After making this Moussaka I have a new appreciation for Greek diners and Greek moms. They do not have it easy. This is one of my favorite Greek dishes but I will probably order it out more often now that I know how hard it is to make. Moussaka is a casserole made by layering eggplant with a spiced meat filling then topping it off with a creamy bechamel sauce that is baked to golden perfection. This recipe is a traditional rendition but you can layer in zucchini or any other vegetables that you prefer.
Moussaka is perhaps the most widely recognized of all Greek dishes and was made famous by the legendary Greek chef, Nicholas Tselementes. He must have been quite a chef or he had lots of help.
While it can be time consuming to prepare, I think you will find that once complete it is a very worthwhile endeavor.
Moussaka - Classic Greek Moussaka with Eggplant
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
3-4 eggplants, about 4 lbs. total
1 lb. potatoes
1-1/2 lbs. ground beef (or lamb)
2 large onions, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 cup tomato puree (or crushed tomatoes)
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups plain breadcrumbs
8 egg whites, lightly beaten (reserve yolks for bechamel)
1 cup grated Kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese
1 cup salted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup flour
4 cups milk, warmed
8 egg yolks, lightly beaten
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Prep the Vegetables:
Using a sharp peeler, partially peel the eggplants, leaving strips of peel about 1 inch wide around the eggplant. Slice the eggplant in to 1/2 inch slices. Place the eggplant slices in a colander and salt them liberally. Cover them with an inverted plate that is weighted down by a heavy can or jar. Place the colander in the sink so that excess moisture can be drawn out. They will need to sit for at least 15-20 minutes, preferably an hour. The salt also helps to remove some of the bitterness of the eggplant.
Peel the potatoes and boil them whole until they are just done. They should not get too soft, just cooked enough so that they no longer crunch. Drain, cool and slice them in 1/4 inch slices. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and lightly grease. Add a splash of water to the egg whites and beat them lightly with a fork. Add breadcrumbs to a flat plate.
Rinse the eggplant slices and dry with paper towels. Dip the eggplant slices in the beaten egg whites and then dredge them in the breadcrumbs, coating both sides. Place breaded eggplant slices on baking sheets and bake at 400 degrees for 1/2 an hour, turning them over once during cooking.
When eggplant is finished cooking, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Make the Meat Filling:
In a large sauté pan, brown the ground beef (or lamb) until the pink color disappears. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add wine to pan and allow it to simmer and reduce a bit before adding cinnamon, allspice, parsley, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and sugar. Allow the sauce to simmer uncovered for approximately 15 minutes so that excess liquid can evaporate. It should be a drier, chunkier, tomato sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Make the Béchamel Sauce:
Melt butter over low heat. Using a whisk, add flour to melted butter whisking continuously to make a smooth paste. Allow the flour to cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown.
Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously.
Simmer over low heat until it thickens a bit but does not boil.
Remove from heat, and stir in beaten egg yolks and pinch of nutmeg. Return to heat and stir until sauce thickens.
Assemble the Moussaka:
Lightly grease a large deep baking pan (lasagna pan). Sprinkle the bottom of pan with breadcrumbs. Leaving a 1/4 inch space around the edges of the pan, place a layer of potatoes on the bottom. Top with a layer of eggplant slices.
Add meat sauce on top of eggplant layer and sprinkle with 1/4 of the grated cheese. Top with another layer of eggplant slices and sprinkle once again with 1/4 of the grated cheese.
Pour the béchamel sauce over the eggplant and be sure to allow sauce to fill the sides and corners of the pan. Smooth the béchamel on top with a spatula and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until béchamel sauce is a nice golden brown color. Allow to cool for 15 – 20 minutes before slicing and serving.
You can make this dish ahead up until the béchamel sauce and refrigerate. Make the béchamel sauce right before you intend to bake it.