Layers of grilled eggplant, zucchini, and peppers interspersed with lamb, beef, and lentils make this a hearty dish for a crowd or a perfect meal to have as leftovers throughout the week. It can even be spooned up and served with eggs in the morning. The besar and cloves are heavenly spice companions to the earthiness of the eggplant. A bit like a Greek moussaka without the bechamel.
If you choose, just use ground lamb without the beef. Should your store only sell one-pound packages then you can brown all two pounds and freeze the unused half of the browned meat in a plastic container to be ready for the next time. That’s what I do.
I’ve made variations of this dish for countless events and have settled on using our tomato compote, spooned around the irregular layers of vegetables and meat, for the sauce that holds all the ingredients in place. It’s thicker and more flavorful than marinara. Unlike a classic lasagne, these differently shaped vegetables meld together in a delightful fusion of flavors and textures. We use besar spice (used extensively in the Emirates), cloves, garlic and whole fennel seed. Cinnamon is a component of besar, so feel free to use it as a substitute along with a pinch of some heat. I buy my besar at World Spice in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. They ship anywhere in the United States and are one of the best spice shops in the country.
This recipe requires a 75 minute bake.
Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake, heat oven to 350-375 degrees (it takes me about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes to get all the ingredients cooked and ready to assemble).
Make tomato compote (3 minutes active time: open can, open package, pour in ½ cup olive oil–you will add garlic later because this recipe calls for garlic–cook down on medium for 20- 25 minutes, stirring several times–salt to taste) and set aside. Or use store bought marinara.
Measure 1/2 cup lentils, rinse and then add them to a pan with 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Gently simmer until just barely cooked. Drain immediately under cold water (to stop cooking) and set lentils aside.
Brown the meat with the large yellow diced onion until cooked through. Drain fat, salt and pepper to taste, and set meat aside in a bowl.
Slice eggplant into 1/2 inch rounds and toast eggplant as described in technique section. Set on wire rack to cool.
As the eggplant is grilling, slice the ends off zucchini to make a flat surface and stand on end. If the squash are long cut in half lengthwise. Stand zucchini on end and cut slices lengthwise.
Save the outer sections with the skin– you’ll grill and add them later.
While the pans are still warm grill the zucchini slices, brushing them VERY LIGHTLY with a bit of olive oil as needed and set on wire rack to cool.
Seed and slice peppers lengthwise, as the zucchini is grilling. Once a pan is available give them a sauté with several teaspoons of olive oil, and set aside.
To the finished tomato compote, add 3 cloves of pressed or minced garlic (if you have not done so already), the besar (or cinnamon), cloves, and fennel seed. Salt and pepper to taste.
Add about ½ cup compote or less to the bottom of the casserole and layer eggplant.
Then add half of the meat mixture over the eggplant, half of the zucchini, some lentils and some of the peppers and place spoonfuls of the compote on top as pictured below.
Repeat process and create another layer. Lightly cover with foil (don’t crimp tightly) and bake in a 375-400 degree oven for 60 minutes. While dish bakes, slice the outside zucchini strips you didn’t use, and sauté. If you have used all the sweet peppers in the dish, you may choose to sauté a few more slices for the topping.
Take dish from oven and remove foil (it will not be replaced). Spread one burrata round over the top, breaking it into pieces. Add little pieces of zucchini and a few lentils if you have any remaining.
Bake, uncovered, for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let it set up for 10-15 minutes before slicing. You can add a few more lentils or peppers at this point if you desire.