Whenever I heard the word "papoutsakia" in Greek cooking, I would fall into mad hysterics. To anyone who doesn't speak Greek, "papoutsakia" literally translates as little shoes!
Me: what's for dinner tonight?
And on it went!
Basically to the uninitiated, the dish is eggplants stuffed with cooked mince meat and topped with a cheesy, béchamel sauce. The dish receives its name because the eggplants look like little shoes when they are cooked.
I like to think of this dish as a mini moussaka. Ok, I know there are no potatoes or zucchini present but the taste is quite similar.
Pastitsio will always be my true and first love but these stuffed eggplant come a good second. It must have something to do with the béchamel sauce. It just "makes it".
The dish might seem a little rich, especially for summer but this is when eggplants are at their peak. I also like to prepare these a day ahead and serve them up the next day. Heat them up in a warm oven or let them come to room temperature and serve them with a nice Greek salad and some crusty bread.
And like most things in Greek cooking nothing goes to waste. The scooped flesh from the eggplants is added to the meat sauce. I also like to spice up my sauce by adding a little cinnamon and ground cloves.
The béchamel is enhanced by adding grated kefalotyri. This hard, salty cheese adds another level to the whole dish. If you can't find kefalotyri you can easily substitute Parmesan, pecorino or Romano.
- 2 medium-large eggplants
- 250 grams of minced beef
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 1 carrot, finely diced
- 1 stalk of celery finely diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 250 grams of canned tomatoes (passata is good and freshly grated tomatoes even better)
- 1 tbsp of tomato paste
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1tsp ground cloves
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup of water
- 30 grams butter
- 1 tbsp of plain flour
- 1 cup of lukewarm milk
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 100 grams of grated kefalotyri cheese
- Cut the eggplants in half. Using a pairing knife score the around the inner flesh leaving a small border. Using a spoon carefully scoop out the flesh. Dice the scooped flesh and set aside.
- Fry the eggplant halves in a little olive oil. This is to soften the flesh. Fry each side on a medium heat for 5 mins. Once cooked place the eggplant halves on a pre oiled baking tray.
- Pour a little olive oil in a medium sized pot and fry the onion, carrot, celery and garlic until the mixture becomes translucent.
- Add the diced eggplant and saute for a few mins until softened. Add the beef mince and break it up using a wooden spoon. Once the meat is browned add the tomatoes, tomato paste, spices, salt and pepper and the water. Bring to a boil and allow the sauce to simmer for 30 mins.
- Whilst the sauce is simmering prepare the béchamel. Add the butter to a small pot. Once it melts add the flour and stir continuously for a few mins. (we want to remove the flour taste from the roux). Add the lukewarm milk to the flour/butter mixture and stir vigorously. Add the nutmeg and cheese and continue to stir until the sauce thickens. Set aside.
- Fill the eggplant halves with the meat sauce. Top with béchamel and bake in a pre heated 180 deg C oven for 40 mins or until browned on top. Allow to cool a little before serving or alternatively serve the next day.