Gorgeous eggplants at the farmers market this weekend inspired me to make one of our favorite one dish meals, moussaka. This rich and comforting Greek casserole is made with layers of ground lamb or beef and eggplant, all topped off with a luscious béchamel sauce.
VINTAGE VIEW ~ this moussaka recipe is from TVFGI archives, first published in 2011. As part of a series on the blog I’m reviving some of the best recipes that you may have missed over the years ~ I’ve updated my notes and taken new photos. Moussaka is one of the first dishes my husband and I discovered together as a couple, and it’s been a special meal in our house ever since. It’s no wonder I posted about it in the very earliest days of the blog, and I want to reintroduce it to you, because it’s that good!
My husband and I first had moussaka during the year we lived outside of London after college. We lived in a tiny flat with an even tinier kitchen, and so most of our wonderful food memories came through ready-made foods: Indian take-out, fish ‘n chips, and pub food. We discovered moussaka in the little market near our flat where they sold homemade dinners packaged in ‘to go’ containers. Moussaka is a Greek casserole of eggplant layered with spiced ground lamb or beef, and topped in a creamy white bechamel or custard sauce. It’s comfort food of the highest order.
It wasn’t until we came home from our year abroad that I attempted to make this gorgeous eggplant dish from scratch. It’s not difficult, but there are a few steps to it.
First you’re going to want some large deep purple eggplant for this recipe, not the cute little lavender ones, above, but aren’t they pretty?
Moussaka takes a little bit of prep, but the unusual flavors and textures are so worth it. The work load is comparable to a homemade lasagna, so plan ahead, or do it in stages. You can totally layer up the meat sauce and eggplant the day before, and whip up the béchamel sauce right before baking.
There are so many variations of this beloved Mediterranean classic, and this recipe is true to the one we had in England. One note, you can use ground lamb or beef, but if you oft for lamb, be sure to ask for it lean…ground lamb can be very fatty. Lamb has a little more flavor, but beef is fine, and it’s what I used here.
I slice the eggplants into 1/2 inch slices, brush with olive oil and roast them until they’re browned and softened. Note: many recipes have you salt and ‘sweat’ the eggplant, but I don’t find this extra step is necessary, the roasting cooks them down just fine.
The rich meat sauce can get started while the eggplant roasts. It takes about 30 minutes for the flavors to meld and the sauce to thicken a bit. I love the mix of warm spices in this sauce. Any number of different spices can be used in Moussaka, depending on your variation. I kept it simple with a raz el hanout spice mix, plus my favorite zesty smoked paprika.
Raz el hanout is a Moroccan blend. Mine contains ~
You can sometimes find it at well stocked grocery stores, and you can always find it online, here.. You can also make the spice blend yourself ~ here’s a simple sample recipe that approximates the one I used:
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger.
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
The whole thing gets layered up just like a lasagna, with a layer of eggplant followed by a layer of meat sauce, etc.
The topping is the most magnificent creamy custard sauce and the most distinctive element in a moussaka. It’s cooked up in a saucepan and seasoned with lots of freshly grated nutmeg ~ this is essential! Pour it over the casserole and you’re ready to bake.
By the time it’s done you’ll be stark raving mad with desire….
Also try ~
- 3-4 medium eggplants
- olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 lb ground beef or lamb (make sure you ask your grocer for ‘lean’ ground lamb)
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1/2 cup tomato puree
- 1/2 cup water (if the sauce is very thick)
- 2 tsp raz el hanout spice mix
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- Bechamel sauce:
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp flour
- 2 cups warm milk
- 2 egg yolks, whisked
- pinch of nutmeg
- 1 cup grated cheese (I used Parmesan)
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400F
- Slice the eggplants into 1/2 inch slices. Mix the garlic with about 1/2 cup of olive oil and brush it on both sides of the eggplant slices. Arrange them in a single layer on baking sheets. Roast the eggplant for about 25 minutes, until browned and softened.
- Put a bit of olive oil in a pan and brown the ground meat. Drain off the excess fat, reserving about 2 tablespoons in the pan, and set the meat aside. In the same pot, saute the onions for a few minutes until they've softened, then add the garlic and sauté a couple of minutes more, stirring often.
- Add the raz el hanout and paprika to the pan and sauté, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Add the wine and let it bubble for a minute or so, while you scrape up anything stuck to the bottom of the pan.
- Add the meat back in, with the tomato sauce. Add the water if your sauce is very thick at this point. Cook at a low simmer for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- To make the custard sauce, melt the butter in a small pot, and whisk in the flour. Cook for a minute, without browning. Whisk in the warm milk and heat, whisking or stirring constantly, until it just comes to a boil and thickens slightly. Take off the heat and whisk in the cheese, nutmeg and salt. When the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth, briskly whisk in the egg yolks.
- Next, brush the bottom of a large casserole or braising pan with olive oil, and arrange a layer of eggplant slices on the bottom. Try to cover the bottom of the casserole as completely as possible.
- Cover the eggplant with 1/3 meat mixture. Add another layer of eggplant, and another 1/3 of the meat. Finish with a final layer of eggplant and the rest of the meat sauce. Note: if two layers work better for your pan, that's fine.
- Pour the custard over the top and spread out gently.
- Bake for about 40 minutes or until everything is bubbling and the topping is golden. I ran it under the broiler at the end to brown the top.