Moussaka is the best known of all Greek foods. Greeks believe that moussaka was introduced when the Arabs brought the eggplant, although Arabs, especially in Lebanon, think of this dish as a Greek dish. Moussaka is also found in Turkey. Some Moussaka recipes show potatoes as part of the ingredients. However, potatoes would never have been used when this dish was originally made because this vegetable of the “New World” has never managed to totally infiltrate the Middle East dishes.
150-175ml (5-6 oz.) olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
900g (2 lb.) lean minced lamb
a splash of red wine
400g (14 oz.) can of chopped tomatoes
5cm (2 inch) piece of cinnamon stick
handful of fresh oregano leaves, preferably Greek oregano, chopped
3 large eggplants (aubergines), cut lengthways into slices 5cm (1/4 inch thick)
salt and pepper
75g (3 oz.) butter
75g (3 oz.) plain flour
600ml (1 pint) full milk
50g (2 oz.) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 medium eggs, beaten
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a pan, add the onion and garlic and fry until golden (just before turning brown). Add the minced lamb and fry over a high heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the wine, tomatoes, cinnamon and oregano and simmer gently for 30-40 minutes. Use this time to prepare everything else.
Heat a frying pan until it is very hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and a layer of eggplant slices and fry quickly until tender and lightly colored on both sides. Lift out with tongs and arrange over the base of a deep square or oblong, approximately 25×25 cm or 39×28 cm ovenproof dish. Season lightly with a little salt and pepper. Repeat with the rest of the oil and the eggplants, seasoning each layer as you go.
Topping: Melt the butter in a pan, add the flour and cook, stirring, over a medioum heat for 1 minute. Gradually beat in the milk, stirring until thick (about 10 minutes). Add the cheese and some salt and pepper to taste. Cool slightly before adding the beaten eggs.
Preheat oven to 200c. Remove the cinnamon stick from the lamb sauce, season to taste with salt and pepper and spread it over the eggplant. Pour topping over the sauce and bake 25-30 minutes, until golden and bubbling.
The Culinary Chase’s Note: This dish is excellent for a buffet and not as difficult to make as it may seem. You can also prepare this a day ahead and after it is baked, store it in the refrigerator and reheat at about 180c, covered with foil. If you like, you can use zucchini in place of eggplant.