Moussaka, the national dish of Greece is a casserole with a delicious meaty sauce, eggplant, potatoes and topped with creamy bechamel.
By Kimberly Killebrew
Sun-kissed white stone buildings juxtaposed against a sea of sapphire blue, the sound of old church bells chiming through the air, ancient ruins, a rich and intriguing history… Aaah Greece.
Whether you’ve already been there or are still waiting, planning, dreaming…why wait to enjoy Greece? Come with me and let’s travel there now as we embark on a culinary adventure to explore Greece’s national dish – Moussaka!
Now does that look like yummy comfort food or what? But don’t fooled – it’s not shepard’s pie. That creamy stuff on top is something very, very, wonderfully different!
Traditional moussaka uses ground lamb, most modern versions use ground beef. I took culinary license to add the additional twist of halving the ground beef with mild ground sausage. This added a wonderful flavor and dimension to the dish. I took steps to optimize the flavors every step of the way while retaining this dish’s authentic integrity.
Many very traditional versions of moussaka use a layer of potatoes. Most modern versions do not. I added the potatoes in order to create a more complete meal. The potatoes were a great addition.
Moussaka is not difficult to make, but it is very time-consuming. Save this dish for a day when you’re not rushed for time. Note, you can make the sauce a day or two before to save time.
This version of Greek Moussaka is true to its traditional roots (with that one exception of added sausage) and will impress any native Grecian who comes to dinner!
Okay, let’s get started…
Finely dice the onions and garlic.
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil and brown the ground beef and sausage until no pink remains.
Add the onions and garlic and continue to cook until the onions are soft, about 5-7 minutes.
Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, all the seasonings, the bay leaf, and the wine. Stir to combine.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and allow it to simmer for another 10 minutes, or almost all of the liquid is absorbed. This is important or the casserole will be too watery. Allow the sauce to cool, and then stir in the beaten egg.
Select two large potatoes and 2-3 eggplants, depending on size. I only ended up needing two eggplants.
Peel and slice the potatoes 1/4 inch thick.
Using a potato peeler, peel strips of the eggplant peel off in a striped pattern. The peel on eggplants is very tough, even when fully cooked and it is difficult to cut through with a fork. Eggplant peel also becomes bitter. Peeling most of it off while leaving stripes yields tender eggplant that still retains a pretty appearance of the shiny purple peel.
Cut the eggplants into 1/4 inch slices.
Lay the slices out in single layer on paper towels, sprinkle lightly with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes to draw out the moisture. This will help prevent the final dish from being too watery.
Heat a skillet over high heat, add some of the olive oil and fry a batch of eggplant slices on both sides until lightly browned. Place the slices on fresh paper towels to soak up the oil. (Again, this is important to prevent the final dish from being too soupy). Repeat with remaining eggplant slices.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and boil the potato slices for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to prevent them from cooking further. Set aside.
Grease a 13X9 inch casserole dish. Next we’re going to start layering.
Lay the potatoes in the casserole dish, slightly overlapping them.
Place a layer of eggplant slices over the potatoes, slightly overlapping them. (Yes, I know – this eggplant slices look really, REALLY bad! Somehow just the lighting – they look much better in the next picture. Let’s move on…quickly!)
Next, spread the meat mixture evenly on top of the eggplant slices.
Place a final layer of eggplant slices on top of the meat mixture.
Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Save the egg whites for a different use. We’re only using the yolks.
Next we’re going to make that glorious, luxurious, can’t-say-too-many-good-things-about Bechamel Sauce! (Use this recipe to use with other foods as well. This sauce is fantastic served over cooked cauliflower, for example. Or when making it add some Cheddar cheese to it to make your own Macaroni & Cheese sauce. These are just two of many examples – you’re going to love this sauce!)
Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium-high heat and whisk in the flour until no clumps remain. Continue whisking for another minute.
While continually whisking, gradually add the milk. Then add the salt, nutmeg and Parmesan cheese. Whisk to break up and dissolve any clumps. Slowly bring the sauce to a boil and reduce the heat, all the while continuing to whisk to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom.
Once the sauce has thickened, continue to simmer the sauce, while whisking, for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the sauce to cool.
Once the sauce has mostly cooled, whisk in the egg yolks.
Spread the bechamel sauce evenly over the final layer of eggplant slices.
Bake the moussaka uncovered in a oven preheated to 350 degrees F for 60 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let it stand for 15 minutes before serving. This will give it time to absorb any excess liquid.
- 2 large eggplants, sliced ¼ inch thick
- 2 large potatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ lb lean ground beef
- ½ lb ground mild sausage
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (16 oz) can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon parsley
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ cup red wine
- 1 egg, beaten
- Bread crumbs for bottom of casserole dish
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 egg yolks
- Place the eggplant slice in a single layer on paper towels, sprinkle lightly with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes to draw out the moisture. Heat a skillet over high heat, add some of the olive oil and fry a batch of eggplant slices on both sides until lightly browned. Place the slices on fresh paper towels to soak up the oil. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices.
- Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the potato slices. Boil for 5 minutes, drain, and rinse with cold water to prevent further cooking.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil and brown the ground beef and sausage until no pink remains. Add the onions and garlic and continue to cook until the onions are soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, all the seasonings, the bay leaf, and the wine. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and allow it to simmer for another 10 minutes, or almost all of the liquid is absorbed. This is important or the casserole will be too watery. Allow the sauce to cool, and then stir in beaten egg.
- To make the bechamel sauce, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and use a wire whisk to blend it with the butter. Continue whisking for another 1-2 minutes. Gradually add the milk while continually whisking to prevent lumps. Whisk until the mixture is smooth. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the Parmesan cheese. Continue whisking until all clumps have dissolved (if you haven't caught on to the trend yet, this sauce requires a lot of whisking!). Continue to whisk (there we go again!) the sauce until it thickens and has simmered for about 3 minutes. Turn off heat and remove the saucepan from the burner. Allow the sauce to cool for about 20 minutes. Then whisk in the egg yolks until thoroughly blended.
- Sprinkle a thin, even layer of fine bread crumbs on the bottom of the dish. This will help absorb the liquid from the vegetables.
- Arrange a layer of slightly overlapping potatoes on the bottom of a greased 9x13 inch baking dish. Next add a layer of eggplant slices, slightly overlapping them. Evenly spread out the meat sauce on top. Add another layer of eggplant slices and even top with the béchamel sauce.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and bake, uncovered, for 1 hour.
- Remove the moussaka and allow it to sit for 15 minutes before serving to allow the liquid in the bottom of the dish to absorb.