Musacaa: Egyptian-Style Stewed Eggplant with Chickpeas

Musacaa, also known as Egyptian moussaka, is a braised – or stewed – eggplant and tomato dish. The addition of chickpeas adds protein making this a good entree for Lent or Meatless Mondays.

My favorite color is purple. Have I mentioned that to you before?

Equal amounts of high energy red and calming stable blue, it's a well balanced, luxurious color. 

And it's the color of one of my favorite vegetables.

Eggplant is often described as having a creamy texture with a meaty flavor. But really, it all depends on the preparation. I have recipes here on this site that includes breading in panko and parmesan and shallow frying for a satisfying "steak" alongside a salad. I have it baked and stuffed. Or breaded, fried, and layered between cheese and tomato sauce. I have it thinly sliced, baked and rolled around pesto covered angel hair pasta and slathered in a chunky tomato sauce. 

All of these are good, dare I even say, great. 

But then I tried musacaa. 

Of course, it wasn't called that when I ordered it. Allow me to rewind a bit.

Several folks at work banded together a few years ago to sign up for an office lunch meal delivery service. Usually, I skip it because it's often pasta or overly bready sandwiches or, ew, sushi. But a few times a month, it's Mediterranean/Turkish/North African and I will partake.

Back in October, on a particularly chilly day, an offering on the delivery service included a vegetarian dish which they called moussaka. I was intrigued because every Greek moussaka dish I had ever had always contained meat so I assumed this would be layered eggplant and potatoes minus the meat but still topped with the traditional thick layer of Béchamel sauce. I was wrong.

When it arrived, it was this ridiculously smooth, luxurious concoction of chunky roasted eggplant, tomatoes and chickpeas with no potatoes, no meat, no Béchamel in sight. It was also heaven in a bowl and I had to learn what it was and how to make it at home. STAT.

Several weeks of research later, the closest I came to figuring out what I actually had (because remembering the name of the restaurant and calling them to find out was just too logical and would, of course, begin with remembering the name of the restaurant. Duh.), I discovered was most likely the Egyptian version of moussaka called musacaa (I also found variant spellings of it as mesa'a'ah and misa'a'ah).

The dish I had was definitely not spicy so I didn't include hot peppers in my version. It did have hints of warming spices in it, which I include. Also, the main theme of all the versions I found was to separately deep-fry the onions, the eggplant, the peppers and generally bathe everything in copious amounts of olive oil. And, yes, I know, eggplant fried in tons of olive oil is definitely a thing of beauty but in no scenario can that ever be called healthy.

I found a version that is the main source of my adaptation which calls for a method that I already employ often when cooking eggplant: lightly oiled slices of eggplant get roasted in place of frying. Plus, the onions and peppers are sautéd instead of getting deep fried. I've added chickpeas for protein and added fiber. Besides, I love chickpeas. I love the name. I love saying the name. Chickpeas. So much sexier than saying 'garbanzo beans'. I mean, really, am I not right?

I think this is my new favorite way to eat eggplant. I hope it becomes yours, too.

Until next time, friends. Peace and good health... xo, ani

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Musacaa: Egyptian-Style Stewed Eggplant
A healthier, non-spicy version of this Egyptian dish subs out deep-frying eggplant for roasted eggplant. The addition of chickpeas adds protein. Served over your favorite grain, this makes a great meatless meal.
  • 2 - 2 ½ pounds globe eggplants (about 2 large), sliced into ½-inch thick rounds
  • olive oil, as needed
  • sea salt, to taste
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound vine ripened tomatoes, sliced into ¼-inch thick rounds
  • 1 large onion, diced (about 2 ½ cups)
  • 1 large green bell pepper, diced
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 cups tomato puree (I like Italian style 'passata")
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 (16 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
For serving
  • cooked rice, quinoa or couscous
  • chopped cilantro
  • warmed flatbread
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush three sheet pans with olive oil. Arrange sliced eggplant in a single layer on pans. Brush with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Flip slices and repeat oil and seasoning. Working in batches if needed, roast the eggplant in the oven for 24 minutes, flipping once halfway through roasting so both sides get evenly browned. Remove from oven and set aside.While the eggplant is roasting, prep the rest of the vegetables, slicing the tomatoes, dicing the onions and peppers. Also, add the cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, clove and sea salt to a small bowl; set aside. Mince the garlic; set aside.Place a stockpot on medium low heat. Once hot, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and swirl to coat bottom of pot. Add the onions, stirring every 45 seconds for 15 minutes or until the onions have evenly caramelized to a light golden color. Don't rush this by turning up the heat; you need to cook them slowly so they release their natural sugars. Once the onions are a light golden brown, pour in a ¼ cup of water to deglaze the pan and continue to cook for 5 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Toss in the bell peppers, stir, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Clear the center of the pot and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Toss in the garlic and spices and stir continuously for 30 seconds before adding the tomato paste; stir to incorporate. Pour in the tomato puree. Fill the empty jar with water to almost full, cap and shake, then add to pot. Pour in the 3 cups of water and stir in the chickpeas. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove all but 1 cup of sauce from the pot to a large bowl or container. Place a single layer of eggplant in the pot. Add a ladleful of sauce to cover. Next add a layer of tomatoes and cover them with a ladleful of sauce. Continue layering, alternating between vegetables and sauce until all are in the pot. Simmer on low for 30 minutes. Serve over your favorite cooked grain with flatbread and garnished with chopped cilantro.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 6 servings