You know those days when you get a hankering for a specific cuisine or food, and you feel that you absolutely have to eat it? Anybody who gets sucked into that unforgiving vortex of craving often will agree that it is usually such a comfort to have some sort of go-to place to satiate your hunger. Personally I have a lot of cuisines that I love with a bunch of top-of-mind restaurants that go with them, but whenever I’m in the mood for something Greek I automatically go to Cyma. It may be pricey but it has been around for a while and still never disappoints!
And no this is NOT a sponsored post.
Our last visit was more than a week ago, I think. It was the first time I got to sit in the back area of the small Trinoma branch, and while it does give some privacy I feel it is a bit hidden from the eyes of the waiters. Nonetheless, the staff in any Cyma branch is always on their toes, and always so very accommodating. I think the well-trained staff is one of the restaurant’s strong suits, aside from the food. Of course.
We didn’t order a lot this time around because we were hurrying to catch a movie. (It was X-Men Days of Future Past. It didn’t beat my favourite Marvel movie this year which was Captain America: Winter Soldier, but it was pretty good! What did you guys think of it?) When we’re dining in a restaurant like Cyma- where there are a ton of dishes you want to try and you have the option to get them in family size- we always order a bunch of dishes to share. Just so everyone can have a taste of everything.
First out on the table was the Caramelised Pear Chopped Salad. Loved this one! The addition of caramelised pear makes this salad pleasantly sweet. Pear always goes well with cheese so it was a nice balance of tart and savoury.
A required dish when one pays a visit to any Greek restaurant, in my opinion, is the souvlaki. We went for a Mahi-Mahi Souvlaki for this visit since I don’t believe we’ve eaten any fish souvlaki before. Roll it in some pita bread with parsley salad and yoghurt garlic sauce then enjoy the party in your mouth!
Next up is the Watercress Pasta, which is fairly simple and straightforward but also very nicely flavoured. I just love getting that fresh watercress crunch against the al dente pasta. The light saltiness of the pecorino-goat cheese combo contrasted nicely against the fruity olive oil notes.
We also had the Loin Chop with Meatless Moussaka to round out the meal. No one does lamb like the Greeks, I can tell ya that much!
And of course, no Greek meal is complete without their melt-in-your-mouth national dish: the moussaka.
After this Cyma meal was when I got the crazy idea to make moussaka at home. I call it crazy because I kind of exhausted myself from the effort, stressing myself out because I felt like I did a bunch of things wrong. For one thing, because I didn’t time the start of this recipe right I was running late for lunch and had to take the moussaka out of the oven before the bechamel could be browned. Speaking of bechamel, I was nervous about not seasoning it right! I also could have made do with more eggplants to make nice uniform layers.
To say I was shocked at how well-received it was on the dining table would be an understatement though. More than half that moussaka was gone in just a few minutes after I laid it down!
Now I am not saying at all that making this dish is incredibly hard, but I have to admit it does entail a lot of work. And quite frankly it’s not something you should attempt when you’re baking/cooking two other things at the same time!
Normally I don’t have a problem multi-tasking in the kitchen, but with a recipe that has a bunch of components like this one that requires you to cook all of them before throwing them into a pan and baking in the oven, let’s just say this particular multi-tasking session wasn’t one of my brightest. I kind of wished at that moment that I had eight arms like an octopus, because all the semi-flustered running around I did almost made our small kitchen seem so huge.
That said, this particular recipe came together rather well. The savoury meatsauce soaks right into the potatoes and eggplants, and eaten together with the creamy bechamel, the moussaka is a wonderful experience in both flavour and texture. I didn’t have time to do some food-styling because I was really hungry by the time I got this out of the oven! All I thought about was getting the photos over with so I could gobble this slice up. 🙂
Makes one 9x13-inch pan
- 2 large eggplants, sliced 1/3-inch lengthwise*
- 2 large baking potatoes, peeled and sliced lengthwise
- olive oil, for the pan
- 1 to 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1.5 pounds ground beef or lamb
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/4 heaping teaspoon ground allspice or cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley (or about 1.5 Tablespoons dried)**
- salt and pepper
- 1 stick butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups milk (at least 2%), kept warm
- about 1/4 fresh nutmeg (or 1 teaspoon powdered)
- salt and pepper
- 1 cup kefalotyri (or Romano) cheese
- 4 large eggs
- a little extra cheese
- 1. Layer eggplants in a colander, sprinkling them with salt as you go. Put the colander over a bowl to catch drippings. Let the eggplant sit for about 30 minutes to draw water out, then rinse the eggplant slices and pat them dry well.
- 2. Heat oven to 375°F (190°C). Lightly brush a baking pan or two with olive oil, place the eggplant slices on the pan, and brush the tops with a little more oil. Season the eggplant with pepper and roast about 20 minutes or until tender, but not mushy.
- 3. Heat a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onion and let it sweat for a little bit before adding the beef or lamb. Brown the meat completely and drain if necessary.
- 4. Stir in the garlic and tomato paste and cook it off a little before adding the water. Stir to combine the water and paste well, then add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, parsley, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 35-45 minutes.
- 5. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, and then add the flour. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon until your roux is golden and the flour is cooked off.
- 6. Slowly add the warm milk, switching to a whisk if necessary to get rid of any clumps. Heat the mixture until it thickens and can coat the back of the wooden spoon.
- 7. Stir in the nutmeg and turn off the heat, add salt and pepper to taste, and the cheese. Then, mix in the eggs well. Taste your bechamel and add more seasonings to taste. You might need quite a bit of salt and pepper for a batch as big as this. (If you do not wish to eat raw eggs, just taste the sauce before they go in as eggs will not really alter the taste much.)
- 8. In a nonstick pan, heat some olive oil. Sprinkle the potato slices with salt and pepper and pan-fry in the oil until they are almost, but not completely, cooked through. Place the fried potatoes in a 9 × 13-inch baking dish.
- 9. After the eggplant has roasted, layer half of it on top of the potatoes. Then, pour the meatsauce on top, followed by another layer of eggplant. Layer the eggplant as closely together as possible, trying to not leave any holes where the bechamel would slip through.
- 10. Finally, pour the bechamel on top and sprinkle a little bit of extra cheese on top. Bake the moussaka for about 40 minutes or until the bechamel has firmed up and is golden on top. Let the moussaka set for 20 minutes before slicing into it.
- * Whether or how you peel the eggplants is up to you. I run my peeler in alternating strips around the eggplant, leaving some areas unpeeled.
- ** I substituted with basil since I didn't have parsley.