Moussaka recipe: layers of eggplant, potatoes, and a spiced meat sauce nestled in between. Comfort food, Greek-style!
The epitome of Greek comfort food, moussaka is basically a hearty eggplant casserole with a juicy, flavor-packed meat sauce. Topping the meat is either a rich bechamel sauce– a French influence that was introduced later–or, as in today’s Moussaka recipe, a cheese-based topping. To be sure, the variations in moussaka go beyond the topping. Some recipes call for layers of other vegetables like zucchini squash; but more commonly, a layer of thinly sliced potatoes.
To name just a couple of variations: Egyptian moussaka– adapted from our Greek neighbors– has fried eggplant with minced beef, all smothered in red sauce (no additional topping.) And there is a vegan moussaka, one with eggplant and green peppers as in this Turkish-inspired eggplant dish.
Can you tell I’ve had a few moussakas in my lifetime? And I have enjoyed them all!
But today, my mind went to the moussaka I had a few years ago in a small family-owned restaurant on the Greek Island of Patmos. Determined to recreate that special moussaka recipe, I reviewed several recipes including one I adapted here from my trusted Mediterranean Cookbook.
My clever husband made this observation: moussaka to the Greeks is like shepherd’s pie to the Americans! Just like shepherd’s pie, moussaka is a satisfying casserole that is a meal in itself. You can simply add a side salad and call it dinner; or, you can even add it as part of a larger holiday meal.
Note: This moussaka recipe is a bit of an undertaking in terms of the steps involved, but you can easily prepare most of it ahead of time and simply assemble the actual dish and bake it the day you are ready to serve. See the “prepare ahead” in the recipe notes at the bottom of this post.
Here is the step-by-step for today’s moussaka recipe:
(Print-friendly recipe to follow)
Spread the eggplant slices in one layer and sprinkle with salt. Let set for 30 minutes to “sweat out” its bitterness.
Pat the eggplant slices dry and assemble in one layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Drizzle generously with olive oil. Place the baking sheet on the top oven rack and broil briefly, turning over so that both sides of the eggplant are softened and golden brown (do not worry if parts of the eggplant are slightly charred, but watch carefully so it doesn’t burn). Remove from the oven and set aside.
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet. Cook the onions on medium heat until they turn slightly golden brown, stirring regularly (about 5 minutes). Now add the ground lamb. Cook the lamb until fully browned, tossing regularly. Drain the lamb from any excess fat and return back to the skillet. Now add the dried oregano, ground cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, and hot paprika. Stir to coat the meat with the spices. Add the wine and boil for 1 minute to reduce. Stir in the canned tomatoes, sugar and broth. Simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In the meantime, boil the sliced potatoes in plenty of water until they are completely soft and easily breakable (about 5-7 minutes). Drain the water and set the potatoes aside briefly.
To prepare the cheese topping, whisk the Greek yogurt with the eggs and flour. Add the ricotta and feta cheese and whisk again to combine.
When ready, lightly oil a 9 1/2″ x 13″ oven-safe baking pan. Layer the eggplant slices on the bottom. Add the meat sauce and spread to cover the eggplant. Layer the potato slices to cover the meat sauce and sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Finally spread the cheese topping to thinly cover the potatoes.
Bake in the 350 F degree-heated oven for 45 minutes. If you need to, transfer the baking pan to the top rack and broil briefly so that the top of the moussaka gains a nice golden brown color (watch carefully). Remove from the heat and let sit 5-7 minutes before cutting through into squares to serve. Enjoy!
You may also enjoy these eggplant recipes:
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