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Posted on Thu, May 9, 2013 : 7:55 a.m.

Sample the flavors of Greece with this moussaka recipe

By Jessica Webster


Don't be intimidated by the length of the recipe - this moussaka is worth every minute of prep time. And it tastes even better the next day.

Jessica Webster |

I was 16 when my parents took me to Athens for a sight-seeing holiday. Despite being listed as one of the most polluted cities in Europe, Athens struck me as one of the most delicious-smelling and -tasting places I had ever visited.

From the vendors hawking heaping carts of freshly roasted pistachios on every street corner to the rotating spits of gyro in the windows of the restaurants, it was a mind-boggling display of a culture that clearly celebrates its food.

It was on this trip to Athens that I had a plate of moussaka that set the standard for all moussaka to follow. It was rich, meaty, and creamy, with sublime layers of flavors and textures. My 16-year-old mind was blown, and I’ve been looking for a recipe to replicate that experience ever since. I feel like I’ve finally found it.

This recipe comes from, by way of my friend Kate Remen-Wait. It’s comfort food on the highest level, but with a sophisticated blend of spices to keep it from too firmly settling into the casserole category. I don’t know enough about Greek cooking to know if this is 100 percent authentic, but I can wholeheartedly assert that it is 100 percent tasty.

Kate made the moussaka gluten-free by replacing the 1/2 cup of flour in the original recipe with 1/4 cup of corn starch, and it worked very well.

Moussaka - slightly adapted from

Meat sauce

  • 2 pounds ground lamb or beef (or one pound of each)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 4 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • Zest of a lemon
  • 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • Salt to taste

Bechamel sauce

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup flour OR 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

The moussaka

  • 3 large globe eggplants
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 8 cups water
  • 2-3 medium to large Yukon gold or other yellow potatoes
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta
  • 1 cup grated pecorino or parmesan
  • Olive oil

Prepare the meat sauce
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and brown the ground meat. Add the onions about halfway into the browning process. Sprinkle just a little bit of salt over the meat and onions.

Once the meat is browned and the onions have softened, add the garlic, allspice, cinnamon, black pepper, oregano and tomato paste. Mix well and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add the red wine and stir. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat. Taste and add more salt if needed.

Stir in the lemon zest and the lemon juice and set the sauce aside. (This step can be done the night before; just cover and refrigerate.)

Prepare the potatoes and eggplants
Set a large pot with several inches of salted water on the stove top to boil.

In a large bowl, make brine for the eggplants by mixing 8 cups water and 1/2 cup salt.

Slice the top and bottom off the eggplants. Cut thick strips of the skin off the eggplants to give them a striped appearance Slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch rounds and drop them into the brine for 15-20 minutes, while you prepare the potatoes.

As the eggplants are brining, peel and slice the potatoes into 1/4-inch rounds. Boil them in salted water for 5-8 minutes — you want them undercooked, but no longer crunchy.

Drain and set aside.

When the eggplants have been brining for 15-20 minutes, remove them to paper towels to dry. (You can layer the eggplant and paper towels to save counter space).

To cook the eggplant, paint each side of the eggplant rounds with olive oil and broil or grill over high heat for about 3 minutes on each side, or until lightly browned. Set aside.

Prepare the bechamel

Heat milk in a pot on medium heat until steamy (about 160 degrees). Do not bring to a boil or let simmer.

Heat the butter in a small pot over medium heat. When the butter has completely melted, slowly whisk in the flour or corn starch. Let this roux simmer over medium-low heat for a few minutes. Do not let it get too dark.

Little by little, pour in the steamy milk, stirring constantly. It will set up and thicken dramatically at first, but keep adding milk and stirring, the sauce will loosen. Return the heat to medium. Add about half a teaspoon of salt and the nutmeg. Stir well.

Put the egg yolks in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Temper the eggs so they don’t scramble when you put them into the sauce by slowly pouring in a couple of ladle’s worth of the hot bechamel into the egg yolks, whisking all the time. Slowly pour the egg mixture back into the bechamel while whisking. Keep the sauce on very low heat, do not let simmer or boil.

Finish the moussaka

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Layer a casserole with the potatoes, overlapping slightly. Top the layer of potatoes with half of the eggplant slices.

Cover the eggplant slices with the meat sauce, then layer remaining eggplant slices on top of the meat.

Sprinkle the feta over the meat. Ladle the bechamel over everything in an even layer.

Sprinkle grated parmesan or pecorino on top.

Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned.

Let the moussaka cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Serves 8-12 easily.

Jessica Webster leads the Food & Grocery section for, a part of the MLive Media Group. Reach her at You also can follow her on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Jessica Webster

Thu, May 9, 2013 : 3:13 p.m.

Vivienne - I appreciate your comments! Yes, from everything I have read about moussaka, it's not unlike the Italians and their bolognese - every grandmother has an authentic recipe, and each one is different, sometimes wildly so. I first tasted this recipe at a book group meeting - my friend Kate made it and it was so ridiculously tasty, I dreamed about it for a week after. Later she shared the recipe she used and the alterations she made to it, and it was just as good when I made it myself. I'd say the feta is optional. I am a cheese fiend, so I loved having the flavor in there but it's not integral to the dish.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, May 9, 2013 : 9:39 p.m.

I know what you mean - it is a seductive dish. The spices and its unctuousness do rope you in.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, May 9, 2013 : 2:31 p.m.

I should add that I cook only enough to serve 6-8 (one pound meat). This version you have is evidently for a crowd.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, May 9, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

There must be as many versions of moussaka as there are spaghetti sauce. I find this one singularly unappealing. A Greek friend of mine used to make it with some potatoes (one may also use firm squash) but as far as I am concerned, it should be all eggplant. Brining is not necessary. It is a problem to cook it without using a quart of olive oil, but the fully peeled, thinly cut eggplant should be sautéed until tender, or it may be possible to achieve something like this by coating with oil and placing in the oven. The eggplant should not just be browned, but be tender. This is much better made only with ground lamb (which may require draining after its initial browning), which has the benefit of being available locally and mostly grown in non-enclosed (field) conditions. The bechamel sauce is remarkable. It sounds like almost a pudding layer. Simple bechamel sauce is merely a white sauce enriched with egg yolks and should not "stand alone". Try 2T butter, 2T flour, 1 1/2 c milk, 1/2 t salt, 2 egg yolks. Not necessary to preheat the milk. Nutmeg essential. This makes a relatively thin sauce that adds a delicious richness to the dish but does not add much heft. I don't understand the need for a feta cheese layer. This is not a cheese dish though a thin dusting of parmesan or other cheese over the bechamel adds some texture and flavor. This rich delicious dish should be served in relatively small portions with bread and a big green salad. The olive oil needs the offset.