Classic Greek Moussaka Recipe
Moussaka is known for being a classic Greek dish, but don’t get saying that in the Balkans… or Turkey… or Egypt… or most of the Levant region… They have their own versions, and they might not take lightly to the idea that the Greeks invented moussaka. But the moussaka recipe that everyone knows and loves is a casserole of aubergine, courgette and sometimes potatoes, with fried minced meat, and a creamy béchamel sauce on the top.
Because of its similarity to the famous Italian masterpiece of lasagne, moussaka is also called “vegetable lasagne”.
History of this moussaka recipe
The exact date of the appearance of moussaka is unknown. According to one version, the recipe has been around for several hundred years: a dish similar to the classic version of moussaka is mentioned in an Arabic cookbook from the 13th century. This was the first mention of an aubergine (or eggplant) based dish in the region. Not so Greek sounding after all.
The modern and most famous version of moussaka originated when the chef Nikolaos Tselementes took an aubergine casserole with meat and yoghurt as a base, which had been known in Greece since the Turkish occupation. He decided to bring this recipe closer to its ancient roots by replacing the yoghurt with thick béchamel sauce. The dish quickly became popular and well-loved among Greeks.
In fact, Tselementes was so popular at revolutionising Greek cuisine that one of the Greek words for cookbook is literally tselemente.
Which country is moussaka from?
Moussaka is considered a national dish not only in Greece but also in other countries. For example, we tried moussaka in North Macedonia while we were there, but we had much better North Macedonian food with their other traditional dishes like tavče gravče.
Matt also had the same lecture in Bulgaria – they have their own moussaka there, and that’s the original one. Turkey, Albania, other Balkan countries, nations from the Levant, and even Egypt all claim to have the true moussaka dish. With the original recipe seemingly deriving from the Baghdad Cookbook, they may well have a better claim to it than Greece.
It’s a little bit like the ‘traditional’ baklava recipe; there are a whole bunch of countries with their own versions.
What makes moussaka moussaka?
Different cultures have adapted moussaka to their tastes: they add tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes, cabbage or sour cream and use different types of meat. The North Macedonian one that we tried didn’t even have aubergine – something we previously thought was an irreplaceable part of any moussaka.
It turns out, the only shared principle of a traditional moussaka recipe is that it consists of alternating layers of meat sauce and vegetables.
Enjoy our Greek moussaka recipe😋
- Medium-sized aubergines (eggplants): 2
- Courgette: 2
- Vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Italian herbs
For the meat sauce:
- Ground beef or lamb mince: 500 g
- Onion: 1
- Cloves of garlic: 2
- Chopped tomatoes (or tomato puree): 400 g
- Red wine: 1 glass (optional)
- Tomato paste: 1 tbsp
- Pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Bay leaf: 2
- Pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
- Olive oil for frying meat sauce
For the bechamel sauce:
- Milk: 450 ml
- Butter: 60 g
- Flour: 60 g
- A pinch of nutmeg
- Egg yolk: 1
- Parmesan, kefalotiri cheese or your favourite hard cheese: 50 g
- Salt to taste
- Collect the ingredients for moussaka.
- Cut aubergines into 1 cm thick slices and soak them in salty water for half an hour. This will help to reduce the bitterness of the eggplant. After being soaked, rinse eggplant slices under the water and squeeze well with your hands to get rid of the water.
- Towards the end of the soaking period, preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
- Place sliced aubergine on the baking dish and sprinkle with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. I also added some Italian herbs for aroma.
- Almost the same procedure with the courgettes; cut them into 1 cm slices and put them on a separate baking tray, drizzling them with some olive oil and spices.
- Put both trays in the oven at the same time and bake for 20 minutes at 180 degrees. If you're short of space, you can also bake them one after the other.
- While the vegetables are in the oven, prepare the meat sauce. For that, cut the onion and the garlic into small pieces. On a medium heat, fry the onion until it's soft and transparent.
- Add minced meat and fry on medium-high heat until lightly browned.
- Add tomato paste and garlic. Saute until the garlic is soft.
- Then add chopped tomatoes and spice it up with cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, and season with salt. Bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
- Prepare bechamel sauce: in a large pan melt butter, add flour and stir well. It should have a paste-like consistency.
- Add the milk, stirring constantly to prevent it from getting lumpy.
- Once it has a creamy consistency, take the white sauce from the heat, add pepper, a pinch of salt, half of the cheese and the egg yolk. Stir quickly so you won't get omelette in your bechamel sauce.
- To assemble the moussaka, take a medium-sized dish. On the bottom, put the grilled aubergine slices with courgette slices in between. This will be your vegetable layer.
- Next is the meat sauce layer: spread the meat evenly over the entire surface of the vegetable layer.
- Cover the meat layer with the remaining aubergine and courgette.
- Spread the béchamel sauce all over the vegetable layer and sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese.
- Bake for 30 minutes at 180 degrees.
- Once cooked, set aside for at least 10 minutes with some fresh vegetables or greek salad. Serve moussaka after it has cooled down a little and enjoy! 😉
- You can experiment with moussaka layers. For your vegetable layer, you can use potato slices as well as grilled peppers. Sliced potatoes will work best in the bottom layer, and you could keep the rest the same.
- In the original Greek version of the moussaka recipe, they fry the eggplant, but I decided to make it lighter and healthier, baking the vegetables instead.
- You can freeze the remaining moussaka. Simply defrost it in the fridge overnight the day before you want to eat it. Reheat it in the oven until piping hot.
- You can use lamb or beef, or any ground meat of your choice.
- For a vegetarian version of Greek moussaka, use vegan minced meat. It's easy to find in a big supermarket nowadays.
Enjoy your traditional Greek dish!
Did you enjoy this wonderful recipe? Then click here to see more Greek recipes; there’s beef stifado, spanakopita, and even pastitsada. I highly recommend you to check out our Greek strawberry cheesecake for dessert. 😉
For other international cuisines, we have a collection of recipes from all over the world and we’re adding new countries all the time.