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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