This hero of Mediterranean cuisine is an excellent way to mix up your weeknight meals and also lends itself wonderfully as a party dish as it can be made days ahead and simply reheated slowly in the oven.
This epic Greek dish is the long-lost cousin of the Italian lasagna because you use eggplant instead of pasta. Pronounced “_Moo-saa-KAH_” it is traditionally made with eggplant and lamb mince covered with a thick layer of béchamel that turns crispy and golden. Seeing as it's almost impossible to get your hands on lamb mince unless you grind your own, I’ve used beef mince as a perfectly good substitute.
This really is just a 4-step recipe: Step 1. Grill the eggplant. Step 2. Make the sauce. Step 3. Make the thick béchamel. Step 4. Layer it up, baby! For those of you that were successful with the béchamel in the Croque madame, this is another chance to master this skill. As always, make sure you visit your local butcher for the mince and the greengrocer for your eggplant to ensure the freshest quality. You don’t need to salt the eggplant for this recipe as the high heat from the BBQ will purify any remnants of bitterness left over from the selective breeding of the modern eggplant.
Did you know? The word 'moussaka' derives from the Arabic word ‘musaqqâ’. Which means “moistened” referring perhaps to the tomato juices soaking up the eggplant. It is widely believed that the Turks introduced moussaka to the world when they introduced the eggplant in a vegetable and meat stew which was then baked in the oven, but their version is not layered and included minced beef. One food historian claims a 13th-century Arabic cookbook, ‘A Baghdad Cookery Book’ which details a recipe of musakhkhan, a variant from the Levant, a hearty stew with vegetables layered on top of each other, could very well be the ancestor of moussak. Today, Arabian moussaka is still a common dish in Lebanon and most of the Arab world, a version without meat that consists of eggplant, olive oil, garlic, onions and tomatoes.
For once, the modern version of what we call Greek moussaka is actually not disputed because it was invented by the Greek celebrity chef of his time Nikolas Tselementes in the 1920s. He published Greek recipes including a moussaka featuring French béchamel sauce on top in an attempt to Europeanise the dish. He believed Greek cuisine was being bastardised by the Arabs and needed a course correction back to the classical Greek roots. Strangely, he believed that classical French cooking had its roots in classical Greek cuisine. Something the upper-class Greek diners lapped up. Sadly, for poor Nikolas today there seems to be a shift back to the pronounced exotic spices and herb-centred cuisine of the Arabs in modern-day Greek restaurants.
This is a modern version done my way, with a blend of both the Arab style and the classic dish invented by Nikolas, so why don’t you have a crack at this flavourful meal.
Chef Dylan’s Tips: Don’t add too much oil to the eggplant when grilling or they will catch fire and burn. Don’t skip the eggs in the béchamel, as this is what sets it, otherwise, it will run all over your plate and look like a big mess.
PREP TIME: 30 mins
COOKING TIME: 40 mins
1 kg eggplant cut into 2 cm slices
1 tsp salt
2-3 tbsp olive oil
MEDITERRANEAN STYLE SAUCE
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves chopped
700 g beef mince
125 ml red wine
400g crushed tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsps GAUCHO
4 tbsp (60g) butter
50 g plain flour
625 ml hot milk
50g parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg yolk
1 tbsps SPARTAN
1. Heat the BBQ on high with the lid closed until hot then lightly brush the eggplant with oil and grill for 1 or 2 mins each side to 1/2 cook.
2. Repeat until all eggplant is done then place on a tray to cool slightly while you make the sauce and béchamel.
MEDITERRANEAN STYLE SAUCE
1. Heat olive oil in a large frypan over medium to high heat, then cook the garlic and onion until fragrant.
2. Add the beef, turn up the heat to high and let it fry. Then start breaking it up as you go.
3. Add tomato paste and cook out stirring for 2 mins.
4. Add GAUCHO.
5. Stir then pour in the wine, cook for 2 minutes.
6. Add canned tomato and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes, or until reduced (to a thick-ish sauce).
1. Melt butter in a pan over medium heat.
2. Add flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
3. With a small whisk stir constantly, slowly add the hot milk. Then whisk regularly for 3 to 5 minutes until it thickens.
4. Remove from the stove and whisk in cheese, and add SPARTAN.
5. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then whisk the eggs in. Cover with lid until required.
1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
2. Place half the eggplant in the bottom of a large baking dish then top with all the Filling.
3. Top with remaining eggplant then pour over the Béchamel Sauce.
4. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.
Allow standing for ~10 minutes before serving with some scattered parsley or fresh garden herbs.