Inspired by the BJE, try a taste of Balkan Jewish history

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The images are of happy families, frolicking young men and women and playful children in the dark tones of old photographs. The stories accompanying them are about lives and traditions ripped apart and destroyed by World War II. But these faces and names were different than my Ashkenazi experience. The photographs are part of an exhibit called “Images of a Lost World: Pictures and Stories of Balkan Sephardic Life,” showing though Jan. 31 at the BJE Jewish Community Library in San Francisco.

Many of the stories accompanying the photographs include references to the survivors’ mothers or grandmothers making the “traditional foods” of their homelands, which included Greece, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey.

I was touched, and wanted to share the experience by eating some of the food they might have made. I knew the foods had been influenced by their Sephardic heritage, their long residency in lands ruled by the Ottoman Turks and the available local foods and traditions. In the end, I ended up creating a recipe with tastes and textures I thought these long-ago Jews of the Balkans would recognize and maybe enjoy. I hope you will, too.

Lemon–Egg Sauce Moussaka

Serves 4

1 large globe eggplant, peeled and sliced into 1⁄4-inch rounds

olive oil

1⁄2 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. ground lamb

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

2 Tbs. tomato paste

1⁄4 tsp. salt or to taste

1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper

1⁄2 tsp. dried ground oregano

1 tsp. lemon zest

3 Tbs. flour

2 cups chicken stock, divided

3⁄4 to 1 cup lemon juice

2 eggs, beaten

1⁄2 tsp. paprika

1⁄4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Prepare the eggplant: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large baking tray and place eggplant slices in single layer (use two trays if necessary). Brush tops of slices with a light coating of olive oil. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, turning and brushing tops with additional oil occasionally until the eggplant slices are soft throughout and golden brown. Set aside.

Cook the lamb filling: Over medium-high heat, heat 2 Tbs. of oil and sauté onion until beginning to turn golden. Add garlic and sauté until the onions are beginning to brown. Add lamb, stirring to break up meat. Sauté until the outside of the lamb is just browned. (Drain if desired, discarding fat). Add tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper and oregano. Sauté until lamb is cooked through and tomatoes have begun to soften. Taste and correct seasoning. Add lemon zest and mix well. Set aside.

Make the lemon-egg sauce: Have all ingredients for the sauce ready. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat 2 Tbs. oil. Quickly stir in the flour until it is just incorporated. Be careful not to scorch the flour-oil paste. Add in 1 cup of the chicken stock. Stir or whisk constantly until the flour mixture and the stock are smooth. Add remainder of the chicken stock and the lemon juice. Reduce heat to medium. Bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally. Remove a half-cup of the hot chicken stock mixture and stir into the beaten eggs until well combined. Now slowly drizzle the egg and stock mixture back into the pot, stirring the sauce in the pot the whole time until the egg mixture is fully incorporated. Stirring occasionally, bring the sauce back to a low boil. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture has reduced to about half. Taste and add salt if necessary.

Assemble and bake the moussaka: Preheat oven (or turn down to) 350 degrees. Grease an 8- to 9-inch round casserole. Cover the bottom with half of the baked eggplant slices. Layer with half of the lamb filling. Pour half of the lemon-egg sauce over the lamb. Repeat. Sprinkle top with paprika.

Bake uncovered for 50 to 55 minutes or until top is browned and the sauce is set (it will still be a bit loose when served). Let sit for 10 to 20 minutes before garnishing with chopped parsley. Serve with rice or potatoes to soak up the creamy sauce.

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and blogger. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs her food at www.clickblogappetit. E-mail questions and suggestions to [email protected].

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].