Greek moussaka is a casserole made by layering eggplant and potatoes with a spiced meat filling and then topping it off with a creamy egg-enriched béchamel sauce (white sauce) that is baked to golden perfection. It is perhaps the most widely recognized of all Greek dishes and was made famous by the legendary Greek chef Nicholas Tselementes.
This moussaka Greek eggplant recipe is the traditional way to prepare moussaka; however, you also can layer in zucchini or other vegetables you may prefer. It is hearty and filling so you won’t need many side dishes to accompany it. While moussaka can be time-consuming to prepare, it’s worth the effort.
An important step when making moussaka is to salt the eggplant before breading it to draw out excess moisture and help to remove some of its inherent bitterness.
For the Vegetables:
- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef or lamb
- 2 large onions (finely diced)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For the Béchamel Sauce:
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups milk (warmed)
- 8 large egg yolks (lightly beaten)
- Pinch of ground nutmeg
For the Assembly:
Step 1: Using a sharp peeler, partially peel the eggplants, leaving strips of peel about 1-inch wide around the eggplant. Slice the eggplant into 1/2-inch slices.
Step 2: Place the eggplant slices in a colander and salt them liberally. Cover them with an inverted plate that is weighted down by a heavy can or jar. Place the colander in the sink and let it sit for at least 15 to 20 minutes, preferably 1 hour.
Step 3: Peel the potatoes and boil them whole until they are just done, which is about 10 minutes. They should not get too soft, just cooked enough so that they no longer crunch. Drain, cool, and cut them into 1/4-inch slices. Set aside.
Step 4: Heat the oven to 400 F. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and lightly grease with oil. Add a splash of water to the egg whites and beat them lightly with a fork. Place breadcrumbs on a flat plate.
Step 5: Rinse the eggplant slices and dry with paper towels. Dip the eggplant slices in the beaten egg whites and then dredge them in the breadcrumbs, coating both sides.
Step 6: Place breaded eggplant slices on the foil-lined baking sheets and bake for 30 minutes, turning them over once during cooking.
Step 7: When eggplant is finished cooking, lower the oven temperature to 350 F.
Make the Meat Filling
Step 1: In a large sauté pan, brown the ground beef until the pink color disappears. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Step 2: Add wine to the pan and allow it to simmer and reduce a bit before adding cinnamon, allspice, parsley, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and sugar.
Step 3: Allow the sauce to simmer, uncovered, for approximately 15 minutes so that excess liquid can evaporate. It should be a drier, chunkier tomato sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Make the Béchamel Sauce
Step 1: In a large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add flour to melted butter, whisking continuously to make a smooth paste. Let the flour cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown.
Step 2: Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Simmer over low heat until it thickens a bit but does not boil.
Step 3: Remove from heat, and stir in beaten egg yolks and pinch of nutmeg. Return to heat and stir until sauce thickens. Set aside.
Assemble the Moussaka
Step 1: Lightly grease a large deep baking pan (a lasagna pan works perfectly). Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with breadcrumbs.
Step 2: Leaving a 1/4-inch space around the edges of the pan, place a layer of potatoes on the bottom. Top with a layer of eggplant slices.
Step 3: Add meat sauce on top of eggplant layer and sprinkle with 1/4 of the grated cheese. Top with another layer of eggplant slices and sprinkle once again with 1/4 of the grated cheese.
Step 4: Pour the béchamel sauce over all, being sure to allow the sauce to fill the sides and corners of the pan. Smooth the béchamel on top with a spatula and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese.
Step 5: Bake for 45 minutes or until béchamel sauce is a nice golden brown color. Allow cooling for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing and serving.
Note: You can make this dish ahead but stop before making the béchamel sauce and refrigerate. Cook the béchamel sauce right before you intend to bake it.