Updated: Aug 22, 2020
Moussaka is one of the first recipes I ever cooked. In 2010, I decided to embrace eating more fresh foods and cooking my meals from an array of nourishing ingredients. Translation: I reluctantly accepted that I should probably add a little love to my food and branch out of my staple diet of plain pasta, boiled noodles, buttered toast and flaked cereal. Seeking guidance from Google, I stumbled across a recipe for moussaka. I'd never eaten 'moussaka' before and didn't recognise the name, but it appealed to me because it looked familiar; like lasagna, minus the pasta sheets. I resolved to give it a try.
I'm glad I did. The combination of decadent lamb mince, silky eggplant and golden melted cheese doesn't disappoint. Plus, the aroma of cinnamon spiced tomato sauce that drifts from the oven is incredible.
It's a great meal to cook in bulk, freeze and reheat, too.
To keep it simple, I've skipped the classic Bechamel sauce and emphasise a blend of spices to accentuate the flavour of the main ingredients - eggplant, lamb mince and cheese. For a creamier, more traditional take, prepare and add the sauce on top before baking.
Luscious lamb moussaka
Layer upon delicious layer of lamb mince, spiced eggplant and golden cheese
Prep time: 15 minutes (+ an extra 30 - 45 minutes to salt the eggplant if desired)
Cook time: About 25 minutes to cook mince sauce, 50 minutes to bake in oven.
Portions: 10 meals @ est. 25 g fat and 24 g protein per serve
4 medium-sized, long eggplants, sliced
Fine salt, to prepare eggplant (optional)
2 tbsps butter
1 large brown onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 kg quality lamb mince
1 tbsp tomato paste
400 g can diced tomatoes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg, grated
1 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, freshly grated (est. 100 g if loosely packed)
Tea towels or paper towel, to salt and drain the eggplant slices
Small grater, to grate fresh nutmeg
Large pot to prepare the mince sauce
A deep ceramic rectangular casserole dish
Slice the eggplant into long or round slices as preferred, about 1 cm thick.*
Place the eggplant slices on a tea towel or sheet of paper towel, salt and then let sit for about 30 to 45 minutes. This will extract a bitter liquid out of the eggplant (you'll see it appear on the surface) and changes the texture of the eggplant. Pat the eggplant dry to remove the liquid. (optional)**
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Heat butter in pot and cook onion and garlic on medium heat for 2 to 5 minutes, until softened and aromatic.
Add mince and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until mince browns. Use a wooden spoon to turn and break up chunks of mince.
Add spices, tomato paste and diced tomatoes and let simmer on the stove for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the sauce reduces and the flavours combine.
To make the moussaka, place a layer of eggplant on the bottom of the casserole dish. Try not to leave any gaps. If I have plenty of eggplant, I also like to create a layer around the sides of the dish. Place a layer of half of the mince sauce on the eggplant and distribute evenly. Sprinkle 1/3 of the grated cheese on top of the sauce. Repeat this step, so that you have 2 layers of eggplant, mince sauce and cheese.
Finish with a layer of eggplant on top. I like to flip the top slices of eggplant, so that the side that faces up has a bit of sauce on it.
Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cheese on top and drizzle with 1 tbsp melted butter.
Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes, until golden brown.
Keep in mind that you will need to distribute the eggplant slices so that you have 3 layers of eggplant!
If you like the taste and mouth feel of melted cheese (and who doesn't?), increase the cheese to 1 cup. This will add more fats and protein to your recipe.
If you have a bit more time, brush the eggplant slices with olive oil, season with salt and fry on the stove or bake in the oven for about 5 minutes on each side until golden to add flavour to your dish.
* You'll see in the photos that you can either slice the eggplant into long slices, or into round slices. It's up to you.
** Do you really need to salt the eggplant? Maybe not. Some chefs firmly believe that salting is unnecessary because eggplants today are not as bitter as they used to be. Personally, I find that salting eggplant enhances its flavour and texture. I also sometimes notice that my body reacts differently to the eggplant if I don't salt it. Try it both ways and see. If it doesn't bother you, then it will certainly save you time to skip this step.
If I want to make this recipe leaner or limit the calories (for example, in a competition prep), I will substitute a quality lean beef mince for the lamb mince.
You can also substitute a seven spice or all spice blend for the cinnamon and nutmeg. Or, use all three to increase the intensity of the flavour.
My favourite sides
You can't beat a fresh Greek salad to complement the rich moussaka.
Or, try steamed broccoli or brussel sprouts to absorb the flavours of the sauce.