Moussaka is often referred to as Greece’s national dish. It is a baked meat (beef, lamb or pork) and eggplant casserole covered with a thick layer of béchamel sauce. The traditional Greek Moussaka has 3 layers:
- Bottom layer – sliced eggplant sautéed in olive oil;
- Middle layer – ground (beef, lamb or pork) precooked with spices, herbs, onion, garlic and tomatoes;
- Top layer – béchamel sauce.
This moussaka recipe is common to the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean. Variations range from a traditional three layer Greek version served lukewarm, to a Turkish and Arabic unlayered version served cold. Slavic, Turkish, and Bulgarian recipes substitute, or sometimes include, potatoes, zucchini, or carrots.
The origin of Moussaka is not clear, but it has been traced to thirteenth century Arabia.
MY personal recipe is below—–enjoy!
Béchamel Sauce (white sauce)
4 cups whole milk
1 stick real butter
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons kefalotiri (gourmet sheep milk cheese made in Greece)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Dash of salt and pepper
Heat milk in stainless steel sauce pan with bay leaves and allspice over low heat, until warm, do not boil.
While the milk is warming, melt butter in a separate stainless steel sauce pan.
When the butter is melted, gradually add flour, whisking constantly until combined. Allow it to bubble up; do not let it brown.
Strain the bay leaves and allspice berries from the milk. Then slowly add the hot milk into the butter and flour mixture. Whisk constantly until sauce thickens. (Reserve allspice berries and bay leaves for meat sauce.)
The sauce will be done when it can cover the back of a spoon thickly and hold a line when you draw your finger across the back of the spoon.
*When placed in a covered storage container, this sauce can be made in advance and kept in a refrigerator for one day. Reheat by microwave or on the stove in a double boiler.
2 medium yellow onions (peeled, diced)
4 garlic cloves (chopped)
2 celery stalks (diced)
4 tablespoons fresh parsley (chopped)
2 teaspoons fresh oregano
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
2 pounds beef (you can substitute pork or lamb)
1 cup Greek red wine
1 can diced tomato (14.5 oz)
1 can tomato paste (6 oz can)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice (use a mortar and pestle to grind the allspice berries reserved from the béchamel sauce)
4 bay leaves (reserved from béchamel sauce)
Salt and pepper
Coat a large stainless steel sauce pan with olive oil and heat over medium heat.
Sauté the onions, garlic, celery, parsley, oregano, and thyme until softened. Then transfer to a heat resistant bowl and reserve.
Brown the meat – add a little olive oil to a stainless steel sauce pan and then add the beef.
Add red wine, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, cinnamon, allspice, bay leaves, and salt and pepper-to taste.
Sauté for a few minutes and then add the onion, garlic, celery, parsley, oregano, thyme mixture.
Stir, cover with a lid, and then let simmer for approximately one hour until the sauce has reduced and thickened.
*When placed in a covered storage container, this sauce can be made in advance and kept in a refrigerator for one day.
Eggplant Moussaka Instructions
2 eggplants, medium size
Meat sauce (see ingredients above)
Béchamel sauce (see ingredients above)
1 tablespoon shaved kefalotiri (gourmet sheep milk cheese made in Greece)
1 tablespoon shaved parmesan cheese
Peel eggplant, trim off top and bottom, slice into ¼” slices lengthwise, and remove seeds.
Place slices of eggplant in a tray and sprinkle kosher salt on both sides. Sweat the eggplant slices for 30-60 minutes; this will remove moisture and the bitterness. Rinse the slices thoroughly and pat dry with a paper towel.
Heat oil in a skillet and sauté the eggplant. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté until golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel to drain and cool.
Oil a 9 x 9 baking dish and sprinkle breadcrumbs on the bottom.
Lay enough eggplant on the bottom to cover it.
Cover the eggplant with thick layer of meat sauce.
Lay the rest of the eggplant over the meat sauce.
Cover with another layer of meat sauce.
Spread béchamel sauce over the meat sauce, about ¼ inch thick. (You will have leftover béchamel sauce – save the sauce so you can use it with a different dish. It is a very versatile sauce.)
Sprinkle with shaved parmesan and kefalotiri.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until the top is golden and the cheese is melted and slightly browned.
Let cool to almost to room temperature and then serve.
Adapted from the Zucchini Moussaka recipe in “modern GREEK” by Andy Harris.