Moussaka – memories of Greece

19 Nov

DSCI0391There are certain dishes that will always be reminders of holidays in Greece and this is one of them. Moussaka is often referred to as the national dish of Greece but can often be oily so preparation is a key factor for a good moussaka. I made the mistake of cooking mine just before serving so the sauce was a bit runny, or maybe I just didn’t make it thick enough in the first place. Either way it did not impair the flavour as it was delicious and, when cold, looked the part as well.

Some people add potatoes to Moussaka which does help the solidity of the finished dish but is definitely not a traditional ingredient. You can, however, use courgettes instead of aubergines if you wish.

Aubergines are the most commonly used vegetable in Greece and the most versatile. They taste better if fried before adding to a dish but they do absorb a lot of oil so, if you are frying them, make sure you reduce the oil in the finished dish to compensate.

They can also have a slightly bitter taste which has to be treated before cooking. There are two ways of doing this. the first way is to slice them then submerge the slices in salted water for at least half an hour. Rinse them well under cold running water, squeezing gently so that the slightly brown water runs away then drain them for at least half an hour and pat dry to prevent fat spitting during cooking.

The second is to slice them and sprinkle with salt as I have done in this recipe.

What is even more important is selection of aubergines. They should be shiny, firm and tight-skinned without any brown patches or scarring.

Here is the recipe

Moussaka  Serves 6 to 12 (depending on whether it is served as a main dish or as part of a mezes)

  • 2 large aubergines, trimmed and sliced into rings about 1/2 inch thick
  • salt
  • olive oil for brushing
  • handful of fresh white breadcrumbs
  • Grated cheddar cheese

For the Bechamel

  • 100g/40z butter
  • 100g/4oz plain flour
  • 2 pts full fat milk
  • salt and pepper
  • pinch grated nutmeg
  • 3 egg yolks

For the meat sauce

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 kg lean minced beef or lamb
  • 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of ground allspice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tbsp tomato puree
  • 120 ml dry red wine.
  1. Lay the aubergine slices on kitchen paper and sprinkle with salt. Leave to sweat for 1/2 hour the rinse well under cold running water. drain and pat dry.
  2. Lay the aubergines in batches on a rack in a grill pan. Brush with olive il and grill for 4 minutes or until golden, turn over and repeat. set aside.
  3. To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a large pan then add the flour. Mix well and cook for 30 seconds. Gradually add the milk either stirring or whisking all the time to prevent curdling. Heat gently, stirring continuously until the sauce is thick and bubbling. Remove from the heat and season to taste.  Add the nutmeg. Cool slightly then beat in the egg yolks. Cover with a piece of greaseproof paper to prevent a skin from forming and set aside.
  4. To make the meat sauce, heat the olive oil in a large pan and saute the onion until softened. Add the minced meat and cook, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes until browned all over. Add the tomatoes, garlic and spices and season. Stir in the tomato puree and the red wine.
  5. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for about 45 minutes. remove the cover for the last 15 minutes to allow all the moisture to evaporate. Set aside and cool slightly.
  6. Preheat the oven to 180C/170C fan/gas 4.
  7. Sprinkle the bottom of a large ovenproof dish with the breadcrumbs. Arrange a layer of aubergine on top followed by a layer of the meat mixture. Continue layering like this, finishing with a layer of aubergine.Carefully pour the sauce over the top and spread evenly. Sprinkle with some grated cheddar cheese and bake in the oven for 1 hour or until the top is golden brown and the moussaka is heated through.  Serve warm.

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