Moussaka, a Greek and Turkish favorite

by Sarah on September 30, 2011

Moussaka

Moussaka may be pure Greek but as with many dishes of the region, there is also a Turkish version. After all, Asia Minor was very much a part of Greece when Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, while the Ottomans once controlled much of Eastern Europe. The intertwined history and proximity of Turkey and Greece is reflected in their cuisine.

According to food historian Clifford Wright, the earliest mention of moussaka, then known as maghmuma, is thought to come from the Bagdad Cookery Book of the 13th century. Although it is difficult to untangle the exact origin of some ethnic foods it is often agreed that moussaka gained international popularity thanks to Sifnos Nikos Tselementes.

moussaka, greek

Moussaka served in Rhodes, Greece at a typical tourist restaurant. Probably not the best version of this dish.

Tselementes, a famous Greek chef who studied in France in the early 19th century did wonders to reclaim moussaka as a national dish. He compiled a collection of traditional Greek recipes but also experimented to produce what we would now consider fusion cuisine. Influenced by French cooking techniques, his recipe for moussaka includes a rich béchamel sauce that has become the hallmark of Greek food.

I have omitted the top cream layer to keep it compatible with the Jewish observance of separating meat and milk. This in fact is closer to the Turkish way of making it. Those observing the Islamic laws of halal, exclude the wine or replace it with vegetable or meat based broth.  To infuse this dish with the flavors of the Mediterranean, I have added herbs that grow wild in the region.

moussaka

 Moussaka

4 medium eggplants, about 1.5 kg

1kg ground meat (I usually use beef, but use lamb if it is available)

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 sage leaves, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme or two teaspoons if using fresh

4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

Salt and pepper

½ cup dry white wine

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon sugar

 

Tomato sauce

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves,

8 tomatoes, peeled, crushed

½ teaspoon oregano

3 tablespoon parsley

Salt and pepper

 

Topping

1 tomato sliced

A few slices of roasted eggplant

Herbs

 

Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F). Slice the eggplant into 1 cm thick rounds. Season the eggplants with salt and pepper and brush both sides with olive oil. Place on a parchment lined oven tray and bake until the eggplant slices turn golden brown. Turn the slices to brown opposite side. This takes about 45 minutes

Sautee the onions in olive oil until golden brown. Add the minced garlic and continue stirring to release its aroma. Add the meat and sage, cooking until the meat changes color and becomes crumbly. Break large clumps with a fork if necessary. Add the tomatoes, white wine, bay leaves, cinnamon, sugar, salt and pepper and cook until the meat sauce thickens. Set aside.

Sauce

Put all the ingredients except the parsley leaves in a food processor and grind into a smooth mixture. Pour into a small pot and cook uncovered for 40 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Add the parsley. Heat the oven to 190°C (374°F).

In an oven proof dish (23x20cm, 8×9 inches) layer the eggplant to completely cover the bottom, overlapping if necessary. Add an even layer of meat sauce and another layer of eggplant. On top of the eggplants add a layer of tomato sauce, and another of meat and the final layer of eggplant. Add the remaining tomato and meat sauce on top of the eggplant. Decorate with a few tomato and roasted eggplant slices and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Serve garnished with fresh herbs and a large Greek Salad.

 

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Yael September 30, 2011 at 3:20 am

I love Moussaka, my grandma used to make for us a kosher version with lots of tomato sauce but without bechamel and cheese. I remember that place in Rhodes, very touristy.

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Sarah September 30, 2011 at 3:24 am

Haha, had moussaka near Meterora as well, always a favorite dish of mine

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Katherine Martinelli September 30, 2011 at 3:27 am

This looks delicious! Moussaka has been on my list for some time and I’ve never gotten around to it. I like your version – the tomato sauce seems like a lighter alternative to bechamel! Also, I’m going to Rhodes over Sukkot! It’s our first time to Greece, very exciting – if you have any recs let me know!!

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Sarah September 30, 2011 at 3:42 am

Thanks Katherine, You are going to love Rhodes! I was there with my friend Yael (she writes the blog Hope it will rain) a few years ago, you can read about that here ( A Weekend in Rhodes) . I especially loved the Koukos cafe, tasty stuff.

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Yaelian September 30, 2011 at 3:33 am

Nicely informative post on moussaka.I love it too,but without meat.

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Sarah September 30, 2011 at 3:43 am

thanks Yael, Do you add cream or cheese to your version?

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Silvia September 30, 2011 at 3:34 am

Moussaka is a typical dish of Bulgaria too, but I had no idea there is wine in it. Although there are so many versions. For example, my mother never adds eggplants and instead of bechamel sauce she makes a sauce with yoghurt and slightly beaten eggs. My mother in law on the other hand adds fried eggplants, sometimes even courgettes. And my husband makes a vegetarian moussaka with soya chunks for me. This reminded me that we haven’t eaten moussaka for years, hm… maybe this would be the menu for the dinner tonight :)

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Sarah September 30, 2011 at 3:46 am

Wish I had the chance to taste the Bulgarian moussaka when I was there. The yogurt and egg addition sounds delicious.

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ariella September 30, 2011 at 3:51 am

Moussaka is one of my all time favorites. I leave out the meat and pour on the bechamel, but however you do it, it’s tough to go wrong with this dish.

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Rosa September 30, 2011 at 4:01 am

That is a dish I love. Yours looks wonderful. I really like making mine with lamb.

Cheers,

Rosa

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Deb September 30, 2011 at 3:39 pm

This sounds great! But you really should try some Himalayan pink salt. I get mine from Sustainable Sourcing https://secure.sustainablesourcing.com. The flavor is so much better than regular salt! Thanks for sharing this recipe—I can’t wait to try it!

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Jennifer Chen September 30, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Moussaska seems to be a flavored and tasty dish. We do not have any thing similar here in Asia, I guess. Will make a note and try it next time I come across a Greek restaurant.

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foodwanderings October 1, 2011 at 6:22 am

I love Moussaka. Haven’t made it in years and years. Yours look fantastic the one in Rhodes not so much. Love how you incorporate history etc.

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Zahavah October 2, 2011 at 2:12 pm

What a great dish – I don’t think I’ve actually ever had moussaka. I’ll have to try your recipe.

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Turkey's For Life October 8, 2011 at 10:55 pm

We love moussaka (or musakka as it’s called here), both the Greek and Turkish versions. I think a lot of traditional Greek recipes use potato as well as aubergine but I prefer just the aubergine because the potato can get too heavy.
Julia

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Sarah October 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I’ve made moussaka with potatoes but , like you, prefer it with tomatoes and eggplants only.

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