This eggplant, potato and spiced meat dish popular in the area that once made up the Ottoman empire, is probably most notoriously known as a classic Greek dish. Although many variations exist between the various countries, the recipe below is my adaptation of a Greek version I found on About.com.
It had been a while since I had eaten Moussaka, but when my mother-in-law mentioned having made one, all these memories of my childhood came rushing in and the wheels in my head started spinning – working out when I might be able to fit this recipe into our family’s meal plan.
I think I’ve always had a fascination for Greece. It’s the oddest thing, really. As a kid, despite being very entrenched in the portuguese community of Montreal (a very active community with neighbourhoods where only portuguese is spoken, 3 portuguese schools exist – 2 of which I attended on saturdays, etc), I had a deep dark desire to be Greek.
In Montreal (as in Toronto), Greeks have a very large and very VERY active community – festivals, restaurants, neighbourhoods are abound and the people are very tightly knit.
To add confusion into my life, I grew up in what was considered an Italian part of town (also extremely active). Ours was the only portuguese family I knew of and oddly, most of my neighbours were Greek (actually, they were all part of the same family…).
In the summertime, they would blast Greek music from the living room, infecting the hot humid summer holidays with the sounds of Greece. I Loved it! My mother, often tired of being subjected to Greek music, hated that I didn’t feel the same way about Portugal, so, one day, she tried blasting Portuguese music – but playing Fado, a heavy genre laced with stories of illness, sadness and death, did NOT quite have the effect she had hoped for.
We’d often eat at my neighbours’ – the greek moms were teachers and school administrators, so they’d have summers off and they’d watch over all of the kids (all of them cousins, plus my sister and I). So, at least where summer was concerned, I probably enjoyed more Greek food then Portuguese food.
There were several greek treats I remember being excited about… Pastitsio, Yamistá, stuffed vine leaves, Tzaziki, Taramosalata, Vanilia, … and Moussaka, of course ! (Pardon my spelling if any are wrong). All of which are on my list of recipes to make this year.
I was so obsessed with wanting to be Greek that as a kid, I had already planned to have a Greek wedding (despite whatever nationality my future husband might end up being) because I was convinced that Greek weddings were the funnest weddings anyone could have (bouzouki dancing, breaking plates…). I’d have a honeymoon in Greece. And I was going to learn to speak Greek.
Truth be told, I married a my best friend, (born in Canada, raised in France, of English parents) in the most beautiful wedding I have ever been to (set in Sintra, Portugal). Our honeymoon involved discovering the entire coast of the Iberian Peninsula (all of the Spanish and Portuguese beaches for 3 weeks). Despite still remembering a lot of the basic Greek that I learned as a child, I’ve not yet learned to speak Greek properly, but I have taken on 4 other languages… and although there have been many attempts, thanks to airport strikes and spontaneous flus, I have still not been to Greece.
As a grown up, I am very much appreciative of my Portuguese heritage. I love the food (one of my favourite 3 types of cuisine), I love Fado and I love visiting Portugal – and so do my kids who are proud to tell everyone that they are part Portuguese.
But, I still (and always will) have a soft spot for anything Greek.
What do you think of Greek food? Have you been to Greece? What are the best spots to visit and the best dishes to eat? (your information will be added to a life-long file I’ve been keeping, should the Gods of travel ever make it possible) 😉
This eggplant, potato and spiced meat dish popular throughout the Mediterranean region once ruled by the Ottoman empire is probably most notoriously known as a classic Greek dish.
3– 4 large eggplants
500 gr potatoes
750 gr ground beef
2 large onions, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 cup tomato puree
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups plain breadcrumbs
8 egg whites, lightly beaten (reserve yolks for bechamel)
1 cup feta cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese
- Bechamel Sauce:
1 cup salted butter ( 2 sticks)
1 cup flour
4 cups milk, warmed
8 egg yolks, lightly beaten
Pinch of ground nutmeg
- – Peel eggplants, leaving some strips of skin
- – Slice in 1cm (1/2 inch) thick slices
- – Layer in colander, sprinkling with salt between each layer, and set a weight on it. Leave in sink for 15-60mins to drain.
- ** The salt will drain the excess liquid found in Eggplant and help to remove some of its bitterness.
- – Meanwhile, peel potatoes and cook them (whole) in water until fork can be inserted without resistance.
- ** careful not to overcook the potatoes or they will turn to mush. Also, remember that you should never let the water boil, when cooking a potato (boiling may cause the potato to break apart more easily and to become more watery in flavour).
- – Start the meat sauce: Brown the meat in a little bit of olive oil.
- – Add in onion and garlic and cook until softened. The meat may begin to stick to the bottom of the pot. That’s OK – that’s good. Just don’t let it burn.
- – Transfer the meat, onions and garlic to a large bowl and deglaze the pot’s brownings with red wine.
- ** the brownings (the meat stuck at the bottom of the pot), is where are the flavour is. If you add cooled wine to a hot pot, it should lift right up and “clean” the bottom of the pot.
- – Add the meat mixture back into the pot and let the wine reduce by half.
- – Add the herbs, spices, sugar and the tomato and let simmer for 20-30mins.
- – Check on the eggplants: you can now dry each slice using a paper towel, and set aside.
- – Beat the egg whites in a bowl until combined and place the breadcrumbs in a shallow plate.
- – Dip the eggplant slices (one by one) in the egg whites, them coat them with the breadcrumbs
- – Place them on a cookie sheet that has been lined with wax paper or a silicone mat. You can also just spray it with some Pam or other non-stick spray.
- – Bake at 200C for approx. 30mins (turn over once if both sides are not becoming crispy).
- – By now, the meat should be done and you can take it off the heat and leave covered.
- – Get started on the Béchamel Sauce: in a large pot, melt the butter.
- – Add in the flour all at once and mix vigorously – it will become very pasty.
- – Quickly add some of the milk and mix it with a whisk until homogenous. This will thicken very quickly so have the milk handy to add more.
- – Add in the milk, bit by bit, mixing vigorously between each addition with a whisk.
- – Once all of the milk has been added, add the nutmeg and let it simmer for 20-30 mins.
- – Check on the eggplants. If done, (should be crispy and golden), remove from oven
- – Once the Bechamel has thickened, remove from heat and add in the egg yolks… beating immediately with a whisk.
- – Now, for the setup: In a large solid oven-proof dish (the kind you’d use for lasagna), sprinkle the bottom with some breadcrumbs
- – Place a layer of sliced potatoes (all of them)
- – Follow with a layer of Eggplant
- – Cover with a layer of Meat sauce (all of it)
- – Sprinkle with chopped up Feta Cheese
- – Place another layer of Eggplant
- – Pour the Béchamel over the whole thing
- – Sprinkle with grated parmesan
- – Bake for 30-45 mins or until the top is starting to crust over and become golden
- – Let it sit for 15-20 mins before serving.
- ** Make sure to use a solid "lasagna" dish. The disposable aluminium ones you can get at the supermarket will not be sufficiently strong to hold the Moussaka – this is a very heavy recipe.