Moussaka was one of the only Greek foods I pretty much refused to eat as a kid. I just really, really did not like eggplant. At all.
A couple years back, I decided to give eggplant a try in some croquettes, and realized it was pretty good. Then I started using it in a few things here and there and realized that I actually like eggplant. This (and so many other things I’ve mentioned on this blog) is really a testament to how your tastes change over time.
Apparently some people make moussaka with potatoes and some don’t. My family has always made it with potatoes (not that I remembered that, since I never ate it…) and personally, I am all about sneaking a potato or two into a meal whenever possible. The potatoes add a little starchiness to an otherwise non-carby dish, and the best part is they soak up the drippings from the meatsauce and become so, so flavorful. For my first moussaka, this turned out fabulous. I made a few minor tweaks to my meatsauce and bechamel from the pastitsio (just to play around a little) and my only problem was that I made too much bechamel for the pan I was using (more on that below).
Sorry about the picture. In addition to the poor lighting and wanting to eat ASAP since I had already let the moussaka cool for 20 minutes, I built this in the wrong pan. I was thinking for the amounts I had 11×17 would be perfect, but it was too small–which I only realized after layering in about half the ingredients. As a result, I couldn’t fit all the bechamel on top of the moussaka, which is a real tragedy. I’ve modified the amounts below just a bit and asked you to cook this in a 9×13 (or even a 10×14 would work) pan, which should be perfect, and give you a nice thick layer of bechamel, just as god intended. :)
This recipe does have a lot of steps, but most of them can happen simultaneously so you aren’t spending forever in the kitchen. You should still leave yourself some time to make this, though, because the moussaka has to cook for about 40 minutes and you need to let it sit for about 20 before slicing into it.
Serves about 8-10
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2 large eggplants
2 large russet/baking potatoes, peeled and sliced lengthwise
1 batch meatsauce (recipe follows)
1 batch bechamel (recipe follows)
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1.5 lbs. ground beef or lamb
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 Tbsp. (just over half a small can) tomato paste
1.25 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. ground allspice (I prefer the higher end, but start low and you can always add more)
2 bay leaves
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley or about 1.5 Tbsp. dried
salt and pepper
1 stick butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk (at least 2%)–kept warm
nutmeg (I grate maybe 1/4 of a nutmeg into it)
salt and pepper
1 cup kefalotyri (or Romano) cheese
3 egg yolks
a little extra cheese
Whether (or how) you peel the eggplants is up to you. I usually peel about half of it, leaving what appear to be strips on the eggplant. Then, slice the eggplants into about 1/3″ thick lengthwise slices. Layer them in a colander, sprinkling them with salt as you go, and then put that colander over a bowl. Let the eggplant sit for about 30 minutes. Then rinse the eggplant slices and pat them dry well.
Start your meatsauce. Heat a large, heavy bottomed pan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onion and let it sweat for a little bit before adding the beef or lamb. Brown the meat completely and drain if necessary. Then stir in the garlic and tomato paste and cook it off a little before adding the water. Stir to combine the water and paste well, and add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, parsley, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 35-45 minutes.
Meanwhile, roast your prepared eggplant slices. Heat your oven to 375. Lightly brush a baking pan or two with olive oil, place the eggplant slices on the pan, and brush the tops with a little more oil. Season the eggplant with pepper and roast about 20 minutes or until tender, but not mushy. Leave the oven on.
While the eggplant is in the oven and your meatsauce is simmering, make the bechamel. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, and then add the flour. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon until your roux is golden and the flour is cooked off. Slowly add the warm milk, switching to a whisk if necessary to get rid of any clumps. Heat the mixture until it thickens and can coat the back of the wooden spoon. Then, stir in the nutmeg and off the heat, add salt and pepper to taste, and the cheese. Then, mix in the eggs/yolks well. Be SURE to taste your bechamel and add any more seasonings to taste. A batch of bechamel this big will require quite a bit of salt and pepper. If you don’t want to eat raw eggs, just taste it before the eggs go in, as eggs will not really alter the taste much.
In a nonstick pan, heat some olive oil. Sprinkle the potato slices with salt and pepper and pan-fry in the oil until they are almost, but not completely, cooked through. Place the fried potatoes in a 9×13″ baking dish. After the eggplant has roasted, layer half of it on top of the potatoes. Then, pour the meatsauce on top, followed by another layer of eggplant. Layer the eggplant as closely together as possible, trying to not leave any holes where the bechamel would slip through. Finally, pour the bechamel on top and sprinkle a little bit of extra cheese on top. Bake the moussaka for about 40 minutes or until the bechamel has firmed up and is golden on top. Let the moussaka set for 20 minutes before slicing into it.