatoes. Beef broth imparts SO much more flavor than water, so I would not skimp here. Add the thyme, bay leaves, oregano, basil and red pepper. Mix well. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 2 hours. Stir occasionally and add more liquid if needed. During the last 30 minutes of cooking, reseason with salt and pepper and stir in the cheese. Remove from the heat and let sit for 15 minutes before serving. Yield: about 4-6 cups.
For the Bechamel Sauce recipe, click here.
I love most of Emeril's recipes but they are typically very labor-intensive and require many ingredients. For that reason, they definitely do NOT lack in flavor, but they do need to be planned out before. This is a great recipe to complete on a weekend day when you have lots of time to let this sauce simmer. It will make your house smell amazing! You can think of this recipe as a creative alternative to your regular Italian lasagna. Believe me when I tell you, most of the ingredients are the same, but it tastes NOTHING like lasagna you've ever had. I want to thank my awesome sister and all my girlfriends who helped to make Greek Night a success!