Greek Moussaka

Last Saturday night, Wade and I decided to stay in.  We wanted to make a night of cooking and I suggested we make some Moussaka.  Moussaka is a Greek, lasagna-like dish but without any pasta.  The eggplant and potato make up for this, however.  My cousin had told me that my Great Aunt Venetta {the world traveler I have mentioned in previous posts} and his mother, my Great Aunt Peggy, used to get together at Peggy’s house during the summer and cook Moussaka all day and have it for dinner. The meat has a slightly sweet taste and it is all topped with a Béchamel sauce. I had heard this was a challenging recipe that took a very long time to prepare.  I found a Greek Moussaka recipe {here} I noticed it said it took about 3 hours to make, but after reading it thought it seemed simple enough and with 2 people cooking, we would get it done in no time. We went to Walmart for the ingredients, luckily the ground beef was the most expensive item, everything else we either already had or was super cheap.

{Moussaka Ingredients}

Also see recipe below:

Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
  3-4 eggplants, about 4 lbs. total
  1 lb. potatoes
  1 1/2 lbs. ground beef (or lamb)
  2 large onions, finely diced
  2 cloves garlic, minced
  1/2 cup red wine
  1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  1/4 tsp. ground allspice
  1 cup tomato puree (or crushed tomatoes)
  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 grated Kefalotyri or 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
Prep the Vegetables:
Using a sharp peeler, partially peel the eggplants, leaving strips of peel about 1 inch wide around the eggplant. Slice the eggplant in to 1/2 inch slices. Place the eggplant slices in a colander and salt them liberally. Cover them with an inverted plate that is weighted down by a heavy can or jar. Place the colander in the sink so that excess moisture can be drawn out. They will need to sit for at least 15-20 minutes, preferably an hour. The salt also helps to remove some of the bitterness of the eggplant.
Peel the potatoes and boil them whole until they are just done. They should not get too soft, just cooked enough so that they no longer crunch. Drain, cool and slice them in 1/4 inch slices. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and lightly grease. Add a splash of water to the egg whites and beat them lightly with a fork. Add breadcrumbs to a flat plate.
Rinse the eggplant slices and dry with paper towels. Dip the eggplant slices in the beaten egg whites and then dredge them in the breadcrumbs, coating both sides. Place breaded eggplant slices on baking sheets and bake at 400 degrees for 1/2 an hour, turning them over once during cooking.
When eggplant is finished cooking, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Make the Meat Filling:
In a large sauté pan, brown the ground beef (or lamb) until the pink color disappears. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add wine to pan and allow it to simmer and reduce a bit before adding cinnamon, allspice, parsley, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and sugar. Allow the sauce to simmer uncovered for approximately 15 minutes so that excess liquid can evaporate. It should be a drier, chunkier, tomato sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Make the Béchamel Sauce:
Melt butter over low heat. Using a whisk, add flour to melted butter whisking continuously to make a smooth paste. Allow the flour to cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown.
Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously.
Simmer over low heat until it thickens a bit but does not boil.
Remove from heat, and stir in beaten egg yolks and pinch of nutmeg. Return to heat and stir until sauce thickens.
Assemble the Moussaka:
Lightly grease a large deep baking pan (lasagna pan). Sprinkle the bottom of pan with breadcrumbs. Leaving a 1/4 inch space around the edges of the pan, place a layer of potatoes on the bottom. Top with a layer of eggplant slices.
Add meat sauce on top of eggplant layer and sprinkle with 1/4 of the grated cheese. Top with another layer of eggplant slices and sprinkle once again with 1/4 of the grated cheese.
Pour the béchamel sauce over the eggplant and be sure to allow sauce to fill the sides and corners of the pan. Smooth the béchamel on top with a spatula and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until béchamel sauce is a nice golden brown color. Allow to cool for 15 – 20 minutes before slicing and serving.
You can make this dish ahead up until the béchamel sauce and refrigerate. Make the béchamel sauce right before you intend to bake it.

Wade was in charge of skinning the eggplants and put them in a strainer with heavy cans on top to help drain the eggplant.  While I peeled the potatoes and blopped them in boiling water. The potatoes were tricky; we weren’t supposed to cook them all the way so they were mushy, but make sure they weren’t undercooked and crunchy.
 {Skinned Eggplant}
 {Boiling the Potatoes}
{Straining the eggplant}
Next we put the ground beef in a pan and started to cook it.  In the meantime Wade chopped the onions and I the parsley and garlic.  I also decided to use our fresh tomatoes from the garden instead of canned tomato puree.  I cut up some garden tomatoes and out them in the food processor to smush them a bit.
 {Ground Beer}
{Cutting the Onions}
{Fresh Tomatoes in the food processor}
After about 25 mins we sliced the eggplant and preheated the oven.  I whisked some egg whites together and dunked each eggplant slice into the egg wash and then the bowl of bread crumbs.  I then laid them on cookie sheets and put them in the oven for 15 mins; flipped them then put them in for another 15 mins. When I pulled them out they were nice and crispy.  I taste tested one and it was yummy.
{Eggpants+Egg Wash}
{Eggplant fresh out of the oven}
By this time it was time to take the potatoes out of the boiling water and let them cool.  We then sautéed the onions with the meat for about 10 mins then added the spices, garlic, parsley and tomatoes.  It smelled great.
 {Sautéing the onions}

{Everything added}
When the potatoes were cooled down, we sliced them and made them the base layer of our moussaka.  We then added a layer of the baked eggplant then a layer of parmesan cheese.  The meat went on next and then another layer of eggplant and parmesan cheese. We next melted a bunch of butter, milk, flour and spices for the Béchamel sauce and whisked it forever before it came thick. We then poured the Béchamel sauce over top of the layers and put in the oven at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.  The smell in my house was out of this world.
 {Layered Potatoes, Eggplant and Meat}
 {Another Layer of Eggplant and Cheese}
{Topping it off with some Béchamel sauce}
Finally after staring at the oven timer, it dinged.  I pulled the Moussaka out of the over and hardly could wait for it to cool down.  After cooling for 15 minutes Wade and I dug in.  I was proud of us.  Although not as good as in Greece; I had had a delicious Moussaka in Chania Crete; this was damn good.  The meat was interesting, it had been a while since i had a sweet spiced meat.  This reminded me of something you would eat around Thanksgiving or Christmas. There was plenty left over and I took some over for my parents.  They called and said they loved it. Overall I would make this again, but make sure I had the whole day free since it takes a very long time to prepare.
 {Fresh out of the oven}
{My slice of heaven}

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