Moussaka: How to cook a delicious Greek dish
Moussaka is by far the most popular Greek dish worldwide. It's a very tasty casserole, and one of the top Greek comfort foods.
Even though moussaka is considered a traditional Greek dish, the truth is, that it's a relatively new dish of the Greek cuisine, with only about a century of existence, as it was probably invented by Nikos Tselementes in the 1920s.
Tselementes, was a famous Greek Chef, who modernized the Greek cuisine, adding European elements in classic Greek recipes. He was from the island of Sifnos, which to this day, offers some of the best cooked traditional Greek dishes, perhaps following his legacy.
Unfortunately, most of the moussaka served in popular tourist areas is of low quality both in taste and ingredients used. It's quite rare to taste a decent moussaka when you order it in a tavern or a tourist resort/hotel. Therefore, we urge you to try and cook it at home. The best moussaka dishes we had, were always home cooked.
The word "moussaka" is probably of Arabic origin, where a similar cold dish is served. There are many variations of the dish throughout the Balkans, Turkey, and the Arabic countries. The Greek version however, has been proven to be the most popular one, and is always consisting of 3 basic layers: a bottom layer of fried eggplants, a middle layer of ground meat, and a top layer of Greek bechamel sauce. Due to this layered way of assembling moussaka, many different dishes around the world which have layers have been occasionally named "moussaka", even though they are not even remotely related to this classic dish.
Every traditional Greek moussaka must contain the 3 specific layers mentioned: eggplants, ground meat and bechamel. There are however many versions of moussaka, as each Greek family have adjusted the dish according to their likings. So, there are versions where zucchinis or potatoes are added; there are versions with ground beef, ground lamb, ground pork or combinations of those; there are versions with or without tomato sauce (along with the ground meat) and finally there are versions where the bechamel top has also eggs or cheese in it.
Our own favorite version, which we are presenting you in this recipe, includes fried potatoes along with the eggplants at the bottom layer, and also includes a small green bell pepper in the ground beef sauce in the middle layer. That's our small "secret" that we share with you. On the top layer(bechamel), we prefer not to add eggs, and we simply sprinkle with graviera cheese.
It's a dish that requires a bit of time to cook, but you will definitely be rewarded for your patience by the amazing taste of the end result. The process is as follows: at the first phase we fry the ingredients used at the bottom layer; the sliced potatoes and eggplants. At the second phase, we cook the ground meat with the tomato sauce for the middle layer. At the third phase we prepare the bechamel sauce to put on top (it doesn't take long) and on the fourth and final phase, we assemble the moussaka and bake in the oven.
It may look a bit overwhelming, but half the time needed is just the baking, where you don't have to do a thing! You simply wait and try to resist opening the oven door! The phase which takes a bit more time (around 30 minutes) is cooking the ground meat with tomato sauce for the middle layer. The rest are quite easy and quick to make. So, if you take the time to cook moussaka correctly, you will always succeed in having a superb dish for you and your family!
1st layer (base)
-220g (7.7oz / 1 middle sized) potato, cut into thin slices (about 1cm/0.4inch thick)
-180g (6.3oz / 1 small) eggplant, cut into thin slices (about 1cm/0.4inch thick)
-250ml (1 cup) olive oil
2nd layer (middle)
-250g (9 oz) ground beef
-300g (10.5oz / 1 big) tomato, grated
-80g (3 oz/ 1 small)green bell pepper, finely chopped
-140g (5oz / 1 middle sized) onion, finely chopped
-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
-125ml (1/2 cup) wine
-1/3 teaspoon cinnamon powder
-125ml (1/2 cup) olive oil
-salt and pepper
Top layer – Greek bechamel sauce
-4 tablespoons flour
-3 tablespoons margarine or butter
-375ml (1 1/2 cups) milk in room temperature
-1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
-40g (1.5oz) Dubliner cheese or Gruyere, grated
Phase 1: 1st layer (cooking time 10')
Add the olive oil in a medium size pan, put it on high heat and fry the potatoes for about 3-4 minutes (turn once). Remove them from the pan and let them drain on paper towel. Then fry the eggplants for 2 minutes (turn once). Remove from the pan and let them drain on paper towel as well. It's important not to fry the potatoes and the eggplants all the way through. They need to be soft, almost cooked but not completely done.
Phase 2: 2nd layer(cooking time 25-30')
Add the olive oil in a medium sized pan, on medium to high heat. Once hot add the onion and the pepper. Saute for 2 minutes and add the ground beef.
Using a fork cut the ground beef in small pieces, mixing it with the onion and the pepper until all moisture is evaporated (about 3 minutes).
Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, the cinnamon, salt and pepper.
Cook, stirring often, for 4 minutes and then add the wine. Continue cooking for 2 minutes more and add the tomato.
Cook about 10 minutes, until all moisture evaporates.
Put the fried potatoes in the bottom of a small baking pan, then add on top of them the fried eggplants. On top of the eggplants spread the ground beef. Leave the baking pan aside for a while and start preparing the bechamel topping.
Phase 3: Top layer - Greek Bechamel sauce (cooking time 5-6')
Melt the butter in a small pot on medium to high heat. Slowly add the flour, while constantly whisking. The butter must be completely absorbed by the flour, forming a thick mixture. Reduce the heat to medium and slowly pour the milk into the pot, constantly whisking. Add the nutmeg and the salt. Cook, until you get a not too thick., creamy result. Remove the pot from the heat and pour the bechamel sauce into the baking pan on top of the ground beef. Sprinkle with the cheese.
Phase 4: Baking (50')
Put the baking pan in the oven, in the middle rack at 180 Celsius (356 Fahrenheit) for 50 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and leave aside for at least 30 minutes to chill before serving. Kali oreksi!
1. If you cook more than the proposed in this recipe quantity, you can freeze the moussaka in an airtight container and reheat it again in the future.
2. You can also add egg yolks in the bechamel sauce, but before you add them you must give it first a few minutes to cool down to avoid the eggs being cooked. Then proceed and add the bechamel to the baking pan as usual.
3. You can use Dubliner cheese if you can't find graviera cheese. You can also try some other hard yellow cheese of your liking instead. Parmesan however is not recommended for this dish.
4. You can omit the potatoes at the bottom layer if you prefer a more classic moussaka.
5. The ground meat with tomato sauce is basically a thick Bolognese style sauce. So, you can also experiment with your favorite ground meat tomato sauce for the middle layer. You have to make sure however, that it's thick and not watery.
6. You can also sprinkle with breadcrumbs on top before baking if you prefer a crispier result.
7. Moussaka is best served with feta cheese and/or Greek salad and a couple of slices of fresh bread.
8. It's better to serve moussaka in warm or in room temperature. Never too hot.
9. You can add more eggplant slices in the bottom layer if you like.