Classic Greek Moussaka
Classic Greek Moussaka, (pronounced moos-sah-KAH) is one of the most well known of all Greek dishes and a staple “comfort food” and main course meal in Greece (as is Lasagna in Italy) and is a culinary experience to those who sample it for the first time. I first sampled this dish while waiting tables in a downtown Buffalo Greek diner during college, and then once again on a trip to the Greek Islands to Mykonos, Santorini and Athens. Needless to say, the real Greek Moussaka blew the Buffalo diner version to pieces, and I decided to take a stab at making it for my Big Fat Greek Birthday party last year.
One of the most delicious versions of Moussaka I tasted was in Santorini, it was served in a glazed clay pot, and had a perfect mixture of spicy meat at the bottom, layered with potatoes and tender eggplant, and tons of béchamel and gooey cheese on top. The vegetables were steaming as I dug into this gorgeous meat and vegetable pie and my mouth watered at the sight and smell of it.
Moussaka can be made in many variations, but the classic recipe uses layers of eggplant, potatoes, a spicy meat and tomato sauce with a touch of cinnamon and a rich and delicious béchamel sauce and bubbly kefalotyri cheese on top. Other variations are Moussaka with Zucchini or Artichokes instead of Eggplant, ground lamb instead of ground beef, or Vegetarian style with Zucchini, Eggplant and Potatoes without the meat. Either way you make it, with its warm and rich flavors and gooey cheese you’ll be hooked.
I made the Moussaka with Zucchini and Potatoes, as I prefer this combination to the eggplant version and it tastes just as good when all the spices from the meat and seasonings soak into the vegetables and are melded together by the creamy béchamel and gooey cheese on top. Be careful to pat dry the vegetables though before layering in the baking dish, as you don’t want the liquids to make the Moussaka too watery as they are cooked down in the oven.
You’ll need a lot of time and kitchen space to make this dish, and if you’re cooking for a crowd, you’ll be safe to double the recipe and make 2 large rectangular baking dishes of it, as it won’t last long. This dish was the hit of the party and I didn’t have one square left at the end of the evening, amongst all the other Greek goodies we had spread out on the table! It’s also a very heavy filling dish, so you may want to serve it alone as the main course, and accompany it with some Stuffed Vine leaves and tzaziki for a light and fresh side dish along with some garlic lemon hummus and grilled pita. Top it off with a light red Greek wine and a shot of Ouzo as an aperitif and you’re on your way to a classic Greek culinary experience and tasty delight from this ancient land.
Greek Moussaka Recipe
Yield: 6 Servings
3 md Eggplants or Zucchini
1/2 c Vegetable Oil
3 lg Onions; chopped fine
2 lb Ground lamb; (or beef)
3 tb Tomato paste
1/2 c Red wine
1/2 c Chopped parsley
1/4 ts Ground cinnamon
Black Pepper freshly ground
1/4 lb Butter
6 tb Flour
1 qt Milk
4 Eggs; beaten until frothy
2 c Ricotta or cottage cheese
1 c Fine bread crumbs
1 c Grated Parmesan cheese
Instructions: Peel the eggplants and cut them into slices about 1/2 inch thick. Brown the slices quickly in 1/4 cup of the oil. Set aside. Heat the remaining oil in the same skillet and cook the onions until they are brown. Add the ground meat and cook 10 minutes. Pour off excess fat.
Combine the tomato paste with the wine, parsley, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Stir this mixture into the meat and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the mixture from the fire.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Make a white sauce by melting the butter and blending in the flour, stirring with a wire whisk. Meanwhile, bring the milk to a boil and add it gradually to the butter-flour mixture, stirring constantly. When the mixture is thickened and smooth, remove it from the heat. Cook slightly and stir in the beaten eggs, nutmeg and ricotta.
Grease an 11×16-inch pan and sprinkle the bottom lightly with crumbs. Arrange alternate layers of the eggplant and the meat sauce in the pan, sprinkling each layer with Parmesan and crumbs. Pour the ricotta sauce over the top and bake 1 hour, or until top is golden. Remove from the oven and cool 20 to 30 minutes before serving. Cut into squares and serve. The flavors in this dish really improve if you make it a day ahead.
Enjoy with a side of Greek Salad and a medium bodied red wine. Opa!