Legendary in Greek cuisine, Moussaka has got to be the ultimate in comfort food – Greek style. A moussaka has layers of juicy beef mince, eggplant and a creamy bechamel sauce. While still keeping with tradition, l’ve added a couple of special touches for extra indulgence.
I won’t lie to you by saying that moussaka or moussakas (as we Greeks call it) won’t require a substantial amount of cookware (pots, pans and baking trays) to put together, but the simplicity of the ingredients, cooking methods and the gorgeous luscious layers of this dish make it very worthwhile.
The Bechamel. You can stick to a basic bechamel of butter, flour and milk if you wish, or you can take it to another level by quickly whisking in one egg to the prepared sauce. This will give the bechamel a beautiful gloss, and puffs up beautifully as it bakes. Parmesan cheese stirred through the sauce and sprinkled on top just before the moussaka goes in the oven will also add extra flavour.
The Vegetables: I’ve added a layer of potatoes to my moussaka, which is optional. It not only makes the moussaka even more satisfying, but gives it a slightly firmer base for slicing. Other versions of moussaka also add a layer of sliced zucchini.
Earlier this year, my daughters took themselves off on a self-funded European vacation. Whilst island hopping, they made a point of sending me photos of moussaka every time they ordered it.
I wasn’t sure at the time if there was a message behind this, but when they returned home, they assured me that my moussaka is far superior. That’s all a mother ever wants to hear!
Thank you girls and NO l’m not paying off your credit cards!
PS The most efficient way to work through the stages of a moussaka is to get your meat sauce on the stove first, then bake your eggplants and potatoes. While they are baking, make your bechamel sauce.
Preparation Time: 2 hrs Cooking Time: 30 – 40 mins Servings: 6
- 3 medium size eggplants (aubergines) cut lengthwise in 1 cm/1/2″ slices
- 500 g/1 lb potatoes sliced in 1/2 cm/1/4 ” circles
- 1/2 cup olive oil (approximately)
- 500 g/1 lb beef mince/ground beef
- 1 large onion, chopped finely
- 1 x 400 g/14 oz tin of chopped tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/3 cup water, stock (any type) or red wine
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 tsp sugar
- salt, pepper to taste
Bechamel Sauce (note 1)
- 70 g/2 oz plain/all purpose flour
- 60 g/2 oz unsalted butter
- 3 cups (750 ml/1.5 pt milk (very warm)
- 1 egg, lightly beaten (note 2)
- 50 g parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
- salt, pepper to taste
- optional: 1/4 tsp nutmeg
Extra: 1 tbsp of butter for greasing the baking dish
Eggplants (note 3)
- Sprinkle salt on both sides of the eggplants. Place in a colander and allow them to sweat for 30 mins – 1 hr.
- Pat dry with paper towels. Preheat oven to 190 C/ 375 F.
- Line 2-3 baking trays with baking/parchment paper. Brush both sides of the eggplants with olive oil and bake for 20 mins, until soft but not mushy. Set aside.
Potatoes (note 4)
- Line 1-2 baking trays with baking/parchment paper. Brush sliced potatoes with olive oil. Bake at 190 C/ 375 F for 15-20 mins, until tender. Set aside.
- Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until soft and golden (5 – 7 mins).
- Turn the heat up to high. Add the meat, breaking up any clumps with a wooden spoon. Saute until the the meat has browned and the liquid has evaporated (8 – 10 mins).
- Add the garlic. Cook for 30 secs. Stir through the tomato paste. Cook for 1 min.
- Add the tin of tomatoes, sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and 1/3 cup of stock.
- Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to the point where the sauce is gently simmering.
- Cook uncovered for 30-40 minutes. Stir a couple of times during the cooking process. The meat sauce needs to be quite thick. Have a taste and adjust the seasoning if required.
- Melt butter over moderate low heat in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and stir continuously (1 min). You will end up with a sandy-coloured paste.
- At this point, l switch my wooden spoon for a whisk. Add 1 cup of milk and stir vigorously to prevent any lumps from forming. You will feel it thicken quickly. It will loosen as you add more milk (1 – 2 mins).
- Turn the heat up to moderate high. Add another cup of milk and stir until well incorporated (1 min).
- Add the final cup of milk and continue stirring until the sauce starts to boil. Then reduce down to moderate heat. Make sure you stir to the edges of the saucepan and across the base to prevent the sauce from sticking.
- Continue stirring until a smooth, thick sauce forms (5 – 8 mins). If you feel your sauce is too thin, continue cooking/stirring until it thickens.
- Remove from the stove. Quickly whisk in the lightly beaten egg. Add the parmesan cheese. Have a taste. Season with salt (if required), white pepper and a dash of nutmeg.
- Preheat oven to 180 C/375 F
- Butter the base and sides of a medium baking dish. I used a 24 cm x 24 cm / 9.5″ x 9.5″ baking dish.
- Layer with the potatoes. Lightly salt.
- Layer with the eggplants. Lightly salt.
- Layer with the meat sauce. Spread it evenly.
- Layer with the bechamel sauce. Smooth out with a spatula if necessary.
- Bake for 30-40 mins or until a golden crust forms on the surface (note 5).
- The bechamel sauce l make is lighter than the more thick ‘custard-like’ bechamel of a traditional moussaka. To make a thicker bechamel sauce please make the following adjustments: 90 g / 3 oz plain / all purpose flour and 90 / 3 oz butter. The remainder of the ingredients remain exactly the same.
- The egg adds a gorgeous gloss to the bechamel, and puffs up beautifully in the oven. If you make the bechamel sauce ahead of time, cover it with cling wrap, making sure that the cling wrap makes contact with the surface. This will avoid a thick skin from forming on the surface of your sauce.
- Lightly salting and allowing the eggplants to stand to draw out water is not really a step you’d want to skip. To do so runs the risk of a watery moussaka. After all that prep, it would be a bit devastating not to have the results you hoped for. Alternatively, you could fry the eggplants and potatoes in olive oil until golden. You still need to salt the eggplants to draw out the water. This makes for a richer moussaka; it’s also more time consuming. If frying, drain the veggies on kitchen paper before adding them to the dish; this helps prevent the dish from being too oily.
- You will need 3 – 4 trays for the eggplants and the potatoes. I tend to rotate the trays to get a little colour on the vegetables, but it’s not essential. For this recipe, l fried my potatoes.
- My mum would test her moussaka’s readiness by inserting a knife in the centre. If it came out steaming, then it’s ready. Allow the moussaka to stand for half an hour. This dish is best eaten at room temperature, not hot. It will also be far easier to slice into portions when allowed to stand for awhile.