We were watching the British show Come Dine with Me on the BBC Lifestyle channel the other week, and one of the dishes served was Moussaka. This got me thinking that I had not had Moussaka in ages, and I decided to give it a go. I seem to remember eating several greasy versions at dances or school functions of some sort, but made properly, it can be a very interesting dish. This is quite an involved dish that took me about two hours. After looking up several recipes, I decided to just make it up as I went along, and this is what I came up with.
Moussaka is originally an Arabian dish but is well known throughout the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean. The most popular version however is the Greek version, which has layers of aubergine (eggplant) and beef or lamb. Bulgarian and Serbian versions apparently add potatoes, and my friend Bev who I was making this for loves potatoes in it. I’m not convinced. This may be because my Grandmother never put potatoes in, and this is something of a nostalgic dish for me. I also seem to recall she put toasted buttered breadcrumbs on top.
In this version I added the potatoes and I grilled the slices of eggplant, which cuts down on the amount of fat in the meal. The first version I made, I used minced beef, and the second version was with minced lamb, which is harder to track down. I am definitely a fan of the lamb version. Some versions use an egg custard, or a yoghurt topping, but as my Gran made it with a white sauce, for the sake of tradition I do too. Here forthwith is what I came up with.
3- 4 medium Aubergines(Eggplants) about 1kg altogether sliced into 1 cm rounds
1kg minced beef or lamb
1 x 400g can of peeled chopped tomatoes
2 medium onions
1 clove of garlic finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon Sichuan pepper
½ teaspoon of cumin
400 ml of stock – beef or chicken.
Salt and pepper for seasoning
1 teaspoon of corn flour for thickening
For the béchamel sauce
2 heaped tablespoons of butter
4 heaped tablespoons of flour
½ teaspoon of mixed spice
Salt and pepper to season
150 – 200g cheddar cheese
Start by peeling and thinly slicing your potatoes. Boil them for about 10 min till they are just soft. They will cook more in the oven.
For the mince, start by chopping the onions finely and set aside in a bowl. Fry the onions till they are coloring and sweet. Remove from the pan to a bowl. Wipe out the pan. Heat the pan on a high heat and brown your mince. Once the meat is browned, add the onions, chopped garlic, tomatoes and spices, as well as the stock. I used powdered stock dissolved in 400ml of water. Let this simmer for a good half an hour.
While this is happening, make your béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a medium pot over a low heat. Add the flour and mix together with a wooden spoon. Slowly add your milk (I used 2%), whisking slowly so that there are no lumps. I whisk my white sauces, as I cannot get a smooth sauce by stirring. This should take about 10 min. Cook it out for another 5- 10 min to make sure that the sauce does not taste of flour. Add the mixed spice and season to taste. I season quite generously.
While the sauce is cooking out, prepare your aubergines. Just wash them and slice them and place on a tray. Anoint then with a little oil and grill for 5-8 min till just getting golden, before turning and doing the other side for about 5 min. You may have to do a couple of batches. Set them aside on a plate to cool.
Check your mince. It should be done now. It should be quite thick and the liquid should have reduced. If it is still quite liquid, mix the corn flour with a little water and add to the sauce, which will help it thicken. Cook for a few min on high.
You need a fairly large oven proof dish. Lay a single layer of the grilled aubergines in the bottom. Place a layer of mince on top, using half the mince. Top the mince with a layer of potatoes, using half the potatoes. Using the rest of the aubergines, place another layer on top of the potatoes. Top with a layer of mince, followed by a final layer of potatoes. Pour over the béchamel sauce. Top with the cheese. You can freeze the moussaka at this point, and bake it later. I usually let it sit for awhile, at least an hour. Overnight is better, as the flavors develop. When you want to serve it, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and bake for 40 min till golden on top. I served this with a simple pomegranate salad and no starch as there were potatoes in it, but by all means serve it with rice.