Saturday, October 10, 2009

Moussaka me Melitzanes: Moussaka with Eggplant

In Greek: μουσακά με μελιτζάνες, pronounced moo-sah-KAH meh meh-leed-ZAH-nes

Moussaka can be any dish of layered vegetables and ground meat, and dishes with the same or similar names are prepared in several areas of the world. Other Greek versions call for artichokes, potatoes, and zucchini, or a combination, but this is the classic known worldwide. Moussaka is generally served in large portions.
No one ever said it was easy, but it's worth the effort!

Prep Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes


· 5-6 medium Globe eggplants (about 5-6 pounds)
· sea salt
· olive oil
· 2 large onions, chopped
· 2 1/2 pounds (1 kilo) of ground beef
· 3 cups of chopped ripe tomatoes with juice (or canned tomatoes)
· 3 cloves of garlic, minced
· 6-8 whole cloves
· 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon or a small stick (break off around 1 inch long)
· 1/8 teaspoon of ground allspice
· 2 bay leaves
· 1 cup of grated kefalotyri cheese (or pecorino or parmigiano reggiano)
· 1 cup of breadcrumbs
· 1/2 cup of dry red wine
· 3 tablespoons of tomato paste
· freshly ground pepper
· béchamel with cheese


* See my recipes for Béchamel with Cheese

Build the Moussaka from the bottom up:


Wash eggplants and trim off stems. Cut off 1/2-inch wide strips of the skin lengthwise, leaving about an inch in between, all around the eggplant, then cut eggplant lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices. Put slices in a large bowl or on a tray, sprinkle liberally with salt and let them sit for 30 minutes. Rinse well, drain, and pat dry. Brush slices lightly on both sides with olive oil and run them under the broiler on an ungreased cookie sheet until lightly browned and soft. Remove and set aside to cool.

Note: If you've never fixed this before, there are two reasons often given for salting the eggplant: (1) to remove any bitterness, and (2) to absorb some of the natural liquids.


Preheat the frying pan or skillet over low heat.

When the pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons of oil and increase the heat to medium low. Sauté the onions with a wooden spoon, until onions are translucent. Add the meat and continue to sauté until lightly browned. Add tomatoes, 1/2 the breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, allspice, wine, and tomato paste, and mix well. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 45 minutes to an hour.

Note: If there is still liquid in the pan, continue to simmer uncovered, stirring to prevent sticking, until the mixture is as dry as possible. To prevent the final dish from having too much moisture, this step is crucial.

When dry, remove the cloves, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick (if used), and set sauce aside uncovered until ready to use.


While the sauce is simmering, make the bechamel, cover, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).


Lightly oil a baking or roasting pan and sprinkle the bottom with the remaining 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs. Place a layer of eggplant slices on the breadcrumbs (it's ok to overlap) and spread the meat mixture evenly on top. Cover with the remaining eggplant slices, and carefully pour the béchamel sauce evenly over the top.
Bake at 350°F (180°C) for 30 minutes, then sprinkle the cheese over the top, and continue to cook for another 15 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove the moussaka from the oven and allow to cool for 20-30 minutes. Moussaka is traditionally eaten warm, not hot, and can also be eaten at room temperature. Like many Greek dishes, this is even better the next day.

Yield: approximately 8 servings

Serving suggestions:

Moussaka is traditionally served in very large pieces and it is a heavy dish. Serve with a green salad, crusty bread, and a dry red wine. If anyone has room for dessert, a fruit sorbet or cheese with fruit is a light way to end on a sweet note.


· In Greece, Moussaka is most often made with ground beef.
· Moussaka can be prepared up to the béchamel and refrigerated overnight. The next day, add the béchamel sauce and cook. It can also be completely cooked and cooled, then frozen and reheated.

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