It’s been a couple of years since I was lucky enough to visit Greece but on days like this, when the sun is out and the weather is gorgeous, I can’t help but think back to that beautiful country. And when I turn to pastures foreign I immediately start to think about all the wonderful recipes which come from those shores. Thinking about Greece I have shared quite a few Greek recipes over time but I’ve yet to cover two of the biggest and most well known Greek recipes, either Moussaka or Greek salad. Today I’m looking at the classic dish, Moussaka and I’ll be sharing a fantastic moussaka recipe too!
Moussaka is a dish which comes from the eastern Mediterranean, Balkan and middle eastern regions. After looking into the dish it seems there are a ton of variations and it depends whether you are in Turkey, where it is a sauteed dish (I think I’ve had something pretty similar at the local Turkish take-away restaurant. In the middle east it is eaten cold but the Moussaka I’m looking at today is closer to what those of us from the UK would consider a Moussaka, the typical layered dish with a tomato sauce, potatoes, aubergine (eggplant) and bechamel sauce, after all this is the recipe most closely associated with Greece and (according to wikipedia) was invented in the 1920’s.
As I have been writing this blog and occasionally looking through the history of different foo it’s been funny seeing dishes which we see as almost integral to how we view a country as being modern inventions, Pizza as a lot of us know it came about in the 19th century but think the tomato didn’t make it to Italy till the 16 hundreds so what Italian cuisine looked like before that is a mystery to me!
Anyway to the moussaka, I followed a recipe from the Cornucopia cookbook, which was kind of why I made it in the first place. We had a couple of cans of lentils in the cupboard to use up and this seemed a pretty good way to much on them. This recipe is for a vegetarian moussaka but you could easily throw in some minced beef to carnivore it up a bit, really with a dish like this you wouldn’t really notice it’s a vegetarian dish unless someone pointed it out to you. I almost prefer this recipe to one with beef in but it’s a close run thing. Anyway here is my go at making Moussaka.
Vegetarian Moussaka recipe
Makes 6-8 portions, depending on serving size
Ready in 2 hrs including baking time
For the Bechamel
1 onion, cut in half
4 bay leaves
Pinch powdered cloves
50g plain flour
1 large egg
Pepper to taste
Sauce and filling
1 240g can puy or green lentils
4 bay leaves
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic
2tsp dried oregano
2 tins of tomatoes
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
2 large aubergine (eggplant)
4 large potatoes
Heat the oven to 180c. Begin with flavouring the milk for the bechamel. Peal the onion and cut in half. Add the milk, onion halves, bay leaves, peppercorns and powdered cloves to a saucepan. Bring to the boil then set aside for 20 minutes to infuse the milk.
Whilst the milk is cooling, prepare the lentils by rinsing them under cold water then pop in a pan of boiling water with two bay leaves. Cover and simmer on a low heat for 30 minutes, they should be soft but not mushy, then set aside. That’s two down, let’s go for a third.
Dice the onion and garlic and gently fry with the other two bay leaves, cinnamon and cumin. Sweat for 15 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the canned tomatoes, dried oregano and pepper to taste, then continue to simmer for 30 minutes. When it is ready add the lentils.
Meanwhile, whilst everything else is simmering away on the hob…. Peal the potatoes, slice into 1/2cm rounds and simmer till soft, around 10 minutes or so. Whilst these are simmering prepare the aubergines by slicing into 1cm thick rounds. Brush with olive oil and roast with the mushrooms (cut in half) for 20 minutes. When ready, add the mushrooms to the sauce.
When everything else is ready to go it’s time to make the bechamel. Melt the butter with the olive oil over a low heat. Add the flour and stir together to a paste. Gradually add the milk (drained from the onion and bay leaves) whilst whisking with a balloon whisk. Add the nutmeg and a little pepper.
Time to make the moussaka. Choose a large dish and start by adding half the tomato sauce then layering the potato rounds in a neat pattern. Top with aubergine slices. Repeat with a second layer of each. Now top with the bechamel sauce and spread it evenly. Bake for 40 minutes, it’s cooked when the sauce is set.
Cut a generous slice and enjoy!