Sample the flavors of Greece with this moussaka recipe
Jessica Webster | AnnArbor.com
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 SimplyRecipes.com, 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 SimplyRecipes.com
- 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
- 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
- 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 AnnArbor.com, a part of the MLive Media Group. Reach her at JessicaWebster@annarbor.com. You also can follow her on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.