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). This tasty Greek delight is a culinary experience to those who sample it for the first time. I first tried it when I worked at a Greek diner in Buffalo, New York during college, and then once again on a trip to the Greek Islands a couple of years ago. Needless to say, the real Greek Moussaka blew the Buffalo diner version to pieces, so I decided to take a stab at making it myself for my Big Fat Greek Birthday dinner party.
One of the most delicious versions of Moussaka I tasted was in Santorini, Greece. 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 – 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 ootatoes without the meat. Either way you make it, with its warm and rich flavors and gooey cheese you’ll be hooked.
I made this recipe with zucchini and potatoes, and combined ground lamb with ground beef together. The combination of all the spices from the meat and seasonings soak into the vegetables and once you layer some creamy béchamel and gooey cheese on top, you’ve got yourself a delicious heartwarming dish. 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 two large rectangular baking dishes of it, as it won’t last long. The flavors in this dish really improve if you
make it a day ahead. It’s also a very filling dish, so you may want to serve it as the main course, and accompany it with a Greek Salad, some Stuffed Grape Leaves and Tzaziki for a light side dish along with some Garlic Lemon Hummus and grilled pita. Serve with a red Greek wine and a shot of Ouzo as an aperitif.
3 large zucchini (or eggplants)
3 large potatoes
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 lg onions, chopped fine
1 lb ground lamb
1 lb ground beef
3 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup red Greek wine
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Fresh ground black pepper
1/4 lb butter
6 tbsp all purpose flour
1 quart of milk
4 eggs; beaten until frothy
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
2 cups ricotta or cottage cheese
1 cup fine bread crumbs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Cut the zucchini and potatoes into slices about 1/2 inch thick.
If using eggplant instead of zucchini, peel the eggplant first. Brown the zucchini slices quickly in 1/4 cup of the oil. Set aside.
remaining oil in the same skillet and cook the onions until they are
golden 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 heat and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. 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
Grease an 11×16-inch pan and sprinkle the bottom lightly with
crumbs. Arrange alternate layers of the zucchini and potatoes and meat sauce
in the pan, sprinkling each layer with parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Pour
the ricotta cheese bechamel 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.