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Mediterranean Vegetable-Beef Bake

This dish is a little unusual, but, if you like moussaka, you'll probably like Mediterranean Vegetable-Beef Bake--particularly because it's easier, faster, and, I think, lighter and better tasting. It includes plenty of eggplant and other summer vegetables. Garlic and warm spices add an impressive savory-sweet-smoky flavor, and chickpeas provide protein as well as a bit of creamy nuttiness to the dish. I usually chop the vegetables in advance, mix them with their accompanying spices and olive oil, and pop them in the refrigerator until I'm almost ready to use them. Just pull the vegetables out 30 minutes or so before you're ready to bake them to let them warm to room temperature. The vegetables begin cooking in the oven while you brown the beef in a skillet (which you also can do in advance, if you want). You then top the vegetables with the browned beef and sliced tomatoes. While the vegetable-beef mixture continues to cook, you mix up an easy tahini sauce--no fussy béchamel. The tahini sauce then bakes on top of the vegetables and beef. The dish needs to stand about 10 minutes to firm up. Rice, a green salad, and pita or flatbread make great accompaniments.

Mediterranean Vegetable-Beef Bake with Tahini Sauce

Mediterranean Vegetable-Beef Bake -- Serves 6+

3-4 Japanese/Chinese eggplants, trimmed (not peeled) and sliced into rounds

3-4 medium zucchini, sliced into rounds

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 cup of chopped red, yellow, or orange bell pepper (or a mixture)

2 teaspoons of garlic powder, divided

1 1/4 teaspoons of cinnamon, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons of cumin, divided

1 teaspoon of coriander

1/2 teaspoon of lemon pepper

2 teaspoons of salt, divided

1 tablespoon of dried parsley

1 teaspoon of sweet paprika

1 14-16-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed well

1/4 cup of olive oil

1 pound of lean ground beef (90-93 percent)

3 large tomatoes, cored and sliced

1 cup of tahini

1/4 cup of lemon juice

Fresh parsley leaves (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet or cake pan (9 x 13-inches) with aluminum foil and coat the foil with non-stick cooking spray. Spread out half of the eggplant slices on a microwave-safe plate lined with a paper towel. Cover the eggplant with another paper towel and microwave the slices for about 5 minutes or until they release much of their water and soften a little. Repeat the process with the remaining eggplant slices. Put the eggplant slices, zucchini, onion, chopped bell pepper, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of cumin, coriander, lemon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, dried parsley, chickpeas, and olive oil in a large, preferably zip lock, plastic bag and gently shake or turn the bag to coat all the vegetables with the spices and oil. Spread the vegetable mixture out on the sheet pan evenly and bake the vegetables for 20-25 minutes or until they are beginning to soften.

While the vegetables are baking, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Crumble in the beef and add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of cumin and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon,1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder. Cook the beef and spice mixture for 10-15 minutes or until the beef has browned and cooked through. Remove the vegetable mixture from the oven and spread the ground beef evenly on top of the vegetables. Lay the tomato slices on top of the ground beef and return the pan to the oven for another 10 minutes.

While the pan is in the oven, in a large bowl or measuring container, whisk together until smooth the tahini, lemon juice, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1 1/4 cups of water. The mixture will be the consistency of heavy cream. Remove the pan from the oven and pour the tahini sauce evenly over the vegetable-beef mixture. Return the pan to the oven for 10-15 minutes more or until the tahini sauce is set and bubbly. Let the vegetable-beef bake stand for 10-15 minutes before serving it. Garnish the dish with fresh parsley leaves, if you like.

Mediterranean Vegetable-Beef Bake

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