Moussaka is a traditional favourite in Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean cuisine. It’s a lasagne-style dish with several variations, all of which involve layered aubergines and minced meat in a tomato sauce. This used to be one of my Greek restaurant favourites. I used to make it at home, but had to start omitting the béchamel sauce due to the flour. I substituted the béchamel for mashed potatoes, and got a delicious Moussaka-Shephard’s pie melange. Moussaka is filling, wholesome and healthy, and is perfect for a Sunday lunch in winter, or a Saturday night in, or just anytime one feels like spoiling oneself, really. The amount of ingredients makes this recipe look long and difficult, but it’s really quite fun to make and quite easy, so you can easily turn moussaka-making into a nice event when you have some spare time. I usually make a large portion, because it can stay in the fridge up to 3 days and in the freezer for quite a while, so nothing ever goes to waste.
2 medium-sized aubergines (eggplant)
40g minced lamb or beef (lamb tastes much better to me but I’m usually coerced into using beef because my boyfriend is a lamb-loathing heretic)
4 medium-sized potatoes (peeled)
1 medium-sized onion (finely shredded)
3 large cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
2 small red chilli peppers (finely chopped)
¼ cup milk
1 regular tin tomato pulp
2 heaped tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup merlot
1 heaped tablespoon butter
1 level teaspoon cinnamon
1 heaped teaspoon brown sugar
some pestle-and-mortar ground sea salt and black peppercorns
some fresh chives
some fresh basil
some extra virgin olive oil
Step 1: The Aubergines
Aubergines are great vegetables – they taste amazing when cooked the right way and are packed with antioxidants and a free-radical scavenger that has been found to protect the lipids (fats) in brain cell membranes. The only problem with aubergines, especially locally grown ones, is they can be quite bitter sometimes, and this is why they need the salting step at the beginning of this recipe, which needs some thinking ahead of time, but is definitely worth the effort.
- Slice the aubergines horizontally to make discs around 1.5cm high and place them in a large pot.
- Rub around 2 heaped tablespoons of sea salt around the discs, then top up the container with water and leave for 30 minutes. (Forget about them, go read a book, the longer they soak , the better).
- Remove the salt water and pour ½ a cup of extra virgin olive oil onto the aubergines, mixing well to ensure that all sides of all discs are coated.
- Fry the aubergines on a griddle until they start to become quite soft. (I use my, what I call, “smart toaster” for this step.)
- Use the aubergine discs to cover the entire surface of a medium-sized baking tin. You should have 2 layers of aubergines at the bottom of the tin. Feel free to cut some of the discs into half-moons to fill out any gaps.
Step 2: The Mince-tomato sauceThe trick here is to produce a sauce which has the right consistency, or the right amount of tomato sauce to ensure that the moussaka will be moist enought to melt in your mouth when it’s ready but not get too soggy and watery. I find that one tin of tomato pulp and two heaped tablespoons of tomato paste work perfect.
- Fry the chilli, garlic and onion in some olive oil.
- Add the minced lamb/beef and the cinnamon, and toss until the mince is half-cooked.
- Add the tomato pulp, wine , tomato paste and brown sugar.
- Leave to simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.
- Turn off the heat, tear some basil into the sauce and give it a good mix. Leave to set for five minutes.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour into the baking tin, on top of the aubergines.
Step 3: The mashed potatoes
- Peel the potatoes, cut them into small cubes and boil until soft.
- Mash them with the milk and butter to a smooth consistency.
- Add some sea salt and black pepper, and apply the mashed potatoes in a thin, even layer on top of the mince.
Add a thin layer of mozzarella to the surface and bake in an oven preheated at 400F. Reduce the heat to 350F as soon as the moussaka makes its grand entrance into the oven. Bake until the mozzarella browns, then turn off the heat and leave to settle in the warm oven for at least 20 minutes before serving, to be able to cut a good square potion without everything falling apart. Sprinkle some fresh chives on the surface and enjoy the wholesomeness J