During the holidays, I find that many of us enjoy pulling out our more advanced recipes to celebrate special occasions. This traditional Greek recipe, similar in some ways to a lasagna, certainly fits the bill for a festive dish that is deliciously impressive. The creamy bechamel sauce perfectly complements the savory filling of tomatoes and beef, with the layers of eggplant to tie everything together. I hope you’ll take on this intermediate culinary challenge this holiday season; your tastebuds will certainly thank you for it.
Ingredients for the eggplant:
1 ½ lbs. eggplant
1 T salt (or more as needed)
1 T extra virgin olive oil
Ingredients for the filling:
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb. ground beef or lamb
⅓ cup dry red wine (optional)
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 T tomato paste
½ cup beef broth
2 bay leaves
1 tsp sugar
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp salt
Ingredients for the bechamel sauce:
2 ½ T butter
3 ½ T flour
1 ½ cups whole milk
¼ tsp nutmeg
⅓ cup grated parmesan (optional)
1 egg yolk
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
⅓ cup breadcrumbs
Start by preparing your eggplant.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Wash your eggplants and cut the ends off. Slice them into strips about ¼ inches thick, or a little more, lengthwise.
Place the eggplant in a large bowl and toss with the salt, until each one is covered. Use more if you need to. The salt will draw out the water in the eggplant and make it less soggy once cooked, so don’t hesitate to use a little more if needed. You will wipe it away in the end.
Put the eggplant slices in a colander and allow it to sit for about 30 minutes. Make sure to keep a towel underneath it if you don’t set the whole thing in the sink, as it will keep draining liquid.
Once the 30 minutes is up, pat the eggplant dry with paper towels or freshly cleaned kitchen towels. The eggplant slices will be very wet, so you will go through quite a few.
After the eggplant has been mostly dried, lay the slices on to your baking sheets. Brush them with your olive oil and sprinkle them with pepper.
Bake the eggplant slices for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned and softened. Set them aside to cool once finished.
While your eggplant is draining and cooking, you can work on making your filling.
Chop your onions and mince your garlic.
Put the garlic, onions, and olive oil in a medium to large pot on high heat. Sauté for 5 minutes, or until the onions have softened and the garlic is fragrant.
Turn the heat down to medium-high and add your ground beef or lamb. Cook it until the meat is starting to get a little color, while breaking it up with a wooden spoon.
Next, add your wine. Cook everything for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add your beef broth, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, sugar, oregano, cinnamon, and salt. Stir until everything is well combined.
Bring everything to a boil on high heat. Once boiling, bring it down to a simmer on medium heat.
Allow it to simmer for 15 minutes, uncovered or partially uncovered, to form a thick sauce.
Usually by this point, your eggplant and your sauce are ready, and you can partially assemble your moussaka.
In an 8×8 or 9×9 oven-safe pan, lay down one layer of your roasted eggplant. Save half of it for later.
Pour your meat filling in on top of the eggplant. Top it with the remaining eggplant. Set aside.
You can now work on making your bechamel sauce.
Cut your butter up into pieces.
Add your butter to a large pot and melt it. Do not let it boil.
On medium-low heat, add your flour and stir with a whisk. Cook it for 1-2 minutes, whisking constantly.
Keep whisking and slowly add in the milk, a little bit at a time. Wait a few moments between each addition, until most of the milk has been absorbed.
Once you’ve added all your milk, cook it for 5 minutes while stirring constantly. It will thicken up significantly when it is ready.
Remove it from the stove and whisk in your parmesan cheese (if desired), nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir until everything is combined.
Allow it to cool for 5 minutes before you add your egg and egg yolk. Letting it cool is important, as the eggs will curdle if you put them in the sauce when it’s too hot. I recommend stirring it a few times a minute while it’s cooling to help it cool down a little faster.
Once your eggs are added to the sauce, whisk everything together until it’s smooth and combined.
Pour your bechamel sauce over top of your moussaka base in an even layer.
Sprinkle your breadcrumbs on top, making sure to cover the surface of the bechamel sauce.
Put your moussaka in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until it’s golden brown around the edges.
Remove it from the oven and allow it to cool for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!