Friday, January 9, 2009

Recipe for Leek Mousaka (Μουσακάς με Πράσα)

Happy New Year to one and all!

I’m back from recent travels and recovered from holidays full of family, parties, and baking. You heard it here first: I’m never eating cookies or candy again. Ever. Or at least until memories of the last month fade into nothingness.

It’s hard to decide what to write about because I have a giant backlog of recipes and photographs. So instead of actually making a decision, I jumbled my stack of notes, and randomly drew out the recipe for Leek Mousaka.

When we arrive in Greece from Alaska, the first thing we do is go to an airport newsstand for newspapers and at least one cooking magazine. Properly armed, we head for our hotel to read and relax from the long trip.

Lately, my favorite Greek magazine is
Olive (a spin-off of BBC Olive). Sprightly Greek food personality Ilias Mamalakis first drew me to Olive, but I continue reading it for updates on the Greek food world and interesting recipes. Sadly, Olive isn’t available in Alaska, even by subscription.

LeeksAs a leek lover and someone with a healthy supply of homemade Greek egg noodles (hilopites), Olive’s recipe for Leek Mousaka was intriguing. Out of curiosity, I googled “Μουσακάς + Πράσα” (Mousaka + Leeks) to see if Olive’s recipe was unique. A number of websites had identical Leek Mousaka recipes, but only one credited the magazine. None credited Georgia Kofinas (Γεωργία Κοφινάς), who Olive identifies as the recipe’s creator.

There’s no way for me to know whether the recipe actually originated with Kofinas or someone else. However, the issue of copying recipes without attribution is one that, sooner or later, all food writers must confront. It’s infuriating when others appropriate recipes without permission or attribution. On the other hand, it’s easy to give credit to those whose work contributed to your creation.

Here's my practice and, if I could wave a magic wand, it’s one all food bloggers and writers would follow:

1. If I use a recipe exactly as written (which I rarely do), under the name of the recipe I write “recipe by” and identify the author and source of the recipe. My article about the recipe also includes a review of the source book, magazine, or blog and applicable permalinks.

2. If I make only minor changes to a recipe, under the name of the recipe I write “recipe adapted from” and identify the author and source of the original recipe.

3. If I make major changes to someone else’s recipe, under the name of the recipe I write “recipe inspired by” and identify the author and source of the inspirational recipe.

4. If I don’t designate “recipe by,” “recipe adapted from,” or “recipe inspired by,” the recipe is my creation.

Of course, there are simple dishes that many cooks discover or invent on their own, without ever having seen a similar recipe. Oven-roasted vegetables, vinaigrettes, risottos, soups, and eggs are only a few examples of such recipes. Any similarities in recipes like this are, more likely than not, coincidental.

In the case of Leek Mousaka, I significantly changed the original recipe. I cooked the leeks without water to boost their flavor, used a personal recipe for tomato-meat sauce, enhanced the topping with cream and cheese, and adapted the recipe so it can be made with ingredients available in the United States. Even though I made major changes to the original recipe, I wouldn’t’ve made it without Olive’s inspiration, so included a credit for both the magazine and the recipe’s creator.

Leek Mousaka is quite different from the
typical Mousaka found in Greek restaurants around the world, and is wonderfully delicious. The sweetness of sautéed leeks enhances the minty tomato-meat sauce and contrasts with the tart yogurt. Noodles play harmony to Leek Mousaka’s aromatic flavors, and form a pleasurably crispy top crust. The resulting dish is attractive, delectable, and suitable for any occasion.

Leek MousakaLeek Mousaka (Μουσακάς με Πράσα)
Serves 6 – 9
Inspired by Μουσακάς με Πράσα, <<Φθινοπωρινή συμφωνία>> by Γεωργία Κοφινάς in BBC Olive (Greek version),
Issue 19, October 2008
Leek Mousaka can be made for vegetarians by using my recipe for
Tomato Sauce with Celery and Mint (and simmering it until it’s thick) instead of the meat sauce described below. Although Leek Mousaka has many steps, it goes together quickly once the component parts are done. The meat sauce may be made days ahead (or months ahead if you freeze it). The yogurt may also be made well ahead (or purchased, if strained Greek yogurt is available where you live). Because I prefer strained yogurt for all purposes, I usually strain yogurt right after I bring it home from the market so it’s ready when I want it. Leeks can hold dirt between their layers, so must be carefully cleaned. After removing the dark green portions and the root ends (both of which can be saved for vegetable stock), cut the leeks in half. Under running water, rinse out any dirt trapped between the leeks’ layers, using your fingers to help remove any stubborn clumps of dirt. Every layer of Leek Mousaka is separately salted (doing so brings out the full flavor of each ingredient), so be careful not to over-salt any one layer or the finished dish will be too salty.

Yogurt Filling:
2 cups plain yogurt, preferably whole-milk (or 1 1/4 cup strained yogurt, see Note above)
2 medium-sized garlic cloves
1/4 tsp. salt

Meat and Tomato Sauce with Celery and Mint:
1 pound ground beef
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups diced onions, 1/4” dice
1 cup diced celery, 1/4” dice (2 – 3 stalks)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 14.5-ounce can, or 2 cups fresh, crushed tomatoes
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup minced fresh mint

1/2 pound
thin egg noodles, vermicelli, fides, broken-up angel hair pasta, or any other similarly-shaped pasta

8 cups diced leeks, white and light green parts only, 1/2” dice (4-5 leeks)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

2 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil for coating the baking pan
1 cup freshly grated kefalotyri, parmesan, or Romano cheese, divided

Straining YogurtMake the Yogurt Filling: Line a strainer with a paper towel and dump in the yogurt. Let the yogurt drain for at least 1 hour (straining for 2 hours is better if you have time). Purée garlic by mashing it into the salt with the flat of a knife or in a mortar and pestle. Mix the puréed garlic into the strained yogurt.

Make the Meat and Tomato Sauce with Celery and Mint: Sauté the ground meat, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper, until it is nicely browned. Add the diced onions and celery and sauté until the onions begin to brown. Stir in the garlic and Aleppo pepper and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and white wine and bring to a boil. Cook rapidly for five minutes, stirring constantly. Turn the heat down to medium, and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes or until most of the liquid in the sauce has evaporated. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Stir in the mint and take the sauce off the burner.

Cook the Noodles: Add the noodles to boiling salted water and cook until they’re half done. (Because the noodles are small, they cook quickly.) Drain and set aside.

Make the Leeks: Sauté the diced leeks in olive oil, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, until the leeks are soft.

Make the Topping: Whisk together the eggs, cream, a little salt, freshly ground black pepper, and 1/3 cup of grated cheese.

Assemble the Mousaka: Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Thoroughly oil a 10” x 10” baking pan. Spread half the noodles over the bottom of the pan. Evenly sprinkle 1/3 cup grated cheese over the noodles. Evenly spread the leeks over the grated cheese, the yogurt filling over the leeks, the meat sauce over the yogurt, 1/3 cup grated cheese over the meat sauce, the remaining noodles over the grated cheese, and the egg/cream topping over the noodles.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into pieces with a very sharp or serrated knife.

Serve with a crisp green salad, Kalamata olives, and crusty bread.
This is my entry for
Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Pam from The Backyard Pizzeria.


Peter G said...

Chronia Polla Laurie! Great to see you back! This is absolutely wonderful...the leeks def are the star here! Great advice too about recipe usage. Look forward to your next installment!

Tay said...

Ah, so glad to see you back to blogging! I've missed you and happy to know your break was due to travel and holiday fun, not health issues.

This dish looks amazing. Do you think it would work with Gluten-free flat noddles?

Bellini Valli said...

Yia Sta Heria Stas Laurie. (I think that's how it is said) This recipe ispires this humble kitchen.

Peter M said...

Laurie, welcome back, a belated Merry Christmas and health & happiness in 2009.

First off, any online details/contents of Olive?

Secondly, a nice twist on the classic using traditional Greek ingredients...a score!

Mediterranean kiwi said...

i'm a leek fanatic - i love leek pies, leek soup, leek everything. i am imagining the aroma of the leek moussaka wafting through the house as it is cooking.

i absolutely agree about copying recipes (or anything for that matter) off the internet. the incredible power of greed drives internet-based food sites to pass a recipe off as their own, when it clearly isn't, as a quick search of some basic greek recipes on the WWW will reveal. Wholly different websites use the SAME wording in 'their' recipe, without even including a photo of the finished dish, or making any reference to their original source

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Laurie!!! Good to have you back. I will try this recipe--sounds great. Kim

Kalyn said...

Sounds like a wonderful recipe! Hope you had a great break.

Laurie Constantino said...

Xronia Polla right back at you, Peter! The starring role of leeks is exactly what attracted me to this recipe. They are so good!

Tay, you don't know how glad I am to be back to my normal life. As for using gluten-free noodles, I don't know why not. As long as the noodles aren't the kind that easily fall apart, gluten-free should be just fine.

Val, the products coming out of your kitchen don't seem very humble to me!

Peter, the only online details about Olive is the link in the above text: and
I agree about it being a score - I was really excited when I found the recipe.
Wishing you many years!

Maria, it did smell good! And now you've got me hankering some nice leek soup.

Thanks Kim!!

Kalyn, nice to hear from you. I saw you boosting Obama's inauguration on Facebook - what a happy day that will be!

manju said...

Happy New Year, Laurie! Thanks for sharing such a unique recipe with us. Leeks are aplenty right now so we will have to try this soon. Your beet soup was a great hit!

Mediterranean Turkish Cook said...

Welcome back and Happy New Year! I've never heard mousaka with leeks, but it definitely sounds delicious. I love leeks but know a few recipes that involve leeks. Thanks for sharing.

Also, about recipe copying and publishing without giving credit to original creator, it's sad. Especially now in the blogging world we have to be a little more careful. Thank you for sharing your tips on this subject.

Bijoux said...

Hey look who's back! Happy New Year Laurie! You were greatly missed!
I love leeks!!! They make any dish taste fantastic. Leeks impart a subtle sweet aroma and flavour to food. This is a great recipe for introducing more leeks into ones diet. A definite must try :)

Lulu Barbarian said...

Yay! Laurie's back, and with a scrumptilicious recipe!

PS What about the evil Cook's Illustrated people? So much of what I do is derived from them, but they don't seem to appreciate credit... said...

Thanks so much for introducing yourself on my blog! I love your ethics on recipe credits. I don't know why everyone doesn't do that--I LOVE my cookbooks, love the authors--and I always hope the reference to their cookbooks inspires people to buy their books! I feel like I know people like Deborah Madison, I've made so many of her recipes!
Anyway, thanks for a thoughtful post about a subject that I do consider really important. I've just subscribed to your email!

ya ssas!

Laurie Constantino said...

Manju, so glad to hear you liked the soup - I've already finished a second batch of kale and am ready to go for a third.

MedTurkCk, thanks! And Happy New Year to you (and hope you have a great one).

Bijoux, I was starting to feel blog deprived. I've got 3 more leeks in the refrigerator that I need to use soon. I'll try and come up with something interesting just for you.

Lulu, I've actually been looking for a Cook's Illustrated recipe to try, just so I can post about it. But then, I always have been an oppositional kind of gal. Their attitude is truly annoying.

Alison, thanks for stopping by! I know what you mean about Deborah Madison - I have all her books and have made good use of them over the years. I like that she is very down to earth and practical. (PS: I've been subscribing to your blog for several months and really enjoy it.)

MAG said...

I love Moussaka :) specially vegetarian ones, but this one you made looks so good and healthy, I can't wait to give it a try :)) Thanks for sharing it Laurie!

Susan said...

Luscious dish, Laurie! Wish leeks were more popular; I always need to make a special trip to a high-end market for stalks that are good quality.

Good to see you back. Very Happy 2009!

Laurie Constantino said...

You're welcome MAG! Thanks for stopping by!

Susan, I don't understand why leeks aren't more popular - their flavor is unique and is a lovely addition to so many dishes. And Happy 2009 to you!

[eatingclub] vancouver || js said...

I like this leek moussaka. Bookmarked: thanks!

Rumela said...

I like this recipe.these Leek Mousaka are sure to taste great and are extremely nutritious as well. I am going to make it for the holidays when my kids will be at home. I'll be sure that what they are eating is healthy. thank you for shearing your post.

Anonymous said...

Keeping a kosher kitchen requires creative substitution of ingredients. I enjoy this challenge, and have had marvelous results with, for example, Creole cuisine (heavily dependent on forbidden seafood and pork). I found Leek Moussaka online the week leeks were featured at the local Farmer's Market; and substituted lentils for the beef. Vegetarian friends: My guests were very impressed - had two helpings each. Next time, I think I'll try fava beans. Thanks, Laurie!