Nuff said! This dish was so yummilicious that we devoured the entire portion for 4 just between the two of us! Greedy? Perhaps. But most definitely, divine! Presenting… Moussaka!
500 g large eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 large red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
500 g minced beef
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 dried bay leaf
1/3 cup white wine
320 g tomato puree
250 g potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
60 g unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
500 ml warm milk
Some freshly grated nutmeg
For this particular recipe that serves good for 4, I used a glass, see through, square baking dish (8″ x 8″ x 3″). If you want to be generous or serve more guests, double up the quantity and use an appropriate sized dish accordingly.
So, moving on. If you have not done this yet, first trim off the tops of the eggplants and slice them lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices. I used a thick slice option on the mandolin for this purpose. If you don’t have one, use a knife. Sprinkle a generous amount of salt over the slices and leave them aside for about 30 minutes or so to drain out all the bitter juice from the eggplants.
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a Dutch oven. Sautee the red onion until it is nice and soft and lightly browned. Add the parsley and garlic and cook for another minute till fragrant. Then, add the minced beef. Cook over medium-high heat until minced beef loses it water and begins to brown. Be sure to keep stirring the entire time so the minced beef does not get burnt. Add cinnamon, oregano and bay leaf now and season with freshly ground salt and pepper. After the herbs and spices have been mixed well into the minced beef, add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan so nothing is stuck. Allow most of the wine to evaporate, then add the tomato puree and leave it to simmer for about 30 minutes, uncovered, stirring every so often. Always be sure to break up any clusters of minced beef. If it looks too dry, add a dash of water though this might not be necessary.
Whilst the minced beef is simmering on the stove, and if you have not yet done this, slice the potatoes into 1/4 inch thick slices using a mandolin or knife and pat them dry. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large non-stick saucepan and fry the potatoes in batches over medium heat till they are golden on both sides and cooked through. Once cooked, remove them onto a plate lined with kitchen paper to absorb the oil and sprinkle with some salt.
Next, rinse the salt from the sliced eggplants with cold water and pat them dry. Fry them in batches in the same saucepan as the potatoes but be sure to pay more attention as the eggplants will absorb more oil and may easily get burnt. As the underside turns golden, turn it over and prick it with a fork especially in spots that are still hard. The final consistency required for the eggplants should be almost like a puree, not burnt or crispy fried. However, if they have darkened but not cooked, in this case, puree-like soft, stack them up on the new batch of eggplants so they can cook for longer. Like the potatoes, remove the eggplants once it is cooked onto a lined plate with kitchen paper so it can absorb the oil. Finish the entire lot by adding a tablespoon of oil for every batch whenever needed.
Now, turn on the oven and preheat it to 180˚C/350˚F/gas 4. Arrange half the eggplant on the bottom of the dish in a single layer. If needed, overlap them. Then, in a single layer, the potatoes. Add half the minced beef and press them down with the back of a wooden spoon. Followed by the rest of the eggplant in a layer and the remaining minced beef. Again, using the back of a wooden spoon, press the minced beef down. At this point, you should have a nicely flattened surface on top of the minced beef and there should be approximately 1 inch space to the rim of the baking dish.
FYI, the bechamel sauce must ALWAYS be made just before you bake the moussaka. So, melt the butter in a saucepan. Then add the flour, whisking constantly with a whisk and begin adding the warm milk. When adding the milk, be sure not to pour the entire lot into the saucepan. Add them slowly and watch the consistency of the bechamel. If it gets too thick too quickly, remove the saucepan from the heat. The result for the bechamel should be a rich, thickbut not stiff and smooth. Season it with salt, pepper and a grating of nutmeg and taste it for flavor before pouring it into the dish. The bechamel should come up almost to the rim of the baking dish.
Bake for 45 minutes to an hour with a baking sheet underneath in case there would be spillage until the moussaka begins to bubble up and the top is golden in parts. Leave it in the oven to cool slightly before serving. FYI, you can serve this cold. However, personally, I like it warm. Cut them into squares and place them onto plates. When serving, don’t forget to let your guests know that it might be piping hot!
Let me know what you think of it!