Moussaka, Moussaka, Moussaka!

This by far is one of my favorite indulgent Mediterranean dishes. It's often referred to as a classic Greek dish. However, the use of beef or lamb when traditionally prepared, plus béchamel, speaks of French influences. Add that with nutmeg and cinnamon flavors, then this speaks heavily of North African Mediterranean cuisine. Perhaps, Turkey or nearby countries. My friends and I often refer to it as a North Africa lasagna. Just an interesting thought I'd like to share. With that, I'd also like to share the recipe. This takes just under an hour to prepare completely and believe me the accomplishment you'll taste and feel will be well worth the time. Turn on some inspiring music and enjoy this journey to Moussaka! This serves 4-6.


INGREDIENTS

For the meat sauce

  • 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/2 medium sweet onion, finely chopped

  • 1/2 lb. 90% lean ground beef (Sub: Plant-based veggie crumbles, ground lamb, or ground poultry)

  • 1/4 cup dry red wine

  • 1/4 cup beef broth (Sub: vegetable broth)

  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce

  • 1 TBS finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg

  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the eggplant

  • 1 eggplant (medium to large), ends cut off, sliced lengthwise about 1/4 inch thick

  • 1 tsp course sea salt

  • 1Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed

  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the potatoes

  • 1/2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 large russet potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly (think twice the thickness of a potato chip)

  • Kosher salt

For the béchamel

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 2 TBS unsalted butter

  • 2 TBS extra virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 unbleached all-purpose flour (Sub: garbanzo or rice flour)

  • 2 TBS finely grated parmesan cheese (Sub: feta cheese crumbles)

  • 1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg; more to taste

  • Salt + black pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

Salt the eggplant

  1. Lay a single layer of the eggplant slices on paper towels and sprinkle evenly with salt. Allow to sit for about least 20-30 minutes while you make your sauce. After, take a paper towel and blot all water that has risen from the salting process.

Make the meat sauce

  1. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 2-3 minutes.

  2. Add the beef. Cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up the meat, until browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the wine and beef broth turn the heat down to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until absorbed, about 3 minutes.

  3. Add the tomato sauce, parsley, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Stir and continue to break beef into tiny crumbles. Turn the heat down to low and simmer, uncovered for about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside. NOTE: Remember, there will be salt on the potatoes and the eggplant, so this sauce should not be salty.

Prepare the potatoes

  1. Slice the potatoes thin, as described above. Lay them on a plate or flat tray.

  2. Brush each side lightly with oil.

  3. Lightly season with salt.

Roast the eggplant

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.

  2. Arrange slices in a single layer on 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Lightly brush both sides of each slice with the olive oil and lightly season both sides with a little salt and pepper. Roast, flipping once, until tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes total. Remove from heat.

Make the béchamel

  1. Heat the milk in microwave for 1 minute, or until steaming a little; set aside.

  2. Melt the butter and olive oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until golden, about 1-2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and then simmer gently, whisking, as the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Set aside 1/2 of the cheese for assembly.

  3. Add the remaining cheese to the sauce, along with the nutmeg and pinch of salt and pepper; whisk until smooth. Season to taste with more salt and nutmeg, only if needed.

Assemble and bake

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375. Arrange the potato slices in an even layer on the bottom of the dish, slightly overlapping the slices like shingles. Repeat this same technique with the eggplant. If you have extra potatoes, repeat with an additional layer.

  2. Spread the meat sauce in an even layer on top of the eggplant. Pour the béchamel over the meat sauce and spread in an even layer. Evenly sprinkle with a little extra cheese. Bake until the top is golden brown, 20-25 minutes, or until the béchamel is lightly browned and the sauce is bubbling. Let sit at room temperature for at east 10-15 minutes before serving. This allows the sauce to thicken.

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