Classic Greek moussaka with layers of tender roasted eggplant, perfectly seasoned meat sauce, and a creamy bechamel topping. The ultimate comfort food, Greek-style! Be sure to check out my how-to video and tips for how to make moussaka perfectly every time.
What is moussaka?
The epitome of Greek comfort food, moussaka (pronounced moo-sa-ka’a) is a hearty eggplant casserole with a juicy, flavor-packed meat sauce nestled in, and finished with a topping of rich bechamel sauce.
There are variations of eggplant moussaka, some using additional vegetable layers including potatoes or even zucchini squash. Other recipes, as they make in Egypt, ditch the bechamel topping, simply serving a deconstructed version with fried eggplant smothered in tomato sauce (it looks something like this fried eggplant dish).
Today, we’re going to stick closer to classic moussaka with all the delicious layers involved.
Even though Greek moussaka is not hard to make, it is a bit time consuming. The good news is, with a little planning, you can prepare it ahead of time. Be sure to read through for my tips.
What you’ll need to make moussaka
Classic moussaka has three key components: sliced eggplant, the meat sauce, and the bechamel sauce. Here are the ingredients you need to make each of the layers:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Yellow onion
- Ground lamb or ground beef
- Oregano, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, paprika or hot paprika
- Red wine
- Canned diced tomato
- Beef broth
- All-purpose flour
How to prepare eggplant for moussaka?
Because eggplant is one of the main ingredients in this recipe, preparing it properly is important.
- Use large eggplants. Larger eggplants will yield large slices, which make it easier to form layers.
- You don't need to peel the eggplant before cutting it.
- Slice the eggplant lengthwise into ¼-inch pieces. Place the eggplant on a clean cutting board and hold it in place with your non-dominant hand. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut it into ¼-inch slices and discard the end pieces.
- I recommend salting the eggplant for best flavor. (More info on that just below.)
- Broil the eggplant. Broiling the eggplant is a major shortcut because the eggplant will cook quickly. The charred bits from broiling the eggplant result in a great flavor.
Should you salt eggplant for moussaka?
This is a hotly debated topic among cooks, and many do not believe you need to salt eggplant. But there are two reasons I believe salting the eggplant helps. Salt helps to draw out excess moisture, so that when your moussaka bakes, it won’t be swimming in liquid. Salted eggplant also has a nice creamy texture, which works really well in moussaka. Secondly, eggplant can be quite bitter. Salt helps to remove that bitterness, making eggplant more palatable.
To salt the eggplant, simply sprinkle salt onto the slices and allow it to sit for 30 minutes.
Moussaka meat sauce
The rich, thick meat sauce in moussaka is sure to be a hit in your home! You can use either ground lamb or beef, but I used lamb because it is such a flavorful type of meat. But I know lamb can be polarizing for this very reason, so beef would be a good substitute, and would still yield decadent results.
The ground lamb is spiced with comforting, warming cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, pepper, and dried oregano. For some delicious umami, I add a generous amount of canned tomatoes. This is followed by wine and beef broth – both powerhouses of flavor! A teaspoon of sugar helps to mellow out some of the acidity but still maintains the different levels of flavor in this traditional moussaka.
Bechamel sauce with a twist!
Traditional bechamel sauce (or white sauce) has three main ingredients: butter, flour, and milk. The result is a gorgeous creamy sauce, thick but still slightly runny.
The bechamel sauce in moussaka differs in that it contains eggs, which, when baked, result in a sauce that sets pretty firmly. So when you cut your moussaka up into slices for serving, the bechamel sauce should not run.
How to make moussaka
- Slice and salt the eggplant. Sprinkle the sliced eggplant with salt and allow to sit for 30 minutes. This helps to reduce bitterness.
- Broil the eggplant. Brush the eggplant with extra virgin olive oil and broil until it is softened and golden brown.
- Make the meat sauce. Brown the lamb, drain excess fat, and add the spices. Pour in the wine and reduce, followed by the tomatoes, sugar, and broth. Let simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Make the bechamel. Cook the salt, pepper, and flour in heated olive oil until golden. Add milk in small amounts and whisk continuously to prevent lumps forming, and add nutmeg. Whisk some hot bechamel with eggs and return it to the stove.
- Assemble the moussaka. The fun part! Layer half the eggplant slices, the meat sauce, the remaining eggplant, and top with bechamel. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top.
- Bake. Bake for 45 minutes on the center rack. For more color, broil for a couple of minutes.
- Let rest before serving. After removing the eggplant moussaka from the oven, let it sit for 10 to 20 minutes so that it does not fall apart when you slice it. Cut into squares and serve.
Make ahead tips for moussaka
Eggplant moussaka is not a difficult dish to make, but it is time consuming. You can save time by making the components in advance. Here are some tips for preparing moussaka in advance:
- Prepare the eggplant one day in advance. You can slice, sweat out, and broil the eggplant a few days in advance.
- Cook the meat sauce one or two days ahead. The meat sauce will keep in the fridge for up to four days, but for best flavor, work one or two days ahead of time.
- Make the bechamel sauce a few days in advance. Bechamel sauce will hold its flavor and texture for up to a week in the fridge. Reheat bechamel over low heat, whisking continuously. If the bechamel has thickened too much, whisk in a little more milk to get it to the right consistency.
Vegetarian moussaka option
If you’re looking to make a vegetarian version of this recipe, I’ve got you covered! Check out my Vegetarian Moussaka recipe.
My veggie moussaka recipe is as hearty as this one, with just a couple of key differences. First, I replaced the meat sauce with an equally delicious lentil sauce. And I added layers of potatoes and zucchini for bulk.
What to serve with it
The great thing about moussaka is that it is a complete meal. If you eat it by itself, it will be more than satisfying and bursting with flavor!
But if you want a bit of crunch, you could serve it alongside a side salad, like my 3-Ingredient Mediterranean Salad.
Additional recipe FAQs:
The main difference between the two is that lasagna is made with layers of pasta, while moussaka is made with vegetable layers.
You can freeze eggplant moussaka. Once it cools, simply cut the moussaka into pieces and freeze them. This way, you can reheat individual slices at a time.
Greek moussaka will keep well in the fridge for about five days.
Yes, you can use potato instead of eggplant. Cooking time for the potatoes to be tender will be different than eggplant.
Other eggplant recipes to try
Browse all Mediterranean recipes.
Moussaka: Eggplant Casserole
- 2 large eggplants, sliced lengthwise into ¼ inch-thick slices, end slices discarded
- Private Reserve extra virgin olive oil
- 4 tablespoon breadcrumbs
For the meat sauce
For the bechamel
- ⅓ cup + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt, more if you like
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 4 cups 2% milk, warmed
- 2 large eggs
- Salt the eggplant. Spread the eggplant slices in one layer and sprinkle with salt. Let set for 30 minutes to "sweat out" its bitterness.
- Turn the broiler of your oven on.
- Prepare a large sheet pan or two and brush with extra virgin olive oil. Pat the eggplant slices dry, removing excess salt, and assemble in one layer on the prepared pan. Brush generously with olive oil.
- Place the sheet pan about 6 inches away from the broiler. Broil the eggplant briefly, turning over so that both sides 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.
- Prepare the meat sauce. Heat 2 tablespoons 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 to the skillet. Add the dried oregano, 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 over medium-low heat for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees F and work on the bechamel.
- Make the bechamel. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Stir in the flour, salt, and pepper. Cook until golden (if needed, added a little more olive oil). Gradually add the warmed milk, whisking continuously. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes. Add the nutmeg. In a small bowl, whisk a small amount of the hot bechamel mixture with the 2 eggs. Then return all to the pan and stir into the bechamel mixture. Continue to stir or whisk the mixture bringing to a gentle boil for just 2 more minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Remove from the heat and allow to cool and thicken a little more. (You should have a creamy, thick and smooth bechamel sauce.)
- Assemble the moussaka. When ready, lightly oil a 9 ½" x 13" oven-safe baking dish. Layer half the eggplant slices on the bottom. Add the meat sauce and spread well. Add the remaining eggplant slices. Pour the bechamel on top and spread to cover all the eggplant, then sprinkle with the bread crumbs.
- Bake. Bake the moussaka casserole on the center rack of the 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 the casserole sit for 10 minutes before cutting through into squares to serve. Enjoy!
- Make ahead tips: You can prepare and broil the eggplant and meat sauce a day or two in advance. The bechamel sauce can also be made a few days ahead (it can hold texture for about 1 week, although you should count some days for leftovers). If you prepare the components of this eggplant casserole ahead of time, keep them each in the fridge in separate tightly-closed containers. If the bechamel thickens too much, you may need to reheat it gently before using over low heat, adding a little more milk and whisking to make sure the mixture is. not lumpy.
- Let the moussaka rest before serving: After removing the eggplant moussaka from the oven, let it sit for 10 to 20 minutes so that it does not fall apart when you slice it, the bechamel sauce in particular needs to settle.
- Leftover storage tips: moussaka will keep well in the fridge for about five days (although you need to count any make-ahead days).
- Can you freeze eggplant moussaka? Cooked moussaka can be frozen. Once it cools completely, simply cut the moussaka into pieces and freeze them (you can store the pieces in separate freezer-safe containers or wrapped tightly with parchment then foil . This way, you can reheat individual slices at a time.
- Recommended for this recipe: Private Reserve Greek extra virgin olive oil. SAVE! Try our Greek Olive Oil Bundle.
- Recommended for this recipe: Sweet paprika and nutmeg. SAVE! Try our ultimate Mediterranean Spice Bundle or Create your own 6-pack or 3-pack from our all-natural or organic spice collections.