Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dolma Style Lamb and Swiss Chard Spring Moussaka

What a moody spring!!! Moody, moody, moody. I went to the market and even though we are only half a week away from the Memorial Day, the market is still kind of empty. You may observe that I am trying really hard here not to use the word "lousy". I am trying really hard here not to be unkind and give market a chance but the market refuses to love me back. It was chard and spring onions people! Chard and spring onions. One needs a lot of imagination and culinary love to make things happen with chard and spring onions, and I am stretching my imagination all the way to the neighboring universes with this moussaka. Growing up, moussaka was almost like a fourth family member, because my dad has a thing or two for it; he still cannot help but turn a pan of moussaka at least once a week. Potato, zucchini, eggplant, you name it. And it can be breaded or grilled, and it can be beef or pork, and it can be egg or béchamel. Dolmas were a family member too, so here I am, in a creative pinch, combining the two...

Veggies might be a bit disappointing this week, but on a positive side, flowers are kind of nice.

And on an even more positive side, a couple of days ago I did the unimaginable. (Nothing to do with cooking, but I still feel like reporting back.)

I did something I have not done in a looooooooong time. Something I have not done since childhood.

I took off my shoes and walked barefoot in the rain.


It's funny how we, the city creatures, are deprived of the simplest pleasures. Like smelling the spring as it makes its way through the area, or touching the salty winds that come from the harbor, or feeling the heaviness of the soil after a downpour, when the downpour restores to the earth what the heat has taken...

... like walking barefoot in the rain.

Have you ever tried walking barefoot down Broadway or along the 7th avenue, or anywhere in Gotham for that matter? Me neither.

Anyhow, two days ago I left my house for work and walked into a lovely sunny morning. The kind of late spring morning that makes you feel brand new and gives you the wings that take you places, and makes you wear your new silk dress and your best dark blue ballerinas with a big flower of white silk.

I walked out and drove off to work. My work hours stretch kind of late these days and when I walked out of the lab, wearing my most favorite ballerinas with a big flower of white silk, I walked into a downpour of a moody spring. I waited a little, then I waited some more, and when I got tired of waiting, I took off the shoes, packed them in my bag and took a walk down the parking lot.

It felt good. It felt incredible, the puddles of water were warm, and clean and welcoming, so I put the bag into my car, and walked up and down the empty parking lot like there is no tomorrow.

Don't you love these silly little moments that make us happy, vibrant and alive?

As I write this mini-post, the rain has dried out, and the sun is blasting now out there and it is really hot, just like you would expect from a pre-Momorial Day spring. But my feet are still wet and happy, dancing in that puddle of water.

Have a great holiday folks!

Dolma Style Lamb and Swiss Chard Spring Moussaka  

This is a moussaka that honors the spring. I deliberately did not use any binding material (no eggs or bechamel) because I wanted it to be light and seasonal. As a result, the dish will be fairly loose -- do not expect the layers to hold together tightly. If you like a more traditional moussaka, feel free to go down the bechamel route.

* 1 lb 6 oz ground lamb
* 2 generous bunches of Swiss chard (about 20 oz total)
* 1 small yellow onion (about 4 oz), chopped finely
* about 4 oz baby (spring) shallots (white and light green parts only), sliced thinly crosswise
* 4 garlic cloves, minced
* 1/4 cup pine nuts 

* juice of one lemon
* 2 oz Thompson raisins
* 1 tsp herbs de Provance
* 1 tbsp dried oregano
* about 6 tbsp olive oil, plus more for brushing the pan and the moussaka
* salt and freshly ground black pepper


* one 10x12-inch baking pan, Dutch oven or casserole

Wash the chard thoroughly. Cut off the stems. With a vegetable peeler or sharp knife, carefully shave off the thickest part of the vein in the middle of the leaf (but do not remove it completely). Set aside.

In a medium pan, over medium heat, heat four tablespoons of oil until it is hot but not smoking. Add the meat and brown it gently for a couple of minutes. The meat will release a lot of juices -- do not let the juices evaporate
completely. Transfer the meat and the juices to a bowl.

Heat the remaining oil. Add the onions and sauté until soft, for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic, and sauté for about a minute or two, until garlic becomes fragrant. Add the shallots and sauté for another two minutes, until the shallots begin to soften. Remove the pan from the heat and add the meat with its juices, raisins, pine nuts, herbs de Provance, lemon juice and oregano. Season generously with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Oil the pan generously with olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 365F convection (390F regular bake)

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat until water is at simmer. Line a work surface or a chopping board with kitchen towel. Place about three or so chard leaves into the simmering water and blanch for about a minute, until the leaves begin to soften. Using kitchen tongs, take the leaves out of the water, and place them on the towel to dry. Transfer the leaves to the baking pan. Repeat the process until the bottom of the pan is completely covered in chard leaves. Then repeat the entire process again, until you have two layers of leaves. Now take a couple of tablespoons of meat and spread on top of the leaves. Repeat the process, two layers or leaves, a layer of meat, until you have nothing left and your moussaka is topped with two layers of Swiss chard.

Cover the baking pan tightly with a foil, and place in the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes. Take the moussaka out, uncover, and gently oil the top surface. Cover with the foil again, and bake for another 15 minutes. Take the moussaka out, remove the foil and place the pan back in the oven for another ten or so minutes, or until the top layer is caramelized and crispy. Remove the pan from the oven and let the moussaka cool down. Serve gently warm with yogurt and a slice of lemon on the side.

 Serves 4


  1. Your moussaka looks great! We have plenty of zucchini on market, and stuffed zucchini(and peppers) are on the menu every week. Next week it will be zucchini moussaka... These precious moments appear suddenly, and we have to be prepared to catch them. Like taking pictures...

    1. Jasmina, I ENVY you, it feels like late spring and summer produce will never come here. I crave stuffed veggies, but it does not feel the same when we make them so out of season.

  2. Wonderful Aleksandra, the moussaka is wonderful. I will say it the farmers market is LOUSY, I go every weekend and leave disappointed, its terribly frustrating. There should be a roving band of reporters that report on the state of the market, maybe an app or blog or something. I want strawberries and blueberries and berries of all kinds, beautiful fruit and vegetables. You certainly made the best of the disappointing produce and made a gorgeous meal.

    1. On a second thought, we really ought to blame it on us, because we are messing up with the climate and this planet. I kind of thought that the winter was mild and everything will bloom quicker, but this is a new state of sad.

  3. What a wonderful post Aleksandra! I am just waiting for it to get warm enough to run in puddles, lol. Our farmer's market doesn't open here until June 12, with good reason. There would be zero to sell, ha! Our climate on the high Central Oregon desert is too cold to allow anything of decency to be offered before then. But that is a lovely Mousakka, bechamel or not... xo

  4. Absolutely love your beautiful spring green photos. I've been getting wonderfully fresh swiss chard from the farmer's market and your light and flavorful moussaka sounds like a delicious way of using some of it.

    1. It's kind of interesting, my market too is overflowing with the most gorgeous Swiss chard, most unusual as I have never seen so much chard at the market. But it is one of my favorite veggies, so why complaint... Today I made the moussaka again, this time with chicken meat, and liked it a lot.

  5. I came for the food but stayed for the beautiful writing. Your posts have so much soul and personality, they give you the wings that take you places! :) Reading this and your other posts has been an extraordinary experience. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, it's very kind of you to take time to stop by and let me know.


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