Here’s a dish that many non-Greeks think of first when they think of that colourful, food-loving culture. It’s as familiar to most of us as Taztziki sauce, Spanakopita and Kalamata Olives. The mystery, for me, is why most folks demure from making it at home. It’s another really easy, basic dish that just about everybody will love!
Add Meat Sauce, and Moussaka becomes a meal in itself with Olives, Bread and a nice Tomato Salad on the side. I make lots when I make it, so I can freeze it in individual portions and dine later simply by microwaving the right number of servings!
Start with a couple of nice, big Purple Eggplant. I do not peel mine. Just wash well. Don’t rub too hard or you’ll mar the skin.Slice them either across the waist or top-to-bottom, in nice 3/8 in. / 1 cm slices. In a nice hot frying pan, use two tablespoons of Olive Oil and two of a high-temp oil such as Canola, and sizzle the Eggplant slices for a few minutes on each side, until they start to brown. Sprinkle with Salt and pepper while cooking. That brown colour is pure flavour – that’s why we do that. Whatever you do, don’t let the Eggplant get too mushy. That can happen easily if you slice it even a bit too thin!
Set the Eggplant aside and get some Marinara sauce out of the freezer. You’ll want at least 1 litre (1 qt.) because you’ll be making two casseroles – one to freeze! Defrost the Marinara in the Microwave and set aside.
If you want Meat Sauce, add 2 lb. / 1 kg of crumbled Sausage Meat or Ground Veal to the pan or pot first and brown to medium. Then pour the sauce over the meat and bring to the boil. As soon as it boils, take the sauce off the heat and set aside.With or without neat, make sure the Sauce is well seasoned and ad a nice handful or fresh chopped (or a tablespoon dried) of Oregano plus a teaspoon of ground Nutmeg.
Now, thinly slice three medium Onions and four medium Tomatoes. Set aside. Okay, the Tomatoes and Onions are optional, but that’s how I make it! And with plain Marinara Sauce, it’s vegetarian.
When you have a moment, grate or cube half pound of Melting Cheese (like Halloumi) to use for topping near the end of cooking.
Just before you want to put the dish together, make up about a litre of fairly loose Béchamel Sauce, with a pinch of Nutmeg and a generous pinch of Salt and White Pepper. When thickened, stir in a cup / 25 g of grated Parmesan, Romano or Gruyere Cheese. Stir until velvety. Set aside.
Now, put it all together…
In a pair of Lasagna pans – otherwise known to most of us as 9 in. by 13 in. casseroles – place a couple of ladles of Marinara and spread it even over the bottoms. Now, cover the sauce with a layer of seared Eggplant, overlapping the slices so no voids are left between them. Then, place slices of onion over the Eggplant and follow up with a layer of Tomatoes, Then, cover the Tomatoes with a thin layer of the Cheese Sauce. Next, split the remaining Marinara between the two casseroles and level the layers.
Add another layer of Eggplant, now. You should have enough to overlap the slices as in the first layer. Cover with the remainder of the Cheese Sauce and spread out to cover the Eggplant evenly, right our to the edges of the casserole dishes. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour at 375 F, sprinkling the Parmesan all over the top when the casseroles are bubbling nicely up the sides of the dishes. Another fifteen minutes and the final sprinkling of cheese will be golden and delicious.
That’s my essentially-vegetarian Moussaka variation…
Even Eggplant ‘haters’ will come back for seconds of this Mediterranean classic!
An easier, classic approach…
Most Greek Moms make the meat sauce version of Moussaka. Use more meat when making the Sauce (double the amount mentioned above). When assembling the casseroles, alternate layers of Eggplant and meat sauce, then top with the last of the Eggplant. Cover with a thick layer of Cheese Sauce and top with grated Parmesan or Romano Cheese…
~ Maggie J.