Marvelous Moussaka…

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on April 20, 2010

I have always been the type of person that likes to prepare quick, wholesome meals. Most of the time, life is so busy that I have little time to really enjoy the task of cooking…especially on the weekdays. Many of the delicious Greek foods I grew up with at home require a good bit of time to prepare and one of my favorites is a dish called moussaka.

If you have never had it, let me explain…

Moussaka is made of thin pieces of fried potatoes and fried eggplant that are layered with meat sauce and topped with a custard-like, creamy and fluffy béchamel. I have had this dish at Greek restaurants, but it never tastes quite like it’s supposed to, and if you try the Middle Eastern versions, they skip the béchamel altogether!

I cannot explain the feeling of satisfaction that you get after indulging in one (or two) slices. It does take some time to make, but it is so worth it. Make sure to set a few hours aside so that you can take your time in preparing all of the different components. Making the meat sauce ahead of time will definitely help.

Meat Sauce
6-8 Tablespoons olive oil
2# lean ground beef
2 medium yellow onions, finely diced
6 large garlic cloves, crushed
2-6oz can of tomato paste
I cup water
2 Tablespoons dried oregano
2 large bay leaves
S&P to taste (start with ¼ teaspoons of each, and add more as needed)
8 medium eggplants
6 medium potatoes
¼ cup toasted, finely ground bread crumbs
Vegetable oil for frying

Bechamel Sauce
1 stick butter
½ cup flour
2 ½ cups whole milk, warm
3 large eggs, separated
3 cups grated cheese (you can use kefalotiri, parmesan, romano, asiago or graviera)
Salt and white pepper to taste
½ teaspoon nutmeg

Before you do anything, wash and slice your eggplant thinly lengthwise. Get a small pan and line with paper towels, and put the eggplant slices on the paper towel and salt well. Repeat this until you no longer have any eggplant left. Make sure after salting the top layer, you put a layer of paper towels on top of this layer too. Eggplant has a lot of water in it, so we need to get rid of as much as we can before you fry it. You can do this in the morning and just leave it in the fridge or the counter. It must sit at least for 2 hours… then forget about it until you are ready to fry.

It should look like this…

Heat the oil in a large pot and then add the onions and sauté until they start to caramelize. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes, then add in all of the ground beef. Use a wooden spoon and smash down the meat until it is no longer in large clumps. Cook the meat through for about 5 minutes, constantly stirring on moderate heat. Add a little salt and pepper at this point and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Then add the tomato paste and the water, and stir until it is all well incorporated. Add the bay leaf and the ground oregano, and continue to stir well. At this point, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. This should be a very DRY sauce. I do not add diced tomatoes or crushed tomatoes because the extra liquid will ruin the texture of the potatoes and they will not hold up when slicing. After the 30 minutes cooking time, check for S&P and adjust at this time. Turn off the heat and let the sauce rest. It should be on the dry side, like this…

Next, peel your potatoes and slice these thinly lengthwise as well.  Fry all of the potatoes and drain them on paper towels and lightly salt. Do the same for the eggplants, but make sure to put paper towels between each layer that is removed from the oil. Eggplant can absorb a lot of oil during the frying process. I fried everything in canola oil, so make sure to cook them well.

When everything is fried, you can start layering…

First add the bread crumbs to the bottom evenly, so that it will absorb any liquid from the sauce. Always start with the potato at the bottom, since that will be the base for the dish. Make sure to slightly overlap them, because that will help in keeping the layers together when slicing. Then cover with a thin layer of meat sauce on top of the potatoes then add overlapping slices of eggplant and then a little more meat sauce on top of that. It should look like this…

Repeat until you have used up most or all of the potatoes and eggplant. Remember to leave at least 1” at the top for the béchamel sauce. I used a 9”x13” pan, and it came almost to the top.

Once you have finished layering, melt the butter in a small stock pot and add the flour (roux). Cook this for about 5-10 minutes, continually stirring with a wooden spoon. Separate the eggs and add some of the warm milk to temper the yolks. Add the rest of the milk to the roux and use a whisk to make sure that there are no lumps. Switch to a wooden spoon to make sure you have incorporated everything from the tight corners of the pan, and then add in the milk and tempered yolk mixture. At this point, take the bechamel off the heat and add 2 cups of the grated cheese and the nutmeg, and stir well again. Lastly, whip the whites and fold into the mixture until well incorporated and then remove this from the heat. It should look like this…

Taste for salt and pepper at this point, but don’t add too much salt…we still have another 1 cups of grated cheese to go on top of the béchamel before it goes in the oven.  Slowly pour the bechamel over the layers in the pan, top with the rest of the cheese and bake in the center of a 350°F oven for 25 minutes. Then turn up the oven to 400°F, and move the pan to the top rack until golden brown.  When you remove it from the oven, let it sit for about 15 minutes before slicing, so that the slices don’t fall apart.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Eloise Shimanuki May 16, 2010 at 6:15 p

This looks exceeeeeelllentttt!

avatar Dan April 18, 2015 at 8:46 p

Perfect, was a crowd pleaser

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