The other day I was searching for a recipe in my own collection, which is housed in a small tin box. This box is one of my most treasured possessions. Contained within are handwritten recipes from my Grandmother, my Mother, family, and friends. These are my go-to dishes; the recipes I make again and again. The “I almost have the recipe memorized, but still consult the card just to make sure I didn’t miss anything” dishes. So, imagine my surprise when I came across a single card from my mother’s vintage collection tucked into the Main Dishes section. The recognition was immediate and it brought a smile to my face. It is the only recipe that was ever moved from the see through plastic box into the beloved tin. The only one that broke up the set. It was the recipe for Moussaka-in-a-Hurry. Here's the story:
Valentine’s Day, 1991. A young woman is frantically trying to find the perfect dish to make for her new boyfriend. It is their first Valentine’s Day together. Home from college, she remembers her Mother’s collection of recipe cards and how sophisticated they all seemed when she was five. She pores through each section and settles upon a dish called Moussaka-in-a-Hurry. She reasons that, since her boyfriend loves all sorts of food from other countries, why not Greece? Greece seems like it would have some romantic food. Also, he's studying to become an architect and Greece has the Acropolis. It was all coming together. This meal worked on so many levels.
Looking back, it is important to note that I knew Moussaka was a tasty dish. I had first tried it in the summer of 1990, on a trip to Europe. Basically, it is a casserole of fresh vegetables and ground meat in a creamy, béchamel-type sauce. The recipe for Moussaka-in-a-Hurry was reminiscent of that dish in the sense that it had ground beef and eggplant. In all other ways, however, it bore absolutely no resemblance. One of the ingredients, especially, made me raise an eyebrow: Campbell’s Cheddar Cheese Soup. I remember feeling slightly crestfallen. After all, I wanted to impress my boyfriend with not only my culinary skills, but also my globe-trekking worldliness, regaling him with tales of my travels and trying Moussaka for the first time. All of a sudden, my cosmopolitan dish was taken down a few pegs. Really? Condensed soup? In place of béchamel? Still, I made it and it was a huge success. My boyfriend loved it, especially the sauce. He inquired what it was and I just smiled and said, “it’s a secret”.
Now, twenty-five years later, I still make this dish for him at least once a year. Usually on Valentine’s Day or our anniversary. On Valentine’s Day, 2005, I finally told him what the secret ingredient was.