In our family our kids call moussaka “Greek lasagna,” and it does bear a lot of resemblance to its Italian cousin. Both are layered, baked dishes, both feature a meat and tomato sauce along with a béchamel (at least authentic Italian lasagna–pasta al forno–does).
But moussaka eschews the pasta layers for layers of delicious eggplant and potato. The meat is more pronounced, and the top layer of thick, creamy béchamel gives it its own unique look and taste.
You can easily make a vegetarian version by omitting the meat, but the recipe below is more traditional. It hails from our friends Dora and Katerina at our Poros Cooking Odyssey Vacations in Greece, our best-selling Greek cooking vacation.
A few notes: some versions of moussaka have a single layer of meat between two layers of vegetables, with the béchamel on top. This version has multiple layers, but you can do it as you prefer. Also, some recipes will call for salting the eggplant slices for an hour before using, but we find this step does not greatly change the taste of the dish.
Recipe for Moussaka
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 50-60 minutes
Cook method: Bake
- 500 gr ground beef
- 1 kg potatoes (about 2 lbs)
- 4 medium eggplants
- olive oil
- vegetable oil (for frying)
- 1 large onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 10 fresh tomatoes
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp thyme
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper
Ingredients for the Béchamel sauce
- 85 gr unsalted butter
- 85 gr plain flour
- 900 ml milk (warmed)
- 100 gr kefalotiri cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1⁄2 tsp nutmeg
- salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large saucepan; add the onion and sauté until soft but not browned.
2. Add the minced beef and garlic. Break up the meat with a wooden fork until it has a loose texture.
3. Add the wine and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in the cinnamon, the chopped tomatoes, oregano, bay leaf and thyme into the meat mixture. Reduce the heat and simmer for about one hour. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
4. Meanwhile make the béchamel sauce; melt the butter in a heavy pot and stir in the flour. Keep the heat at medium low and cook for about 5 minutes. Take off the heat and slowly stir in the milk. Return the pot to the heat and stir continuously until the sauce thickens, simmering over a gentle heat for about 5-10 minutes.
5. Slice the eggplant, brush them with olive oil and season them with salt (both sides). Grill the eggplants, or bake them in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, flipping them half way through.
6. Slice the potatoes, then fry the slices in oil until lightly browned. Drain on a paper towel and season with salt, then set aside until ready to construct the Moussaka.
7. Cover the base of an ovenproof dish with a third of the potatoes. Next layer about a third of the eggplants and a third of the beef (remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf). Repeat the layers, sprinkling each layer with the kefalotiri cheese.
8. The béchamel sauce should now have cooled enough to whisk in the eggs. Add the nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the last layer of the Moussaka with the béchamel sauce. Sprinkle any remaining kefalotiri on top of the béchamel.
9. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 C for 50-60 minutes, until bubbling and golden. Allow the Moussaka to rest for at least 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
If you would like to cook with Dora and Katerina on Poros, sign up for our Poros Island Cooking Odyssey in Greece!
By Peg Kern
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