Moussaka is a classic Greek comfort food. Follow our step-by-step recipe to make this easy and comforting eggplant casserole.
We have some truly awesome Greek and Mediterranean recipes on the blog. Some of our all-time favorite recipes of Greek origin include Greek chicken souvlaki, pastitsio, and Greek meatballs (Keftedes) served with creamy tzatziki. Today, we're going to make another Greek classic: the mighty eggplant moussaka!
This recipe was created in partnership with the dairy farm families of New England.
What is Moussaka?
Moussaka is a traditional Mediterranean eggplant casserole that's been around for many, many years. Its main ingredients are eggplants, a ground meat sauce, and delicious creamy sauce used as a topping.
Moussaka consists of four layers:
- Sliced potatoes briefly cooked in boiling water.
- Sliced roasted eggplants.
- A delicious meat sauce made with ground lamb, beef or both.
- A creamy sauce that could either be bechamel, yogurt or cheese sauce.
Is this recipe Turkish or Greek?
Moussaka is a common dish in the Middle East and the Mediterranean so it's very difficult to classify it as belonging to a specific country, though most Americans seem to think of it as Greek and it commonly found in Greek restaurants in the United States. The preparation of moussaka differs in Turkey, Greece and Lebanon. According to Clifford A. Wright, one of the first moussaka recipes was found in an Arabic cookbook from the 13th century.
Does it contain potato?
It depends on the region and, of course, the recipe. Moussaka can be made with or without potatoes. I love including potatoes because the starch turns it into a full meal and holds the dish together pretty well.
As mentioned before, there are four layers in homemade moussaka but don't let this scare you as this is not a complicated recipe. If you can make a casserole, you won't have a problem!
To make the first three layers of Greek moussaka, you need:
- Eggplants - Italian or globe eggplants would work well for this recipe. Graffiti eggplants work just as fine. However, I don't suggest using thinner eggplants such as Chinese eggplants because the pieces will be too small after roasting. Remember that you don't have to peel the eggplants. The skin holds the flesh together and makes the transfer and slicing easier.
- Potatoes - Russet or Yukon gold work very well for this recipe.
- Ground meat - Traditionally this dish is made with ground lamb. However, you can use ground beef or a combination of both.
- Onion - Sweet yellow or white onions would work for this recipe. It's best to chop the onion finely.
- Garlic - You don't need too much garlic for this recipe, a few cloves would be enough.
- Tomato paste - Use tomato paste for flavor and color. I don't recommend using tomato sauce as a subsitute.
- Crushed tomatoes - Canned crushed tomatoes work perfectly for this recipe.
- Spices - You need salt, thyme, paprika, cinnamon and black pepper.
The fourth layer will be the creamy bechamel sauce, made with:
- Parmesan cheese
Bechamel sauce is a basic sauce that was brought to Greece by the French. The bechamel sauce really brings this meal together. Not only does incorporating dairy-based sauces like bechamel add delicious flavor, it also supports farm families in your region no matter what time of the year it is? While you might find things like fresh produce locally only at certain times of the of the year, the majority of cow’s milk and dairy products we see in our supermarkets come from local or regional farmers year-round!
New England is home to about 1200 dairy farm families. Milk from their farms typically arrives on local grocery shelves in 48 hours or less. Talk about a product that is consistently fresh!
Prepare the eggplants and potatoes
Bring a pot of water to boil and preheat the oven to 400°F. Slice the potatoes and eggplants (½ inch thickness). Brush olive oil on the eggplants and coat the baking sheet with cooking spray.
Place the eggplants on the baking sheet and roast them for 20 minutes until they are cooked and golden brown. Meanwhile, boil the potato slices for about five to seven minutes until they are somehow fork tender but are not falling apart.
Prepare the meat sauce
While the eggplants are roasting, prepare the meat sauce by sautéing onion until golden brown. Add the ground beef or lamb to the onion and garlic and brown completely.
Add in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and all the spices. The aroma of paprika and cinnamon will make your kitchen smell so good! Now that you have the potatoes ready, the eggplants roasted and the meat sauce completely cooked, it's time to make the bechamel sauce.
Make the bechamel sauce
Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Then stir in the flour and mix using a whisk. It should not turn into a hard paste, but rather a loose mixture of butter and flour.
Slowly add the milk (in four to five pours) to the butter and flour mixture and whisk very well after each addition, making sure no lumps are visible. Bring the mixture to simmer and cook until it thickens, which should take about five to seven minutes. As you can see in the photo below, the sauce is thick enough that it doesn't run off the wooden spoon.
Turn the heat off and season the bechamel sauce with salt and pepper. Then add eggs and parmesan cheese. Whisk well until the sauce is smooth and no lumps are visible.
Assemble the moussaka
Spread a thin layer of bechamel sauce at the bottom of a large baking dish (9x13) and then layer the potatoes on the sauce. Layer the eggplants on the potatoes and top with the meat sauce. Make sure it covers all the roasted eggplant slices.
Top moussaka with the creamy bechamel sauce and sprinkle more parmesan cheese on top. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes and then get ready to enjoy this delicious meal!
Can I fry the eggplants?
Yes, frying the eggplants will work just fine. I like to roast them because it's faster, easier and uses way less oil. If you decide to fry the eggplants, please sprinkle some salt on both sides and let them sit in a colander for 30 minutes until they "sweat." Then rinse them with cold water and dry each piece using a paper towel. Heat vegetable oil in a pan over medium heat and fry them for about five minutes on each side, making sure they're soft but not burnt.
How to keep eggplant from getting mushy
Make sure that the slices are not too thin because they will get too soft. Peel stripes on the eggplants instead of peeling them completely to help them keep their shape.
If you like the moussaka to have clean and nice slices, make sure you let it cool for about fifteen minutes and then, using a sharp knife, slice the moussaka and serve it with a side salad such as classic Greek Salad, Mediterranean salad, or fattoush salad.
Notes and tips
- I usually do one layer of potatoes, eggplants, meat sauce and bechamel but you can also do several layers by layering potatoes on the bottom and then eggplants, meat sauce, more eggplants, and more meat sauce. Just make sure the bechamel is on top!
- Don't cook the potatoes too much; otherwise they'll fall apart as they cook in the oven.
- Make sure the eggplant slices are not too thin as they can get mushy. You can also grill the eggplants.
- For the meat sauce, you can use lamb, beef, or a combination of both. I love using half lamb and half beef. It's best to use lean beef (93% to 97% lean) to make this recipe.
- The best eggplants for this recipe are globe eggplants since they have a great texture. Italian eggplants would work pretty well.
Looking for more eggplant recipes?
- Eggplant caponata
- Middle eastern eggplant recipe
- Stuffed eggplant with lamb and walnuts
- Turkish stuffed eggplant (karniyarik)
- Grilled eggplant sandwich
I don't eat meat, can I make vegetarian moussaka?
Yes, all you need to do is to leave the meat out and use a combination of veggies like green beans, mushrooms, zucchini and squash in the same recipe.
Can I freeze the leftovers?
Absolutely. Let moussaka cool completely and then slice and freeze. To eat, simply defrost in the fridge and reheat in the oven.
My bechamel sauce got so lumpy and not creamy at all, why?
The main reason could be that you didn't add the milk in steps. Stagger your pour - don't put it all in at once. You need to add the milk slowly so every time that it's added, it's combined well with the flour mixture. Also, the milk might have been too cold.
Can I make moussaka ahead of time?
Yes! You can make all the layers a day before and assemble later. You can also assemble the layers and refrigerate for a day and cook later.
Greek Eggplant Moussaka Recipe
- 2 large eggplants sliced (½ inch thickness)
- 3 medium potatoes peeled and sliced (½ inch thickness)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 lb ground beef See Note #1
- 1 can 14 oz crushed tomatoes
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter
- 5 tbsp all purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk room temperature
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- ½ cup parmesan
- 2 eggs room temperature
- Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush generously with olive oil.
- Place the eggplant sliced on the baking sheet and brush some more olive oil on them.
- Roast in the oven for 20 minutes until they are cooked and golden brown. Take then out of the oven and lower the temperature to 350F.
- As the eggplants are roasting, bring a pot of water to boil.
- Cook the potato sliced in the boiling water for five to seven minutes until they are some how fork tender. Drain and discard the water. Set the potatoes aside.
- Heat olive oil in a large pan and saute onion and garlic until golden brown.
- Add in the ground beef and brown completely. Discard excess fat if any.
- Add in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and all the spices. Mix well and cook for about ten minutes over medium low heat. Make sure the meat sauce is juicy enough, add ½ cup water or broth if needed.
- Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat.
- Whisk in the flour and mix well.
- Add milk in steps and whisk very well after each addition.
- Bring the sauce to simmer and cook for some minutes until it's creamy and thick.
- Turn the heat off, add in salt and pepper.
- Add in the eggs and parmesan cheese. Whisk well until everything is completely incorporated.
- Coat the bottom of a 10x13 baking dish with bechamel sauce.
- Layer the potatoes so they cover the bottom completely.
- Layer the roasted eggplant slices on the potatoes.
- Pour the meat sauce over the eggplants.
- Cover the meat sauce with bechamel sauce and sprinkle extra parmesan cheese on top.
- Bake in the oven at 350F for about 45 minutes until golden and the sauce is bubbling. Broil for two minutes if desired.
- Let moussaka cool for ten to fifteen minutes before slicing.
- You can use ground beef, lamb or a combination of both.