If you’re feeling a little shocked because you’ve thought for the longest time that moussaka is essentially Greek and nothing but Greek, well, you’re probably not alone. As it turns out, moussaka — a dish of sauteed eggplant, tomato and the optional minced meat — is eaten from the Balkans to the Middle East to Egypt in Africa, and it is served hot or cold.
The layered eggplant, meat and white sauce dish is modern Greek moussaka. Just how modern? While the Greek had been cooking moussaka for a long time, it wasn’t until the 1920s when white sauce was added. A Greek chef and cookbook author, Nicholas Tselementes, wanted to Frenchify Greek cuisine. In 1920, he published what became an extremely influential cookbook where he “advocated adding béchamel sauce to just about everything” including moussaka. His creation became modern Greek moussaka.
So, my moussaka is a layered dish with each layer composed of a pre-cooked component. I listed them here in the order in which I cook them when making moussaka.
What’s ragu? In Italian cookery, it’s any meat-based sauce that’s meant to be tossed with pasta. As you can see in the top left photo, all the spices and herbs for cooking meat and tomaso sauce are there.
There’s a standalone post for this sauce that includes step-by-step photos and a printable recipe. Just follow the link below.
Much as I love the sweet creaminess of long Asian eggplants, when cooking moussaka, the short stout ones — rather bland and spongy from my experience — are more ideal. It is easier to cut them into slices with uniform thickness.
Instead of sauteeing the eggplants, I opted to slice them, spread the slices on a baking tray and drizzling them with olive oil. The eggplants were roasted just until softened and definitely not cooked all the way through. Just giving them a headstart, that’s all.
In a baking dish, the moussaka is assembled and baked. Eggplant slices at the bottom, the ragu over the eggplants and the Mornay sauce on top. Plus extra cheese. Then, I repeated the layers. Eggplants, ragu, Mornay sauce and cheese. The moussaka went into the oven and, by the time everything was bubbling merrily, the half-cooked eggplant slices had reached that perfect stage of tenderness without being mushy.
Moussaka with Mornay sauce
Cook the ragu
- Spread the ground lamb in a heated pan and leave to brown a little and render fat.
- Spread the onion slices, garlic, oregano, a teaspoon of salt and a quarter teaspoon of pepper on the meat.
- Cook, stirring often, until the meat is nicely browned.
- Pour in the tomatoes, sprinkle in two pinches of sugar and another teaspoon of salt, and throw in the bay leaves.
- Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer until thick and almost dry.
- Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed.
Roast the eggplants
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
- Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer.
- Drizzle olive oil over the eggplants. Flip and drizzle more oil on the opposite sides.
- Roast the eggplant slices for 15 to 20 minutes or just until softened but still partially cooked.
- Lower the oven temperature to 350F.
Assemble the moussaka
- Drizzle olive oil on the bottom of your baking pan.
- Cover the bottom of the pan with eggplant slices.
- Spread half of the ragu over the eggplants.
- Cover with half of the Mornay sauce followed by half of the shredded cheddar.
- Repeat the layers.
- Bake the moussaka at 350F for 20 to 30 minutes or until bubbly.
- Rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving.