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  • Writer's pictureKyveli Papaioannou

Classic Moussaka Recipe: A Hearty Mediterranean Delight with Health Benefits


a dish of Greek Moussaka on a table
Greek Moussakas

This specific Moussaka recipe is dedicated to my friends from Frosch whom I met at Eirini's Olive Grove. I wholeheartedly thank them for their beautiful participation in the Cooking Workshop Retreat that took place in Agios Andreas Messinia.


Introduction:

Moussakas is a beloved dish hailing from the Mediterranean region, known for its rich flavors and comforting layers. This classic recipe combines tender eggplant, potatoes, savory meat sauce, a variety of spices and a creamy bechamel with cheese topping, resulting in a mouthwatering casserole that will transport your taste buds to the sun-kissed shores of Greece. Let's dive into the steps of creating this culinary masterpiece in your own kitchen.



Ingredients:

  • 4 eggplants

  • 2 potatoes

  • 1 ½ pounds (700g) ground lamb and beef

  • 3 onions, finely chopped

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 500gr cherry tomatoes

  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1 tablespoon dried basil

  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme

  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 5 cloves

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 2 ½ cups olive oil (for frying and sautéing)

  • 4 tablespoons butter

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 tablespoon corn flour

  • 1 lt milk (4 ½ cups)

  • Pinch of ground nutmeg

  • 2 cups grated Parmesan or Regato cheese

  • 3 large eggs, beaten


Instructions:


Preparing the Vegetables


Eggplant: Slice the eggplants into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Lightly salt them and let them sit for 15 minutes to draw out the bitterness and the excess moisture. Rinse well and pat dry.

Hands cut aubergines and add spices
Prepare eggplants for Greek Moussaka

Potatoes:

Slice the potatoes into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Rinse well and pat dry


A pot filled with round slices of potatoes
Cut potatoes into round slices

Heat a deep frying pan over medium-high heat and add 2 cups of olive oil. Allow the oil to heat up until it reaches a temperature where you can feel the heat when you bring your hand close to it. Be careful not to let the oil get too hot. The goal is to keep the potatoes from browning and maintain their white color. Once the oil is warm but not smoking, carefully place the sliced potatoes into the pan and cook them until they are tender and maintain their white color.

Once you finish frying the potatoes, you can proceed to frying the eggplant slices until soft and tender. Remove the eggplants from the frying pan and place them on a sieve or colander to allow the excess oil to drain for 20 minutes..


Here's a tip: If you prefer a healthier version of moussaka that retains more of the vegetables' vitamins, you can follow the instructions below instead of frying the potatoes and eggplants. Start by steaming the whole potatoes until they become tender but still retain a slight firmness. Once they have cooled, slice them into round discs. For the eggplants, you can bake them in the oven as slices with just a light drizzle of olive oil until they develop a beautiful golden color. This method will help reduce the overall oil content while still maintaining the delicious flavors of the dish.


Cooking the Meat Sauce:

In a saucepan, add half a cup of olive oil, the spices (oregano, thyme, basil, cloves, and cinnamon), garlic, and onion. Heat them over low heat, allowing the flavors to develop and the onion to become translucent. Be careful not to let them fry. Next, add the lamb and beef to the pan and sauté for 3 minutes. Increase the heat and add the cherry tomatoes and tomato paste, along with salt and pepper. Cover the saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld together.


stiring the minced meat in a pan
minced meat sauce

Preparing the Bechamel:

The traditional method of making béchamel involves mixing butter with flour and slowly adding milk to prevent clumping. Eggs are added at the end. However, we have a foolproof technique that guarantees a silky-smooth result with ease.


Bring 3 cups of milk to a boil. In a deep bowl add the rest of the milk (1 ½ cup), cornflour, eggs and butter. Blend the mixture thoroughly using a hand blender until it becomes smooth and well-combined. Once the milk reaches a boiling point, remove it from the heat. Gradually add the egg mixture to the hot milk, stirring constantly. Return the saucepan to low heat and continue stirring until the mixture lightly thickens. Remove from the heat and add the nutmeg and stir well.


Bechamel in a saucepan with a wooden spoon
Bechamel

Layering and Baking:

Choose a deep rectangular baking dish with dimensions of 30*40 cm. Without greasing it, cover the bottom of the dish with the potatoes. Place half of the eggplants over the potatoes to cover them. Spread the minced meat evenly over the eggplants, covering the entire dish. Continue with the remaining eggplants, layering them over the minced meat. Sprinkle half of the grated cheese on top. Add the béchamel sauce and spread it evenly over the entire dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake for approximately 1 hour in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius (356 degrees Fahrenheit) using the fan-assist function. Depending on your oven, you may need to adjust the temperature accordingly. The Moussaka is ready when it has obtained a golden brown color.


Serving and Enjoying:

Remove the moussaka from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes before serving. Moussaka is traditionally served warm or at room temperature.

Serve it alongside a fresh salad and crusty bread for a complete Mediterranean feast.



Health Benefits:

  1. Nutrient-rich Eggplant: The star of moussaka, eggplant, is a great source of dietary fiber, which aids digestion and helps maintain a healthy weight. Eggplant is also rich in antioxidants, including nasunin, which has been linked to brain health.

  2. Potatoes are also a good source of essential nutrients, including vitamins C and B6, potassium, manganese, and dietary fiber. They also contain small amounts of iron, calcium, and vitamin K.

  3. Lean Protein from Meat: The ground lamb or beef in moussaka provides a good source of high-quality protein. Protein is essential for muscle repair, growth, and overall body function. Opting for lean cuts of meat helps reduce saturated fat intake.

  4. The spices used in Moussaka, such as oregano, thyme, basil, cloves, and cinnamon, not only add flavor to the dish but also offer several potential health benefits.

    1. Oregano is rich in antioxidants, including phenols and flavonoids, which help protect against cellular damage caused by free radicals. It also contains vitamins A, C, and K, as well as minerals like calcium and iron.

    2. Thyme: Thyme is known for its antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It contains compounds like thymol, which has been studied for its potential antibacterial effects. Thyme is also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, and manganese.

    3. Basil: Basil is packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants, including vitamins A, K, and C, as well as minerals like calcium and iron. It also contains compounds like eugenol, which may have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

    4. Cloves: Cloves are highly concentrated with antioxidants and have been traditionally used for their potential antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects. They are a good source of manganese, vitamin K, and dietary fiber.

    5. Cinnamon: Cinnamon is known for its warming and aromatic flavor. It contains compounds like cinnamaldehyde, which has been studied for its potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Cinnamon is also a source of manganese and dietary fiber.

    6. It's important to note that the quantities of these spices used in a recipe are typically small, so their individual nutritional impact may be minimal. However, they contribute to the overall flavor profile and potential health benefits of the dish.

  5. Nutritional Powerhouse: The combination of eggplant, tomatoes, and herbs in moussaka provides a wide array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that may help reduce the risk of certain cancers and promote heart health.

  6. Mental Well-being: Enjoying a delicious, homemade meal like moussaka can have positive effects on mental health. The act of cooking and savoring a meal can promote relaxation, mindfulness, and a sense of accomplishment. Sharing the dish with loved ones can also foster social connections, which are vital for mental well-being.


Conclusion: With its layers of flavors and textures, moussaka is not only a culinary delight but also offers several health benefits. From the nutrient-rich eggplant to the lean protein and the Mediterranean-inspired ingredients, this dish can contribute to your overall well-being. So, indulge in the flavors of Greece while nourishing your body and uplifting your spirits. Prepare a batch of classic moussaka in your kitchen and experience the joys of good food with your loved ones, that supports both your physical and mental health. Opa!


Family eating together




A piece of Mousakas on a white plate
Greek Traditional Moussakas

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