By Cat, Aug, 2007; updated Jan 2009 to add a vegetarian version (Photo, right, by Cat; Corning Ware chicken fryer, below, from Blue Cornflower.com (2)))
This delicious Greek casserole resembles lasagna, with eggplant instead of pasta, typically lamb instead of beef, and a different herb-spice flavor. There are versions of this dish all around the Mediterranean and Middle East, but in America it is mostly known as a Greek dish. Note that in Greece, different regions have different pronunciations, just as in the USA. The differences in this case are in which syllable is accented, and whether the middle syllable is “suh” (rhymes with duh!) or “sah” (rhymes with “saw”). Options:
- accent on first syllable, as in moo’-suh-kah;
- accent on middle syllable, as in moo-sah‘-kah; or
- accent on last syllable, as in moo-suh-kah‘ (5)
* See inoglio audio (5), with accent on last syllable, or YouTube (6), with accent on second syllable, to hear it spoken.
- Includes: 1. Moussaka (with ground lamb), Full- and Half-recipes; 2. Vegetarian Moussaka options
- See also: 1. Béchamel Sauce, with Egg; 2. Pastitsio; 3. Soaking & Drying Nuts; 4. Soaking or Sprouting Dried Beans; Other sites: Moussaka from The Food Guys on Montana Public Radio(3)
This recipe is adapted from Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (1), with tips from a Portland Greek family who welcomed me to join them for dinner at their Souvlaki Stop restaurant near my home in the 1980s. Make this with ground lamb to be authentic, but you could use buffalo or other wild game, or natural, grass-fed beef. Or make it vegetarian with mushrooms and/or walnuts (See Vegetarian Adaptation, below).
There’s a fair amount of initial preparation – it takes about 90-minutes to make this dish, not counting the time to salt the eggplant and let it rest – but the recipe is pretty easy.
The Béchamel is a nice touch. I use the simplified version of Béchamel included in the recipe below. Alternately you can use a standard Béchamel, such as my Béchamel Sauce, with Egg recipe, then sprinkle with grated cheese as in the recipe below.
Traditionally, Moussaka is topped with Kefalotiri cheese, a hard, grated, Greek cheese. If you cannot find Kefalotiri, use Parmesan or Romano, or a mix of these instead. See Greek Cheeses on eHow or Lemon & Olives blog (4) for more.
One time I forgot to add the garlic to the meat with the onions. I noticed my mistake as I was spreading the meat sauce over the eggplant slices, so I just sprinkled the raw minced garlic over the sauce. That was the best batch of Moussaka ever, because you could distinctly taste the garlic; I’ve made it that way ever since. Felicitous accident!
You can skip the salting of the eggplant, but the salting removes a bitter substance that is toxic for some people, and it also removes the excess liquid.
Full recipe serves 8 – 10; half-recipe serves 4.
The half-recipe is what I make for myself. I prefer to use my Corning Ware chicken fryer as the casserole dish (I don’t use the electric base, but rather put the casserole dish in the oven); it’s just the perfect size. However, it doesn’t have a flat lid for refrigerating leftovers, so unless I make this for a dinner event, I will use my 8 x 10 Pyrex baking pan with flat lid.
Ingredients & Equipment
Recipe is written for full-size recipe; half-recipe amounts, to serve 4, are in parenthesis.
- For Casserole:
- 2 ea 1-pound eggplants (one 1-pound eggplant)
- Unrefined sea salt or Kosher salt, for salting the eggplant
- Meaty sauce:
- 2 pounds ground lamb (1 lb)
- ¼ cup olive oil (2 Tbsp)
- 1 cup chopped onion (½ cup)
- 4 – 6 cloves garlic, minced (2 – 4 cloves)
- 1½ – 2 cup homemade Tomato Sauce (¾ – 1¼ cup)
- ¼ cup homemade Tomato Paste, optiona) (2 – 3 Tbsp)
- ¾ cup dry red wine (⅓ cup)
- 2 Tbsp snipped fresh parsley (1 Tbsp)
- ½ Tbsp dried, crushed oregano or 1 Tbsp chopped fresh Greek oregano (¼ Tsp dried or ½ Tbsp fresh), or more, to taste
- 1 tsp Unrefined sea salt (½ tsp)
- ½ – 1 tsp ground cinnamon, or more, to taste (½ tsp)
- 1 beaten egg (½ egg; reserve other ½ for Béchamel Sauce, below)
- Béchamel Sauce (See also: Béchamel Sauce, with Egg)
- ¼ cup real butter
- ¼ cup unbleached white flour
- ½ teaspoon Unrefined sea salt
- dash black pepper
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 eggs (1½ eggs, using reserved ½-egg from above)
- ¼ – ½ tsp ground nutmeg (¼ tsp), or more, to taste
- Cheese topping:
- ½ cup grated Greek Kefalotiri cheese, or substitute Parmesan and/or Romano cheese (¼ cup)
- ground cinnamon and/or nutmeg, to sprinkle over the top
- Cookie sheet
- large cast iron skillet
- small bowls
- medium bowl
- medium heavy-bottomed saucepan
- large rectangular or round baking or lasagna dish (full recipe)
- square chicken fryer or 10” square baking pan (half recipe)
- Prepare eggplant: Peel eggplants, slice crosswise in 1/2 inch slices; place on cooke sheet covered with paper towel. Salt the slices and let rest for a while. Remove wet paper towel; use a fresh one to blot tops of the slices to remove any liquid. Brush slices with olive oil. Heat a large cast iron (or enameled) skillet; add eggplant slices, oiled side down. Brush oil on tops; brown about 2 minutes on each side. Remove to cooling rack set over cookie sheet. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, chop onion and set aside in a small bowl. Mince garlic and set aside in a separate bowl.
- Prepare meaty sauce: In same skillet as you browned the eggplant, cook the ground meat, half at a time, until meat is browned. Add onion to second batch of meat. Drain off fat, then return all meat to skillet. Stir in tomato sauce, wine, parsley, oregano, salt and cinnamon. If you like a tomato-y sauce, you can add tomato paste to taste (no more than one small can). Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Taste and adjust seasonings; you should just be able to taste the cinnamon. Cool slightly.
- Beat 1 egg in a small bowl or glass measuring cup (For half-recipe, set aside about half of the beaten egg for use in the Béchamel sauce). Stir ½ cup of the meat/tomato mixture into the egg (or ¼ cup for half-recipe), then stir egg mixture into meat mixture in skillet. Mix well. The egg will thicken the sauce.
- Meanwhile, prepare Bechamel: Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until well blended and cook a minute over medium heat. Stir in milk all at once, vigorously stirring to keep flour from clumping. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly, add nutmeg and stir well, then cook one minute more. Remove from heat. In medium bowl or glass measuring cup, beat the 3 eggs (For half-recipe, beat 1 egg plus the reserved beaten half-egg from above). Gradually stir a few spoonsful of thickened milk mixture into eggs to warm them, then stir back into the rest of the milk mixture in the saucepan. Cook one minute more, stirring constantly to keep egg from cooking too much. It will thicken greatly.
- Assemble & Bake: Preheat oven to 325°F. Arrange half of the eggplant slices in baking dish. Spread meat sauce over eggplant slices; sprinkle minced garlic over sauce; and top with remaining eggplant slices. Pour hot Béchamel over all, and smooth out with a rubber spatula.
- Poke about with a fork so that some of the Béchamel will sink into the casserole.
- Top with the grated cheese and sprinkle lightly with additional cinnamon and/or nutmeg.
- Bake in preheated 325°F oven for 35-40 minutes, until edges are bubbly.
- Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving.
- To serve: Cut into squares, rectangles or wedges. If desired, sprinkle with additional snipped fresh parsley.
Vegetarian Moussaka Options
Prepare as for regular moussaka, omitting the ground meat, and using instead sautéed mushrooms and/or soaked and dried chopped walnuts to the tomato sauce. I don’t recommend using TVP (Textured Vegetable Powder), which is highly processed, and likely made with GMO soy. I also don’t recommend using cooked, dried-beans; if you do, pre-soak or sprout them before cooking them.
Another option is to wilt a bunch of chopped spinach, toss it with a beaten egg and some parmesan, and spread it as a layer on top of the tomato sauce (under the top layer of eggplant).
- Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (see Beloved Cookbooks for more detail)
- Blue Cornflower.com (bluecornflower.com/electromatics/electromatic-trays.htm)
- Moussaka recipe from The Food Guys on MTPR (mtpr.org/post/moussaka-recipe)
- Greek Cheeses: ehow.com/list_6300378_list-greek-cheeses.html or lemonandolives.com/greek-cheese-a-guide-to-cheeses-of-greece/
- Pronouncing moussaka: two sources with different pronunciations: Inogolo (audio at inogolo.com/pronunciation/d1942/Moussaka)
- or YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efa40v9t0Vw):