Moussaka has so many delicious layers of flavor in one dish that you’ll want to make an extra for the freezer!
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Moussaka is classic Greek comfort food. It’s one of the most popular dishes in Greece and one of my all-time favorites. You can make it ahead for easy serving at a dinner party or to be frozen for a delicious meal any day you choose.
What is Greek moussaka?
Moussaka is a layered Greek casserole-style dish made with layers of vegetables and meat. There are variations of this classic, but my version of moussaka is made with delicious layers of potato, eggplant, cheese, hearty meat sauce, and creamy béchamel sauce.
Moussaka takes a little more work but is absolutely worth every minute. And since it freezes well, you can make two at a time… one to eat and one to freeze.
There are several steps, so let’s break it all down into simple steps for a delicious Moussaka!
Japanese eggplant is perfect for this dish because of its size and shape, but regular eggplant is traditional and the one I can find most often. Make sure the eggplant is soft, not squishy, and the skin is shiny.
Cut into ½ inch thick round slices and layer in a colander. As you layer, generously salt each layer to help draw out the bitter water that’s inside the eggplant. Set aside for 20-30 mintues.
Traditionally, the potatoes in Greek moussaka are deep-fried, but I like the taste of oven-roasted potatoes much better. Plus, while they’re roasting, I can make the meat sauce. So, cut the potatoes into ¼ – ½ inch thick round slices. Place them all on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Season on both sides with salt, pepper, and oregano, then bake for 20-25 minutes or until fork-tender.
The Meat Sauce
- Finely chopped onions
- Grated garlic cloves
- Olive oil
- Lean ground beef –lean ground meat works best, and you can sub any ground meat
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Crushed tomatoes
- Dried crushed oregano
I make this meat sauce at least once a week, and I usually have a batch or two in the freezer. It freezes for months and can be used in a lot of the dishes on my site.
Traditionally, the meat mixture in Greek moussaka has cinnamon, nutmeg, and sometimes even allspice. I don’t add these to my moussaka because my kids won’t eat it that way. If you’d like to try the traditional meat sauce, add ¼ teaspoon cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon nutmeg when you add salt and pepper.
Use a big enough pot to hold all of the meat and onions. Place the onion in a large skillet with olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook the onions over medium heat for 10 minutes or until soft and golden. Add the garlic and warm through for a few seconds, then add the ground beef, salt, pepper, and crushed tomatoes. Rinse the can with a cup of water and add it to the skillet. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until the sauce is very thick. When it looks ready, taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Add the oregano and set it aside.
Why will this become a favorite in your house?
- Melt in your mouth eggplant
- Hearty Meat sauce
- Creamy Cheese sauce
- It can be made ahead for easy entertaining!
Back to the Eggplant
While the meat sauce is simmering, it’s time to pan-fry the eggplant. The eggplant should have released the bitter water, so pat the slices with a paper towel to dry them as much as possible. I prefer the pan fry method over roasted eggplant because there are a few issues with the roasted method.
First, it may be a little healthier, but you will have to use so many trays that there’s a lot of clean up. Secondly, the eggplant never gets as soft ad tender as it does when you fry. So make an effort to pan-fry your eggplant.
Make sure your oil is nice and hot so your eggplant doesn’t absorb too much. Cook the eggplant rounds until golden brown on both sides and soft in the center. Then, place them on a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
The Béchamel sauce:
- Whole milk –whole milk works best, but you can use what you have on hand
- Olive oil –you can also use the exact same amount of butter
- All-purpose flour
- Salt and pepper
- Grated parmesan cheese
- Whole eggs
- Egg yolks
Bechamel sauce is basically a creamy custard, also known as a white cheese sauce that’s so delicious.
Make the béchamel sauce by combining the flour and oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk well while cooking a few minutes until the flour smells toasted. Try not to add the milk all at once because doing so will create lumps. Instead, slowly add the milk in a few batches, whisking to incorporate so that the mixture is smooth and creamy. Cook until it comes to a boil and thickens, then season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from heat.
Whisk the eggs together in a bowl, then add a small amount of the hot cream sauce into the eggs while whisking to temper them. Tempering will prevent the eggs from scrambling when added to the cream sauce.
After the eggs have tempered, add them to the cream sauce and whisk well. Then, add the parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
Pulling your Greek moussaka together
Using a 9×13 casserole dish, I like to start by adding a thin layer of unseasoned bread crumbs. It’s a trick I learned to soak up any extra moisture that may make your moussaka watery. Here’s how to layer the dish:
- Bread crumbs
- Roasted potato slices
- Grated cheese
- Roasted eggplant slices
- Grated cheese
- Meat sauce spread evenly
- Roasted eggplant slices
- Top with béchamel sauce
Sprinkle any remaining cheese over the béchamel sauce if you’d like. Adjust the oven temperature to 400 °F, 200 °C, and bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour. The bechamel sauce will be golden brown on top.
You can let the moussaka cool a bit and scoop it out, but it’s messy. So, allow it to rest for about 45 minutes before slicing. It will be hard to wait, but you’ll be able to cut pieces, and they’ll hold their shape.
Freezing your Greek moussaka
If you’ve made a double batch or want to freeze the one you made for later, the best way is to freeze it before you bake it. It will freeze for up to two months, and you can thaw it the night before you want to serve it. Then bake as usual.
I’m not a fan of freezing the béchamel sauce, so I freeze my moussaka without béchamel. I make a fresh béchamel the day I bake it, and I think it’s the best way to serve it. However, my aunt in Greece freezes the whole thing, so it works! Let me know what you like best.
Since Greek moussaka can be made ahead, it’s perfect for dinner parties. You can make it earlier in the day, then pre-slice it for the party. It will stay warm for a couple of hours, so you can enjoy your guests as they arrive. Serve it with a nice side salad that you’ve also made ahead, and you’ll have a delicious meal ready whenever your guests are.
- 3 eggplants, cut into 1/2 inch slices
- 3 potatoes, peeled and sliced
- 2 cups parmesan cheese or kefalotiri
- olive oil, for brushing on vegetables
- salt and black pepper to taste
- dried oregano
For the Béchamel sauce:
- 5 cups whole milk
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 whole eggs
- 2 egg yolks
For the Meat Sauce:
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 5-6 garlic cloves, grated
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 (15-ounces) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon dried crushed oregano
- Preheat the oven to 425°F, 220 °C.
- Place the potato slices on a baking tray. Drizzle 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil over them and season both sides with salt, pepper, and oregano.
- Bake 20-25 minutes or until fork-tender and golden.
- Slice the eggplants and layer them in a colander or on a tray. Sprinkle salt on top of each of the layers of eggplant and set aside for 20-30 minutes.
- Prepare the meat sauce: Place the onion in a large skillet along with the olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes or until soft and golden. Add the garlic and warm through for a few seconds. Add the ground beef, salt, pepper, and crushed tomatoes. Rinse the can with a cup of water and add it to the skillet. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until the sauce is very thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the oregano and set aside.
- Make the béchamel sauce by combining the flour and oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk well while cooking a few minutes until toasted.
- Slowly add the milk in a few batches, whisking to incorporate so that it is smooth and creamy. Adding the milk all at once will create lumps.
- Cook until it comes to a boil and thickens. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Remove from heat.
- Whisk the eggs together in a bowl. Add some of the hot milk mixture into the eggs and whisk to temper them so that they don't scramble when added to the cream sauce.
- Add the eggs to the sauce and whisk well.
- Add the parmesan cheese and mix to combine.
- Place the roasted potato slices on the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Use a deep pan. Sprinkle grated cheese over the potatoes.
- Top with a layer of roasted eggplant slices and sprinkle grated cheese over them.
- Top with the meat sauce and spread.
- Make a final layer of roasted eggplant over the meat sauce and top with the béchamel sauce.
- Sprinkle any remaining cheese over the sauce if desired.
- Adjust oven temperature to 400 °F, 200 °C.
- Bake 45 minutes - 1 hour until the cream is golden brown on top.
- Allow to rest for about 45 minutes before slicing so that the pieces hold their shape.
- Serve with a nice salad and enjoy!
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