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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Marvellous Moussaka


Click to Enlarge Photo

As promised in a previous posting, I will now share my recipe for Moussaka that is fit for a Queen

I have made Moussaka [pronounced “moo-sah-KAH”] often enough to have broken the process down to a science. As I am particular about how I like my Moussaka, I have developed a certain technique which - if followed to the letter - will produce consistently tasty and presentable results, time and again. As Moussaka is oftentimes considered one of the national dishes of Greece (though I have a different opinion on that subject), I think it behooves us to approach the matter in as methodical and respectful a manner as possible.

More than its constituent ingredients, the process of creating Moussaka is about the structuring of a specific type of alternately layered, rich casserole dish that may or may not include meat or cheese, and can contain a variety of vegetables from eggplant and potato, to squash and zucchini. Rather than go into a lengthy discussion about the regional or preferential variations that exist, let me state that although my process describes the “classic” Moussaka combination of ground veal, eggplant, potato and white sauce (béchamel), it can easily be adapted to the creation of other combinations of ingredients; the fundamentals are the same.

Note: this Moussaka recipe is intended to fill two 1400 ml (1.5 quarts) loaf pans, or one medium sized rectangular deep-walled baking pan. I used 2 Pyrex glass loaf pans which explain the double-edged downward narrowing appearance of my Moussaka slice in the photo above.


Recipe:

1 ½ lbs. regular ground veal
2 lbs. potatoes (preferably yellow-fleshed)
2 medium-large eggplants
2 medium sized white onions, diced
1 ½ cups of Greek extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
½ cup white wine
Salt and pepper to taste

For the White Sauce (béchamel):

4 cups of cold milk
1 cup of flour
¾ cup of butter
2 eggs
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt, pepper


Preparation:

  1. Peel potatoes and wash eggplants.
  2. Slice off stalk and bottom ends of eggplant, slice useable portions of ends into thin discs.
  3. Thinly slice the eggplants lengthwise. Make sure to cut the slices relatively thin as they will thus absorb less olive oil when fried and result in an overall less oily finished product. [My Moussaka is never oily and this is part of the reason.]
  4. Place eggplant slices in a large mixing bowl filled with salty water and leave to soak for 15 minutes, then remove eggplant from water and leave to dry well on outspread towel(s). The eggplant must be dried well before being fried to avoid hot oil pops and splatters.
  5. Slice potatoes into relatively thin lengthwise slices.
  6. Over a medium heat add a ¼ cup of the olive oil to a large frying pan and proceed to fry the sliced potato discs in batches, laying them out flat in the bottom of the pan, ensuring to turn each over to cook both sides. The potato slices should be fried until slightly soft. When the potato slices are cooked, remove from the hot oil and place them on spread paper towel(s) for them to drain.
  7. Once the potatoes are done, using the same frying pan (though you may need to clean it), add a ¼ cup of olive oil and over a medium heat start frying the eggplant slices in batches. You will need to keep adding more olive oil to the pan as you go with each batch of eggplant slices as they do absorb it rapidly. This is where the virtue of thin slices makes itself known… The thinner slices need less time in the pan to soften and they absorb less oil before seeping it back into the pan, thus less oil is required to fry them overall.
  8. As with the potato slices, when the eggplant slices are soft and almost translucent from the oil absorption, remove each batch from the hot oil and place them on spread paper towel(s) for them to drain well.
  9. Once the eggplant slices are cooked, add the remaining olive oil (or about a ¼ cup) to the same frying pan - which likely will not require cleaning this time - and proceed to sauté the diced onion until soft.
  10. Add ground veal to the onions in the frying pan and mix well to break up the meat. Stir meat continuously over a medium-high heat for 10 minutes, making sure to brown all the meat well.
  11. Add wine, garlic powder, salt and pepper to the pan and stir well to mix.
  12. Dilute tomato paste in 1 cup of water and add to pan, and when the mixture boils reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The meat mix needs to simmer long enough to reduce the liquid in the pan and for the meat to drink up the sauce completely, without drying out.
  13. Grease the sides and bottoms of your pan(s) with olive oil and cover the bottom(s) completely with a layer of potato discs; overlap where necessary to ensure as complete a covering as possible though make sure not to use up all the potatoes for the bottom(s) alone; you will probably require a little more than half the potato slices to ensure a complete bottom cover.
  14. Using a spatula, spoon out a little more than half of the meat mixture and spread to cover the bottom potato layer(s) evenly.
  15. Cover meat layer(s) with remaining potato discs as best as possible, then cover this potato layer completely with a layer of eggplant slices, overlapping as necessary to ensure complete coverage, right to the sides of the pan.
  16. Spread remaining meat mixture out evenly to cover the eggplant layer and using the spatula press down on the layers (though not too hard) to compact them in order to ensure sufficient room for the thick layer of white sauce (béchamel) to come.

How to prepare the white sauce (béchamel):

  1. Melt butter in a medium sized saucepan over a medium-low heat.
  2. When butter is melted, thoroughly incorporate the flour in stages using a whisk and continuously stirring for about 5 minutes. (Note: As this can be an arduous task due to the need for sustained rapid stirring and the thickening of the sauce, I recommend using a wand blender with a whisk attachment for making the white sauce).
  3. Once the flour is fully incorporated, slowly, in a thin but steady stream, add the 4 cups of milk while stirring continuously and turn up the heat slightly to bring the thick sauce to a boil and then remove the saucepan from the heat.
  4. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix sauce well.
  5. Beat the eggs and slowly add them to the sauce making sure to combine well.
  6. Pour a thick layer of white sauce into baking pan(s) completely covering the top meat sauce layer. If necessary, spread white sauce evenly with the bottom of a large spoon to ensure a uniform surface.
  7. Place filled baking pan(s) into an oven pre-heated to 350° F. (180° C.) and bake for 40 minutes or until the top is nicely browned.
  8. Let stand to cool for at least 1 hour before cutting into slices and serving. [Personally, I let it cool for several hours before consumption. In point of fact, Moussaka is always better on the following day, as all the flavours have had a chance to coalesce. So, once it has cooled completely, if you refrigerate your Moussaka and then warm it just before serving on the following day, you will get the full benefit of its flavours and textures.]

Not surprisingly, making Moussaka is a time intensive procedure so make sure you have a couple hours to spare before you tackle this recipe. The results – if you stick to my process and suggestions – will more than repay your effort.


Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)


Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
http://www.greekgourmand.com
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections

Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

24 comments:

Lulu said...

Sam, I'm particularly impressed by the tall snowy white layer of bechamel on top. Very shallow of me to be so focused on appearances, I know!

I shall now attempt to type in Greek on this blog. I just added a Greek layout to my keyboard which works beautifully except NOT ON MY OWN BLOG. Okay, here goes. Ummm....

Φαίνεται ωραίος ο μουσσακάς σου!

culinarytravelsofakitchengoddess said...

That looks wonderful. Very delicious.

Peter M said...

Sam, what can I say? I dance in the shadow of this Moussaka. A "stand-up" result, bravo sou!

cj said...

Sam, I promise I will make this. Most likely in the next few ddays since it's going to rain all weekend-- I have eggplants and potatoes that have been calling to me. :)

Oh, and PS: At our local farm/garden store I found the prized Greek oregano! We had to pick up a sprout and we'll soon have a healthy looking bunch. It smells wonderful.

Rome Mele said...

Hey there....
Nice blog... and the contents too.

But not my kind of topics... am an anorexic ( i loath this fact though)
.
Happy blogging.

Regards
Rome
www.rome-dec.blogspot.com

Theogr said...

Hello there. My name is Theogr and I’m collecting recipe blogs. Have a look. I’m going to put yours on too.

Lore said...

I very much like the effect of using 2 Pyrex pans :). I always fail at making a moussaka that keeps it together but hopefully your directions will help me the next time.

Sogeshirtsguy said...

wow that is one detailed recipe. It looks delicious. I've never had Moussaka. I just got on the greek food bandwagon and I'm not getting off.

Cris said...

I am really in awe here...looks very delicious! The more I wanted to visit Greece. I added you up in my blogroll... :)

Kelleigh said...

I absolutely adore Greek food! Glad I found your blog thru blogcatalog!

Laurie Constantino said...

Beautiful moussaka! I had to laugh at your statement re being picky about moussaka. We have a big fight every year at church when it comes time to make moussaka for the Greek festival. Everyone has their own opinion about how it should be done and gets pretty loud about it. No one agrees. Eventually people get disgusted and leave and the last knowledgeable person standing in the kitchen makes it their way. This happens every year, I kid you not!

Lisa McGlaun said...

Beautiful recipe. I'll give it a try. I've gotten so used to quickly prepared food, I'm ready to cook something from scratch again.

Sam Sotiropoulos said...

Lulu - No, no, not shallow at all. Thanks for the compliment!

culinarytravelsofakitchengoddess - Yes it was, now it's your turn to give it a try.

Peter - Dance away, my friend! And while you're at it, throw a couple of shrimp on the 'barbie' for me, I'm on my way over for dinner! :)

cj - Keep me posted, I would love to know how it turns out. Great to hear about the oregano as well, grow it and consume it in good health!

Rome Mele - Thanks for stopping by and the compliment. Sorry to hear about your condition. Take care of yourself...

theogr - Thank you, thank you! I would love to hear that you tried some of my recipes too!

Lore - If my directions don't work for you, then I want to hear about it!!! ok?

Sogeshirtsguy - Welcome Aboard! I am hoping you will give this recipe a try and let me know what you think of Moussaka.

Cris - Thank you for the add! I think you would love Greece, so if you ever get the chance to go, don't think twice about it! Just do it.

Kelleigh - And I am glad you found it! Welcome and make yourself right at home. :-)

laurie - LOL Why am I not surprised?! Sounds like a healthy and thriving Greek parish to me! ;)

lisa - Thank you! Please do give it a whirl and let me know how it works for you. Thanks for stopping by and making your presence known, I look forward to hearing more from you in future.

Be Well All,

Sam

farida said...

Sam, thank you very much for stopping by my blog. It led me to yours. You have a wonderful blog here! Great recipes, and very interesting stories. I love Greek food and we are lucky to have several Greek eateries near where we live although I am thinking the food I see on your blog is much better:) Homemade is always good.

Mousaka is one of my fav dishes and I think I'll try your version next time I crave it:) It looks really good!

I subscribed to your blog to receive your updates. Keep up the good work!

Lore said...

Ok Sam, you will hear from me either way.

debbyd said...

thank you for the recipe. i will make this over the weekend since it is time consuming. thank you for the compliment on the rice pudding. It was in a Greek Restaurant where I fell in love with Rice Pudding.

debbyd said...

Hey Sam.. Is this the basic recipe for Pasticio minus the eggplant, potatoes, Adding makaronada? I can't find those noodles anywhere here and I love them.thanks, debby ;)

Andrew Abraham said...

Thanks Sam for this great Moussaka recipe...printing and will try it..thanks

Andy
www.recipebuddys.com

RANDI said...

Thanks for your recipes.
I will try this Moussaka one day.

Regards from Norway

Talita said...

I heard Moussaka in My big fat greek wedding, a movie, and I thought it was a sweet dish. How surprise I was when I saw the ingredients. In the greek cuisine you use a lot of veal, I never tried it too. I'll use beef instead veal but I guess the veal is better.

Sara said...

Yum, this looks really amazing!!

Sarah said...

A few days ago I posted a recipe for Musakhkhan (chicken baked on bread, Arab recipe), what do you think of clifford wright's idea that moussaka is derived from this word? Musakhkhan means to heat.

Sam Sotiropoulos said...

Sarah, to be honest, I think much of what Clifford Wright has to say (what I've read anyway)about Greek food is rubbish. As for his derivation of the word Moussaka from the Arabic word Musakhkhan, it may be possible, though I would like to see his evidence. But, in any case, there is no dish like the Greek Moussaka in Arabic cuisine that I am aware of, so even if correct, his point is moot. My $0.02.

rudy9 said...

I've been working on board a greek ship for seven years and really missing the taste of greek foods especially moussaka and pastitsio,I really love it.