I make Greek Moussaka once or twice a year, always in the winter, served with different versions of a classic Greek salad. This meal reminds me of the first time I visited Greece and the amazing new flavours and classic dishes I was introduced to.
It seems pretty easy to me since I've made it many, many times but as I often say; so many recipes, so little time.
I first visited Greece long before the internet was invented and before tadziki was on the shelf in every grocery store. While visiting I learned about traditional Greek dishes from a physical book, my Berlitz European Menu Reader. This tiny book was filled with essential dining vocabulary, culinary terms and as I recall, an overview of the typical dishes from each country.
Our mission was to try as many of them as we could.
Moussaka was on that list.
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What Goes in Moussaka
Traditionally moussaka is a layered meat dish with eggplant (called aubergines in Europe). The meat can be ground lamb or ground beef and the cooked mixture is layered between vegetable slices.
My version of the tomato based meat sauce has a hint of cinnamon common in many Mediterranean sauces. Other recipes also use red wine but the original recipe mine evolved from didn't have wine. I just drink the red wine while I cook.
Eggplant is the most common vegetable for moussaka but many recipes use sliced zucchini, potatoes or any combination of these three.
The final topping is a firm, thick white sauce layer. Extra egg yolks help create that firm topping and many recipes, like mine, also add cheese.
I'm sure I've had versions that included mashed potatoes in the topping but my quick Google search could not find even one. I hope you can see that there are many ways for you to make your absolute favourite version of moussaka.
Tips for Making White Sauce
To make a thick topping that will firm up as it bakes you want to start with a thick white sauce, also called béchamel sauce. This is the same basic white sauce you would use to make homemade macaroni and cheese.
White sauce can be made with wheat flour or cornstarch. I've always made mine with cornstarch so it's naturally gluten free.
Sauces with cornstarch can be 'over stirred' and broken. The technique is simple so be sure to master it. Add a little more cornstarch if you can't get a nice, thick sauce.
I think every kid should learn to make white sauce by the time they're 10 years old. Then when you're making moussaka, or any of the many delicious recipes using white sauce, you can just order up the amount you need.
Easy Greek Moussaka
Layered dishes like lasagna and moussaka do take a bit of time. Cooks who plan ahead can freeze the meat sauce and even freeze the layered meat sauce and vegetables. This leaves adding the white sauce as the only step on the day you're serving it.
There's always someone who wants an easier version so here's a hack for you. Simply chop the vegetables, sauté them and fold them into the meat mixture.
Spread it all in the pan and with the same creamy white sauce topping it will look and taste like traditional moussaka.
Let me know in the comments below if you tried moussaka. As they say in Greece, yamas!
Originally posted in 2017, updated January 2023.
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A Travel Tale from Greece
If you love travel tales you might enjoy my story about our trip to Greece many years ago. I wrote it as a guest post for my friend Sue over at Travel Tales of Life. If you're skimming be sure to read the nude beach story from Mykonos. Here's the link, Greek Souvlaki - An Authentic Greek Food Recipe.
- 1-2 zucchini slices, ⅓-inch thick*
- 1 eggplant slices, ⅓-inch thick* or 2 slender Japanese eggplants
- oil for frying
- 2 teaspoon cooking oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1½ lbs ground beef lamb or crumbled tofu
- 1 can diced tomatoes (19 oz/560 ml)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 tablespoon gluten free breadcrumbs** dry or toasted
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (or 1 teaspoon dried)
WHITE SAUCE MIXTURE
- ¼ cup butter
- 2 tablespoon cornstarch increase to 3 tablespoon if it isn't thickening
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups milk (2% or higher)
- 8 oz cottage cheese (250 ml)
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 eggs beaten
- Heat oil in large sauté pan on medium-high heat. Fry zucchini and eggplant slices in batches until browned, 3-4 minutes per side. Set aside.
- Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, sauté until slightly softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add beef and cook the mixture, stirring to break up any lumps, until no longer pink.
- Add tomatoes, tomato paste and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Stir in egg, breadcrumbs and parsley. Set aside to cool. Can be prepared 2-3 days in advance or frozen.
WHITE SAUCE LAYER
- In saucepan melt butter. Add cornstarch, salt and pepper and whisk until smooth and no lumps remain.
- When slightly thickened add half the milk and stir over medium heat until sauce thickens. Add the remaining milk and stir occasionally until thickened. Don't over stir.
- Remove from heat. Add cottage cheese, Parmesan cheese, feta and eggs. Stir until evenly combined. Set aside for assembly.
ASSEMBLY: Layer into a 9 x 13-inch baking pan in this order
- ½ the vegetable slices½ the meat mixtureremaining vegetable slicesremaining meat mixturewhite sauce mixture
- Bake in preheated 350°F oven for 45 minutes or until the top is set and nicely browned. Let sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.