Moussaka is a classic dish from Greece. Layers of eggplant and meat are topped with a béchamel and baked to make a spectacular dish.
Moussaka has a long recorded history, with a similar recipe appearing in ‘A Baghdad Cookery Book’ (Kitāb Al-ṭabīkh), written in the 13th century. Also, a very similar dish called ‘Mousakhkhan’ was cooked by the Arabs of Levant, the eastern Mediterranean region. The word moussaka derives from the Arabic word musaqqâ, meaning ‘moistened’, a reference to an ideal moussaka.
Many regional differences, with vegetables like potatoes, spinach, cauliflower or even cabbage are prevalent.
Though traditionally made with lamb, beef is an acceptable substitution. Actually, I’ve even made this dish with ground turkey to avoid red meat.
Béchamel was a fairly recent addition to the dish, when a famous chef and cook book author decided to add it to the original recipe in an effort to make it more westernized. Thus a quintessential French sauce became the binding force in one of the Mediterranean influenced dishes.
Patience is an essential quality when you are making a moussaka since it is not a good idea to dig into it right away. It has to rest for a minimum of 10 minutes (better with 15) before the béchamel gets to a stage where it can be actually cut. Instead of scooping the dish out of the pan as a glop. Believe me… been there; done that, more than once!
M is for Moussaka
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
- Cut the eggplant into slices of 1/4 inch width. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the oven to roast, for 20 minutes. If there are more slices than can be accommodated on a single baking sheet, you can use one more sheet or roast them in batches.
- Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large pan and add the onions and cook.
- When the onions are softened and turns transparent, add the minced garlic and cook for a minute.
- Add the tomato paste and cook for two minutes. Add the ground beef to the pan and cook, breaking up any lumps. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook till the beef is overall browned.
- Add the red wine, broth and crushed tomatoes. Add the cinnamon and mix well. Bring to a boil and cover and cook till the beef is well done and all the liquid has dried up.
- When the eggplant slices and the meat are ready, make the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat and add the flour. Roast stirring continuously for two minutes.
- Add the milk to the pan, stirring all the time, using a whisk. When the milk has thickened and has formed a sauce, turn off the heat. (If the sauce is too thick, sprinkle and stir in a bit of water.) Season the béchamel with salt and pepper. Blend in the egg yolk stirring vigorously and remove from heat.
- In a deep oven safe pan, place the eggplant slices in a single layer. Top with half the cooked meat to form another layer.
- Add a second layer of eggplant slices. Finish off with the remaining meat.
- Pour the béchamel sauce over the dish and crumble the feta over the béchamel.
- Place in the pre-heated oven and bake till the top has browned in spots, for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Let sit for minutes before cutting into squares and serving.