I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a creature of habit. Most of the time, I tend to be a little more comfortable with what I have some experience with and what I can gauge. I have my daily rituals, those things that give me some comfort in a crazy world where circumstances can change on a dime. Things that are familiar to me create a sense of security. Funny enough though, I’m equally attracted to trying something in a new way that will challenge me when it comes to things of a creative nature, because it’s exciting for me to see if an idea I have can be pulled off. I really enjoy thinking outside the box in regards to food and recipes, and giving something familiar that I love a fresh spin for that very reason. Taking a recognizable recipe and keeping its essence intact while presenting it in a new and slightly different way, brings the familiar and the new together.
Not too long ago I was enjoying watching someone prepare the classic Greek dish, “Moussaka”, which is a casserole-style dish comprised of layers of deliciously spiced ground meat, eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes and a cream sauce. Of course, I started getting ideas soon after that of how I could prepare it with a unique twist. When I think about developing a recipe, I usually begin with a mental picture of a dish in my minds eye and imagine the various possibilities with it. Interestingly, what actually piques my curiosity the most is not knowing whether I’ll be able to create the dish in the way that I’ve imagined, and I like to be challenged in that way. I began imagining long, thin slices of grilled eggplant, and rolling them around a savory filling; I wasn’t certain, however, that the eggplant slices would be able to hold it all together. Would they be pliable enough? If so, would they be strong enough and maintain shape while holding secure the ingredients? Hmm. Naturally, I had to try; and of course, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. And it worked! (I love when that happens.) The fun of playing around with something familiar and taking it out of its usual box, is not knowing for sure whether it will work.
Sure, there’s a part of me that really likes sticking to what I have experience with; but I’m also too curious a person not to change things up, and I’m not exactly known for leaving well enough alone. This recipe just so happened to be one of those that ended up coming together even better than I imagined, and I consider that another small, creative challenge won. It’s a twist on the familiar, and also, a little nudge into the new. How delicious!
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Greek-Style, Grilled Eggplant Roll-Ups with Spiced Beef Filling and Creamy Romano Béchamel Sauce
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Romano Béchamel Sauce (recipe below)
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided use, plus extra to drizzle in grill pan
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pound lean ground beef (or lamb)
1 russet potato, peeled and diced into small, ½” cubes
½ teaspoon, plus a pinch, salt (plus extra pinches for eggplant slices)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon black pepper (plus extra pinches for eggplant slices)
¼ teaspoon, plus a pinch, ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
3 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
1 cup diced tomatoes, juice drained out (about one 14.5 ounce can)
6 tablespoons Romano cheese, divided use
2 tablespoons Panko breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided use
1 teaspoon lemon zest, divided use
2 large eggplants (look for ones longer in shape rather than round), sliced lengthwise (not in circles) into 12, ¼”- ½” thick slices (you should get about 6 long slices from each eggplant)
-Begin by preparing the Romano Béchamel Sauce (below), and set aside, keeping warm, until ready to use.
-Prepare the filling for the roll-ups by placing a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat; once the pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil; next, add the chopped onion, and sauté until lightly golden for about 2-3 minutes; next add the ground beef or lamb, and stir to incorporate into the onion, allowing to the meat to cook through a little, about 3-4 minutes; next, add the diced potato and stir in, and then the ½ teaspoon plus a pinch of salt, the dried oregano, the ¼ teaspoon black pepper, the ¼ teaspoon plus a pinch of ground cinnamon and the allspice, and stir to combine; next, add the garlic and the diced tomatoes, stir to incorporate, and reduce the heat to low; cover the pan and allow the filling to cook until the potatoes are tender and the filling is slightly thickened, about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally; once the potatoes in the filling are tender, turn the heat off and add into the filling 2 tablespoons of the Romano cheese, the Panko breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons of the chopped flat-leaf parsley and ½ teaspoon of the lemon zest; stir to combine, cover, and keep warm while you prepare/grill the eggplant.
-Place large grill pan over medium-high heat, and allow it to get very hot; while the pan heats, drizzle about 4 tablespoons worth of olive oil, total, over both sides of the eggplant slices, and season them with generous pinches of the salt and pepper; once the grill pan is hot, add a drizzle of olive oil to the hot pan, and working in batches (if necessary), grill the eggplant slices for about 4 minutes per side, or until tender and golden-brown; once all 12 slices are grilled, allow them to cool only slightly, just so that they can be handled, and prepare to assemble and finish the roll-ups.
To Assemble and Serve:
-Preheat the oven to “Hold Warm”, or 200 degrees if your oven doesn’t have a “Warm” feature; line a baking sheet with parchment or foil, and have it ready at your work area to place the finished eggplant roll-ups onto.
-To make the roll-ups, take one grilled eggplant slice with the wider portion of the slice closest to you, and spoon about 3 generous tablespoons worth of the spiced beef or lamb filling onto the slice, wrap the eggplant around the filling and roll, being careful not to rip the eggplant, as it is delicate; once rolled, place it seam-side down on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and repeat the process with the remaining eggplant slices, making all 12 of the eggplant roll-ups; once all are on the baking sheet, place the baking sheet into the oven long enough only to re-heat the roll-ups, for maybe 10 minutes, depending on how cool they’ve gotten during preparation; remove once they’re warmed through.
-While eggplant roll-ups warm in the oven, prepare a light topping by combining the remaining 4 tablespoons of Romano cheese with remaining 1 tablespoon of chopped flat-leaf parsley and ½ teaspoon lemon zest; use your fingers to toss and combine the topping mixture, and set aside as a garnish.
-To serve, place 3 eggplant roll-ups onto each plate, and drizzle about ¼ -½ cup of the Romano Béchamel Sauce over the roll-ups, and sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of the Romano-Parsley-Zest topping over as garnish.
-Serve with a nice Spinach or Mixed Green Salad on the side.
Romano Béchamel Sauce ingredients:
2 cups low-fat milk
1 ounce butter (2 tablespoons)
1 ounce all-purpose flour (about 3 tablespoons)
¼ teaspoon salt, plus a pinch
• Pinch nutmeg
• Pinch white pepper
½ cup grated Romano cheese
¼ cup grated Parmesan
-In a small pot, bring the milk gently to a simmer over medium-low heat; once the milk is hot, turn off the heat.
-While the milk heats, set a medium sized pot over medium-low heat, and add the butter; once the butter is melted, add the flour and stir to combine, creating a “roux” or thickener for your milk sauce; cook the roux very gently for about 1-2 minutes, then slowly add the hot milk into the roux, whisking the whole time to avoid lumps from forming; once all the milk is added and the mixture has been well whisked and smooth, allow to very gently simmer for about 2-3 minutes to thicken completely, and then turn off the heat; once heat is off, add into the sauce the salt, nutmeg, white pepper, Romano and Parmesan cheeses, and whisk well to completely blend in and make silky smooth; cover the Romano Béchamel Sauce, and keep warm until ready to serve.