I had my first taste of moussaka during the summer of 2013. Ripe figs, cold thyme honey, the brightest and juiciest of tomatoes under the shade of an olive tree - these were some of my memories from a very fond and fortunate time in Greece. Upon my return, I was eager to recreate many of the dishes I had for the first time on the islands: a true Greek salad, a proper gyro pita packed with french fries, a bright and acidic beet and chickpea salad — I had an endless list, and a fleeting recollection of tastes. I knew that I had to, at least, make moussaka straight away.
Moussaka is a hearty Greek casserole: layers of eggplant, potato, and minced meat are topped with a thickened and cheesy béchamel. Every bite of it is satisfying and comforting — a dish you long to eat with loved ones at the end of a hard day. My recipe is not authentic at all - it does not come from any Greek grandmother - but it is a labor of love. Don’t let the lengthy ingredient list or recipe intimidate you; the final dish comes together harmoniously, and is well worth the effort.
Moussaka: A Greek Casserole with Eggplant, Meat, & Potatoes
Makes one 9 by 13” dish ~ Serves 8-12
3 large globe eggplants (these are the large purple ones most commonly found at supermarkets)
3 large Yukon gold potatoes (these produced the creamiest moussaka)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large yellow onions, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds 80% lean ground beef (can substitute with lamb)
4 slices bacon, diced (optional)
14 ounce can crushed tomatoes (look for a can without extra flavoring)
1/2 cup red wine (water/stock if substituting)
1 cup parsley, finely chopped, divided in half
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or Italian seasoning)
1 cup bread crumbs (fresh or store bought)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1/2 cup ricotta cheese (whole milk or skim)
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Colander or strainer
9 by 13-inch casserole dish
Heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven
Saucepan and whisk
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Prepare the eggplants: Cut the eggplants into ¼ inch thin rounds. Salt the rounds on both sides, and let drain in a colander for about 30 minutes. Dry the eggplant slices with paper towels.
Brush both sides of eggplant with two tablespoons olive oil, and arrange on baking sheets in a single layer. Roast until the eggplant is soft and golden, about 20 minutes, flipping once halfway. Set roasted eggplant slices aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Prepare the potatoes: Peel and slice the potatoes into 1/8 inch thin rounds (if the potatoes slices are too thick, they may not cook through during the baking step).
Prepare the meat: In a large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, cook the diced bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pot, and reserve to the side. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the bacon fat (add 2 tablespoons more olive oil if omitting the bacon). Heat, and add the minced onion. Cook on medium high heat, stirring often, until the onion is soft and translucent – about 20 minutes. Add garlic, and cook for 1 more minute.
Add the ground beef or lamb, and cook, breaking the meat apart, until it is no longer pink. Add the reserved bacon and red wine (if using), crushed tomatoes, dried oregano, and ½ cup of the chopped parsley. Add kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until most of the liquid has evaporated (this should take at least 30 minutes to 1 hour). When ready, the meat sauce should be thick, but spreadable (like lasagne sauce). Adjust seasoning to taste, and set aside to cool.
Prepare the béchamel: In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add flour to the melted butter, and cook, whisking often for about 2-3 minutes (don’t let the flour burn). Slowly pour in the milk, and bring the mixture to a boil. Continue to cook, whisking often, until the béchamel is thick – about 5 minutes. Add kosher salt, black pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Adjust seasoning to taste. Set aside and let cool for 10 minutes.
In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, feta cheese and ricotta cheese. Add this cheese mixture to the cooled béchamel, and mix until smooth. Set aside.
In a second bowl, mix together the remaining ½ cup of chopped parsley, bread crumbs, and parmesan cheese. Set aside.
Grease a 9 by 13-inch oven-safe casserole dish with olive oil. Layer the potato slices, overlapping slightly and covering the bottom of the pan entirely. Sprinkle some of the bread crumb mixture on top of the potato layer.
Top the layer of potatoes with a layer of eggplant slices, overlapping slightly and covering the potatoes entirely. Sprinkle some of the bread crumb mixture on top of the eggplant layer.
Cover the eggplant slices with meat sauce, and sprinkle some of the bread crumb mixture on top of the meat sauce. Repeat layers until you have no more meat sauce (the last layer should be meat sauce).
Pour all the béchamel on top of the meat sauce, and smooth out the top. Sprinkle the remaining bread crumb mixture on top of the béchamel.
Bake for one hour until the béchamel is golden. Let cool for 10-15 minutes before slicing. Serve with a light salad.
If you try any of my recipes, share on Instagram by using the hashtag #afsanaliza & tagging me at @afsana so I can see your creations ~