Moussaka

I don’t honestly even like moussaka much. By my wife loves it (and aubergines more generally), so a while back (pre-lockdown) she ordered it in a supposed Greek restaurant, only to find that what arrived resembled a shepherd’s pie: very little aubergine all mixed in with the meat sauce, and with a layer of mashed potato on top in place of the white sauce. Ugh.

Here’s how it should look (stolen from a recipe on the BBC website)

Anyway, being the exemplary husband that I am, I cooked a moussaka for her, more according to her preferences. This is the recipe I landed on (having read two or three that were in the ballpark but not quite right).

  • Slice three aubergines transversely into slices about a centimeter thick. Lay them in baking trays and bake them in an over at 200 degrees C for half an hour or so, turning after fifteen minutes.
  • Finely chop one large onion and three cloves of garlic, and fry them in olive oil.
  • Add 500g minced lamb, one teaspoon dried oregano, two bay leaves and one teaspoon powdered cinnamon. Stir until the meat is brown.
  • Mix in one tablespoon of plain flour. When it’s all absorbed, add a glass of red wine and a tin of tomatoes, finely chopped.
  • Pour another glass of red wine, and drink it as you continue.
  • Leave the meat sauce simmering to reduce as you make the white sauce topping: start by melting 50 g butter.
  • Add plain flour — enough that the butter absorbs it all and becomes a thick paste.
  • Slowly add milk, continuing to cook, until the sauce is the texture of thick cream.
  • Add 50 g of grated cheddar and mix in.
  • Add one teaspoon of powdered nutmeg and mix in.
  • Finally, break one egg into the mixture and immediately stir it vigorously into the sauce so it doesn’t cook in place.
  • Now you’re ready to assemble the moussaka:
    • Place a layer of aubergines in the bottom of your over-proof dish.
    • Top it with a layer of meat sauce.
    • Keep alternating layers of aubergine and meat sauce until they’re exhausted.
    • Cover it all with the white sauce, spread thickly and evenly.
    • Sprinkle the top with another 25 g of grated cheddar.
  • Bake at 200 degrees C for about half an hour. Keep an eye on it, so you can yank it out if it’s starting to burn.

That’s it. Fiona loves it, and even I have to admit it’s not bad.

3 responses to “Moussaka

  1. That sounds like an improvement. We do something like that. Some variations based on our favorite version:
    – Add raisins, tomato paste, fresh mint, and/or fresh parsley to the meat sauce. Mint gives it more Greek. A few tbsp of tomato paste adds umami. It’s a common cooking cheat for tomato sauces.
    – Use kasseri cheese in the mornay sauce.Goose it with yogurt, ideally Greek yogurt, for extra tang.
    – Add a mashed potato layer or two. Just potatoes, mashed.

  2. Raisins? Would never have occurred to me. Can’t see myself trying it :-)

    Mint, though: that seems like a smart move. Tomato paste is kinda obvious, but yes.

    Mashed potato: I can see it working, but given our personal history with this dish I think it’s a non-starter for us.

  3. I can understand both aversions. Not everyone likes the sweetness and tartness of dried fruit in their savories. As a child, I would never eat my father’s stuffed cabbage because it had raisins in it. As for mashed or sliced potatoes, they seem to be standard at Greek restaurants in the US. Still, shepherd’s pie is a whole different dish.

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