Moussaka is to the Eastern Mediterranean what lasagna is to Italy: A very rich, special casserole that is perfect for Sunday dinners or potluck gatherings.
The recipe takes some time to put together, but like a good lasagna, it’s worth it!
What Is Moussaka?
This version is Greek, although every country in the region makes its own version of moussaka.
Even the Greek versions have endless variety, from different ingredients in the meat sauce, choices of meat, amount of béchamel, how they cut and cook the eggplants, whether to use potatoes, etc.
How to Make Moussaka
The best way to make moussaka is in steps. Start with the meat sauce, and while that is simmering, prep the potatoes and eggplant. Make the béchamel last, because it is not a sauce that holds very well.
Don't be intimidated by the many steps. We've just detailed the process carefully to make it easier to follow.
Do you have a favorite way of preparing moussaka? Please let us know about it!
Tips for Preparing the Eggplant
If you're not familiar with baking with eggplant, follow these tips.
- Removing most, but not all, of the eggplant's skin. The skin can be bitter and may also make the casserole difficult to cut after baking. Leaving just a little skin will reduce potential bitterness and still add some appealing texture to the casserole.
- Brine the sliced eggplant. The eggplant's flesh may also be bitter. Brining before cooking minimizes any bitterness in the flesh.
- After brining, dry the eggplant well with paper towels so the casserole doesn't get watery.
What Size Casserole Dish Is Best for This Moussaka Recipe?
This makes a large casserole and works best in a deep 9 x 13-inch casserole.
Swaps and Subs in Moussaka
With so variations of moussaka in the world, it's easy customize.
- Substitute ground bison or turkey for the lamb or beef. One reader even commented about using ostrich!
- For a vegetarian option, use plant-based grounds or 2 cups of cooked lentils for the meat.
- In place of the red wine, substitute 1/3 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice or 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock plus 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar.
- Replace all or half of the eggplant with peeled zucchini. (You don't have to brine the zucchini.)
- Omit the potatoes.
- Substitute pecorino, Parmesan, or ricotta salata for the mizithra cheese.
- Half the ingredients and make in an 8 x 8-inch casserole pan.
How to Store and Reheat Moussaka
Store leftover moussaka in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in the microwave or in the oven at 350°F until just heated through.
Freeze leftover moussaka by wrapping it whole or in individual portions, first in plastic wrap and then in foil, for up to three months. Thaw in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave or oven at 350°F until just heated through. (While this casserole will still be delicious if frozen, be prepared for the potatoes to have a different texture once they've been defrosted and reheated.)
More Greek Recipes That Pair Well With Moussaka
- Greek Chicken Skewers with Flatbread and Yogurt Sauce (Chicken Souvlaki)
- Easy Greek Salad
- Cucumber Yogurt Salad (Tzatziki)
- Avgolemono Soup
All sorts of cheese can be used here, and to be most authentic, use kefalotyri. We used mizithra, which is becoming increasingly available in supermarkets. No need to search the globe for these cheeses, however, as a pecorino or any hard grating cheese will work fine.
- Meat sauce
- 2 pounds ground lamb or beef
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 cup red wine
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice, or more to taste
- Salt to taste
- Bechamel sauce
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups whole milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- To assemble
- 3 large globe eggplants
- 1/2 cup salt
- 8 cups water
- 2-3 Yukon gold or other yellow potatoes
- 1 cup grated mizithra (or pecorino or Parmesan) cheese
- Extra virgin olive oil
Prepare the meat sauce:
Brown the ground meat, add onions:
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and brown the ground meat. By the way, the meat will brown best if you don't stir it.
Add the onions about halfway into the browning process. Sprinkle salt over the meat and onions.
Add the spices and tomato paste:
Once the meat is browned and the onions have softened, add the garlic, allspice, cinnamon, black pepper, oregano and tomato paste. Mix well and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add the wine and simmer:
Add the red wine and mix well. Bring the sauce to a simmer, reduce the heat, and continue to simmer gently, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat. Season with salt to taste.
Add the lemon zest and the lemon juice:
Mix well and taste. If the sauce needs more acidity, add more lemon juice.
Set the sauce aside.
Prepare the potatoes and eggplants:
Make the brine:
Mix the 1/2 cup salt with the 8 cups of water in a large pot or container. This will be the brine for the eggplants.
Prep the eggplants:
Slice the top and bottom off the eggplants. Cut thick strips of the skin off the eggplants to give them a striped appearance.
A little skin on the eggplant is good for texture, but leaving it all on makes the moussaka hard to cut later, and can add bitterness, which you don’t want. (Some moussaka recipes leave the skin on and have you slice the eggplants lengthwise, which is an option if you prefer.)
Slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch rounds and drop them into the brine.
Brine the eggplants:
Let the eggplants sit in the brine 15-20 minutes, then remove them to a series of paper towels to dry.
Place a paper towel on the counter, layer some eggplant on it, then cover with more paper towels and repeat.
Peel, slice, and boil the potatoes:
As the eggplants are brining, peel and slice the potatoes into 1/4 inch rounds. Boil them in salted water for 5-8 minutes – you want them undercooked, but no longer crunchy. Drain and set aside.
Cook the eggplant rounds:
To cook the eggplant, broil or grill the rounds. You could also fry the eggplant rounds but they tend to absorb a lot of oil that way.
To grill the eggplant rounds, get a grill very hot and close the lid. Paint one side of the eggplant rounds with olive oil and grill 2-3 minutes. When they are done on one side, paint the other side with oil and flip. When the eggplants are nicely grilled, set aside.
To broil, line a broiling pan or roasting pan with aluminum foil. Paint with olive oil. Place the eggplant rounds on the foil and brush with olive oil. Broil for 3-4 minutes until lightly browned on one side, then flip them over and broil for a few minutes more. Set aside.
Prepare the béchamel:
Heat the milk:
Heat the milk in a medium saucepan on medium heat until steamy. Do not let simmer.
Make the roux:
Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has completely melted, slowly whisk in the flour. Let this roux simmer over medium-low heat for a few minutes. Do not let it get too dark.
Add the milk:
Little by little, pour the steamy milk into the roux, stirring constantly. It will set up and thicken dramatically at first, but keep adding milk and stirring; the sauce will loosen. Raise the heat to medium. Add the nutmeg and about a teaspoon of salt. Stir well.
Temper the eggs:
Put the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk to combine. Temper the eggs so they don’t scramble when you put them into the sauce. Using two hands, one with a whisk, the other with a ladle, slowly pour in a couple ladles of hot béchamel into the eggs, whisking all the time.
Slowly pour the egg mixture back into the béchamel while whisking. Keep the sauce on very low heat; do not let simmer or boil.
Finish the moussaka:
Layer the potatoes and eggplant in the dish:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Layer a casserole with the potatoes, overlapping slightly. Top the layer of potatoes with a layer of eggplant slices (use just half of the slices).
Cover the layer of potatoes and eggplant with the meat sauce. Then add the remaining eggplant slices on top of the meat sauce.
Add cheese and béchamel:
Sprinkle half the cheese on top. Ladle the béchamel over everything in an even layer. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.
Bake at 350°F for 30-45 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned.
Let the moussaka cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.