'The Chef' is more than a mythical figment of my imagination. While becoming a regular at 'The Chef's Corner' in Naperville, we became good friends. The friendship started on our love for the game of basketball spilling over to ethnic culinary arts. We stay in touch by having him pass on the recipes that I became accustomed to eating while visiting his restaurant.
A few months pass until the topic of Drazen is ever brought up again. Then ESPN ran that 'Once Brothers' 30 for 30 show.
The day after the show aired, I ran over to Chef's Corner:
Me: Chef! Drazen was on ESPN last night.
Me: I didn't know that it was like that...
Chef never making eye contact with me, speaking in a serious somber voice: Drazen practiced 3am shooting thousands of shots. The only one other than MJ that could speak to the crowd. Sit down, I make Moussaka like we did at home. No more talk, you eat now.
That is when it hit me that Chef was never talking down to MJ, he saw his country become on of the elites of the world and his pride for his country was never blinding him...he was just speaking the truth.
Moussaka was served maybe around three or four times during the winter months. Think of this like a lasagna but without noodles. The procedure below uses eggplant but can be substituted with potatoes. You will need a very large and deep pan for this. Do not be surprised that this will serve at least six people.
Typically, I heavily edit the emails that Chef provides prior to posting but he clearly wanted to write this on his own and share with everyone that visited his restaurant. Chef's Corner was an extension of his home with this exact dish being his way of welcoming everyone to his country. The following is in his words exactly (with a few editorial grammar changes).
3 or 4 eggplants
3 ponds of ground chuck
1 cubanelle pepper
3 cloves of garlic
1 medium onion(yellow)
oregano, cinnamon ,salt,black pepper
1 small can of tomato paste
Sauce for topping:
- 3 eggs
- 16oz of sour cream
- 1 cup of plain yogurt
- Parmesan cheese
Peel and slice eggplants. Sprinkle salt over and let it stand for 30 minutes.
Rinse under the cold water and pat dry with paper towel.
Heat olive oil in saute pan and briefly fry eggplant slices and put on plate with paper towels (to absorb oil).
Heat olive oil again and add ground chuck and brown it.
Add diced vegetables to meat and let it cook for 5 minutes(until is soft) and then add tomato paste and seasoning with one cup of chicken stock(or cup of water with cube of chicken or beef bouillon).
Bring to boil and take of the heat.
Butter 9x12 in glass baking dish(or any other deep baking dish).
Layer the bottom of the dish with eggplant slices.
Add half of meat mixture over eggplant slices,then cover with eggplant slices
again,and put rest of the meat mixture over second layer and finish with eggplant slices on top.
Put a little of oil on top (with melted butter).Bake in oven on 350F for about 30-40minutes.
In mean time, mix eggs with sour cream,yogurt, Parmesan,salt,pepper.
When moussaka is baked in oven(30or 40 min),pour this mixture over whole moussaka and put back in oven for about 10 more minutes until is done (should get beautiful brown crust).
I like to serve this with salad made of Boston lettuce,cucumbers,green onion seasoned with olive oil,sea salt and fresh lemon juice).
We cut moussaka in squares.
with love by Chef
Vedad Vrselj calls Travnik home despite being forced out during the Bosnian War. His former restaurant in Naperville remains one of the most respected and highly reviewed eateries in the area winning awards for best burger and infuriated competition with better ingredients for less money (His yelp reviews). His cult following continues with catering to the Chicagoland area and stays in touch with his Facebook page.