Moussaka

This is one of my absolute favourite Greek dishes–my go-to order any time I’m at a Greek restaurant. I’ve only ever tried to make moussaka once before, and while a serviceable freshman attempt, I was struck by the desire to try for an even better sophomore effort.

Recipe

adapted from Bon Appetit
6 garlic cloves, finely grated, divided
½ cup plus 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp chopped mint, divided
2 tbsp chopped oregano, divided
3 medium eggplants (abou 3 lbs total), sliced crosswise into ½” thick rounds
2½ tsp salt, plus more
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
1½ lbs ground lamb
½ lb ground beef
1 3″ cinnamon stick
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp tomato paste
¾ cup dry white wine
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes

Béchamel
6 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
2½ cups whole milk
¾ tsp salt
1 cup cottage cheese
1¾ cups Pecorino or Parmesan, divided
3 large egg yolks, beaten to blend

Preheat oven to 425 F. Whisk half of the garlic, ½ cup oil, 1 tbsp mint, and 1 tbsp oregano in a small bowl. Brush both sides of the eggplant rounds with herb oil, making sure to get all the herbs and garlic onto the eggplant; season with salt and pepper. Transfer eggplant to a rimmed baking sheet (it’s ok to pile the rounds atop each other) and roast until tender and browned, 35-45 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400 F.

Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a large wide pot over high. Cook lamb and beef, breaking up with a spoon, until browned on all sides and cooked through and liquid from meat is evaporated (there will be a lot of rendered fat), 12-16 minutes. Strain fat through a sieve into a clean small bowl and transfer lamb/beef to a medium bowl. Reserve 3 tbsp lamb fat; discard remaining fat.

Heat 2 tbsp lamb/beef fat in same pot over medium-high. Add onion, cinnamon stick, 2½ tsp salt, and ½ tsp pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and translucent. Add remaining garlic and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom, until onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add paprika and tomato paste and cook until brick red in colour, about 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced and no longer smells of alcohol, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and break up with a wooden spoon into small pieces. Add lamb and remaining 1 tbsp mint and 1 tbsp oregano and cook, stirring occasionally until most of the liquid is evaporated and mixture looks like a thick meat sauces, 5-7 minutes. Pluck out and discard cinnamon stick.

Béchamel
Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foaming. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until combined, about 1 minute. Whisk in milk and bring sauce to a boil. Cook béchamel, whisking often, until very thick (should have the consistency of pudding), about 5 minutes. Stir in salt.

Remove from heat and whisk in cottage cheese and half the Pecorino. Let set for 5-10 minutes for cheese to melt. Then add egg yolks and vigorously whisk until combined and béchamel is golden yellow.

Assembly
Brush a 13″x9″ baking pan with remaining tbsp of lamb/beef fat. Layer half of the eggplant in the pan, covering the bottom entirely. Spread half the lamb mixture over eggplant in an even layer. Repeat with remaining eggplant and lamb to make another layer each. Top with béchamel and smooth surface; sprinkle with remaining Pecorino.

Bake moussaka until bubbling vigorously and béchamel is browned in spots, 30-45 minutes. Let cool 30 minutes before serving.

Can be baked 1 day ahead. Let cool, then cover and chill, or freeze up to 3 months. Thaw before reheating in a 250 F oven until warmed through, about 1 hour.

Musings

While making moussaka is definitely an endeavour (a good 3 hours from start to finish), it is absolutely worth the time put in. I was thrilled my second moussaka-making effort was a major improvement over my first. Multi-dimensional flavour and killer creaminess from that layer of béchamel makes this dish divinely good. I noticed that there was still a bit of liquid at the bottom when I cut out the first piece, so spending a bit more time ensuring that the liquid from the meat sauce had sufficiently evaporated would be a good idea.

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