There are plenty of eggplants (aubergines) at the moment, and what better way of using them than to make a Moussaka!
No one knows exactly where Moussakas originated. More than likely it came from the Arabs introducing dish when they brought the aubergine into the area. The ancestor of moussaka, is related to the musakhkhan, a variant from the Levant. Primarily the countries along the Eastern Mediterranean shores extending from Greece to Cyrenaica.
In more recent years 1862 to be exact, the first recipe of moussaka was written in a Turkish cookery book. Then in 1920 under the Ottoman occupation, a Constantinople born Greek chef, educated in France, Nikos Tselementes, decided to modernize the dish. He was well known for modern Greek cuisine and managed to break away Greek cuisine from Turkish. It was here he decided to add the French béchamel sauce to the dish in an attempt to Europeanize it.
Either way, it has become one of the most popular dishes not only among Greeks but to those who visit Greece.
Fresh Ingredients and tips
To make a moussaka that is even more tastier, try to use fresh biological ingredients. The eggplants can be cooked in the oven before hand. You will need more eggplants though as the slicing of the eggplant may be difficult to get the exact size needed. Potatoes can be boiled as well, for a more healthier dish. When using tomatoes, you will get better results from the italian style tomato known as “Roma Tomato”. As Zakynthian Olive oil is among the best in the world, personally I replace the recipe with olive oil instead of using butter, even for the bechamel sauce. However, this is purely optional.
To prepare this Greek moussaka recipe, begin by preparing the eggplants. Remove the stalks from the eggplants and cut them into slices, 1 cm thick. Season with salt and place in a colander for about half an hour.
Rinse the eggplants with plenty of water and squeeze with your hands, to get rid of the excessive water. Pat them dry and fry in plenty of oil, until nicely colored. Place the fried eggplants on some paper, in order to absorb the oil. (For a lighter version of the traditional Greek moussaka try drizzling the aubergines with some olive oil and bake them for 20 minutes instead of frying them).
Prepare the meat sauce for the moussaka. Heat a large pan to medium -high heat and add the olive oil. Stir in the chopped onions and sauté, until softened and slightly colored. Stir in the garlic, tomato puree and the mince breaking it up with a wooden spoon and sauté. Pour in the red wine and wait to evaporate. Add the tinned tomatoes, the sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, 1 bay leaf and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down and simmer with the lid on for about 30 minutes, until most of the juices have evaporated.
Prepare the bechamel sauce for the moussaka. Use a large pan to melt some butter over low-medium heat. Add the flour whisking continuously to make a paste. Add warmed milk in a steady stream; keep whisking in order to prevent your sauce from getting lumpy. If the sauce still needs to thicken, boil over low heat while continuing to stir. Remove the pan from the stove and stir in the egg yolks, salt, pepper, a pinch of nutmeg and the grated cheese. Whisk quickly, in order to prevent the eggs from turning an omelette!
Assemble the moussaka. For this moussaka recipe you will need a large baking dish, approx. 20*30 cm). Butter the bottom and sides of the pan and layer the eggplants. Pour in the meat sauce and even out. Add a second layer of eggplants, top with the béchamel sauce and smooth out with a spatula.
Sprinkle with grated cheese and bake the musaka in preheated oven at 180-200C for about 60 minutes, until crust turns light golden brown. Even though it will be really hard.. you should wait for the moussaka to cool down for a while before cutting into pieces.
Serve the Moussaka with a nice refreshing Greek feta salad and enjoy over a glass of Zakynthian wine!