Moussaka is possibly one of the best known Greek dishes, and for good cause – it is delicious! It involves a lot of work, but the end result is worth it. You’ll feel proud of your work and rewarded once your family and friends enjoy your moussaka with a fresh salad and a glass of dry red wine.
Our mothers used to make moussaka with aubergines, potatoes and courgettes. I find that this recipe has prevailed in most homes to the present day, although I have eaten moussaka in some Greek islands made with just courgettes, just potatoes – or even potatoes and pumpkin. My favourite alternative was moussaka with artichokes.
Whichever combination of vegetables you choose, remember that the key to moussaka is always the aubergines. Although aubergines are now available throughout the year, in the summer they are sweeter and they derive their sweetness from the sun. They used to be one of the cheapest vegetable in the summer and Greek families had more than one meal a week using this vegetable.
Now we get aubergines throughout the year, and when grown in green houses they are not so firm and have a watery texture. If you must make moussaka using greenhouse aubergines then make sure they are fresh and use them quickly. If you forget them in the fridge you might think that they can be disguised in such a dish with so many ingredients – but the flavour will suffer!
Aubergines have a slightly bitter taste, but one way of getting rid of it is to simply immerse the sliced aubergines in salted water, or sprinkle with salt. After half an hour, rinse and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper.
Aubergines do absorb a lot of oil when fried. My mother always used to say that frying them in very hot oil means that they absorb less oil. Alternatively, you can make this dish slightly lighter (but also without such a rich taste) by baking the vegetables rather than frying them. Simply place the vegetable slices on a baking tray, brush lightly with oil and bake until cooked.
Mince meat sauce:
- 1 big onion finely chopped
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 1 kg minced meat (pork or pork/beef or lamb)
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes or 1 glass grated tomatoes
- 1 glass red or white dry wine (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp oregano
- Half bunch finely chopped parsley (one cupful)
Extra flavours can be obtained if preferred by using:
- 3 garlic cloves, 5 cloves, ½ tsp cinnamon or a small cinnamon stick, 1 bay leaf
- 175g butter
- A few tbsps flour (just enough to absord all the butter)
- Milk as needed
- 1 cup of Halloumi cheese grated or a mixture of other cheeses
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- 4 large aubergines
- 4 courgettes
- 4 potatoes
- 1 ½ – 2 cups corn or sunflower oil
For the meat sauce:
- Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and sauté onions.
- Add the minced meat until brown, for around 10 to 15 minutes.
- If you want to add wine now is the time to pour it in.
- Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper and oregano and stir well.
- Add the garlic, cinnamon, bay leaves if using.
- Cover and cook for 20 minutes to make a moist sauce, then remove lid and cook for a further 10 minutes (don’t let the sauce get too dry)
- Take off the heat and add the parsley, mix well and put aside until required.
- Remember! Parsley in Greek dishes with such sauces is always added last and after the heat is turned off.
For the Béchamel sauce:
- Melt butter in a saucepan.
- Add flour, stirring with a wooden spoon so it absorbs all butter.
- Take off heat.
- Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly and quickly.
- When a smooth custard-like sauce is achieved, put on heat again
- Carry on stirring/whisking, adding more milk as needed
- Your béchamel should be smooth and thick but not stiff
- When the sauce is ready, add 3-4 tbsps of grated cheese and grated nutmeg and mix well.
For the vegetables:
- Peel and wash potatoes.
- Wash aubergines and courgettes and cut off stems and tips.
- You can peel your aubergines a bit but not completely.
- Cut aubergines, courgettes and potatoes lengthwise into large 5mm slices
- Place aubergine slices in salty water for an hour.
- Rinse well under cold water in a colander.
- Dry each slice very well with kitchen paper. (If one drop of water escapes from the aubergine when frying a splash can burn you!)
- Heat up oil in a wide frying pan. You should have enough oil to cover vegetables when frying them.
- Fry in batches in hot oil until lightly brown.
- Drain from excess oil by placing all fried vegetables on a tray lined with a double layer of kitchen paper
- Place a layer of vegetables on a lightly oiled baking dish or pyrex dish – first the aubergines, then courgettes, lastly potatoes.
- Spread meat sauce over your vegetables evenly.
- Cover with another layer of vegetables or whatever vegetables you are left with.
- Pour béchamel sauce over the top.
- Prick your moussaka with a fork all over to allow the béchamel to run a bit inside the vegetables and the meat sauce.
- Sprinkle grated cheese on top.
- Sprinkle ground nutmeg on top (or ground cloves or ground cinnamon).
- Bake in a pre-heated oven (180 to 200) until golden brown (45 mins – 1 hour)
- If your dish is full to the rim then place a baking sheet underneath to prevent spills in the oven.
Vegetarian moussaka can be made by replacing the mince meat sauce with a mouthwatering vegetarian sauce. Simply fry onions until soft, add garlic and various vegetables like sliced carrots, cauliflower florets, broccoli pieces, chopped tomatoes or passata. Cooked brown rice can be also be added to the sauce, as well as cooked lentils and pine kernels. Finish the sauce by adding a cupful of chopped parsley – there’s no need to cook the parsely in the sauce; its raw freshness gives the baked dish a unique flavour.