The Ultimate Moussaka

published Jan 12, 2022
Moussaka Recipe

Moussaka is a time-honored recipe that spans across many cultures.

Serves10 to 12

Prep1 hour

Cook2 hours 30 minutes

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a slice of Moussaka (a traditional Greek eggplant casserole made with baked or pan fried eggplants (aubergines) and potatoes, a rich, tomatoey beef sauce) on a plate
Credit: Laura Rege

Moussaka falls into the category of comfort foods that take a good amount of time to make. But it’s a delightfully flavorful dish that serves 12 people and always hits the spot. In other words, it’s the worth the extra effort.

Moussaka is a time-honored dish that spans across many cultures. Popular variations are common in areas such as Egypt, the Balkans, and the Middle East. This recipe leans more towards classic Greek preparations and was inspired both by the moussaka of my youth and moussaka I ate traveling through Greece as an adult.

I grew up regularly going to Chicago’s Greektown where I enjoyed a pretty standard moussaka that I loved: eggplant and lamb in a tomato sauce topped with béchamel and cheese. For a more richly spiced version, I added red wine, paprika, cinnamon, and allspice to enhance this red sauce. Typically moussaka is made with Kefalotyri cheese, which I highly recommend swapping in for the Pecorino Romano if you have access to it. But Pecorino or Parmesan work well in its absence. I also added crunchy Japanese panko breadcrumbs on top for another texture. (Note: While it’s possible that breadcrumbs have made their way on top of moussaka in some variations, it’s not traditional.)

Rather than fry the eggplant slices individually, I bake them. Let’s face it — there is enough work to do, and if we can speed up one thing without sacrificing flavor, then let’s do it. While the eggplant bakes to golden and tender perfection, you can prepare the other elements. Potatoes are traditional but also not something every cook adds. In my opinion, they add a nice base layer, which acts almost like a crust to soak up the flavors of the sauce. Skip them if you want to speed up the recipe or prefer moussaka without them.

Moussaka Versus Lasagna

Like lasagna, moussaka is a creamy layered tomato sauce casserole. It swaps the noodles for eggplant and the ricotta cheese for béchamel. Each dish serves a crowd and has endless variations depending on the household or chef preparing it.

Credit: Laura Rege

What Does Moussaka Taste Like?

Moussaka is an eggplant, potato, and lamb (or ground beef) casserole. A richly spiced tomato sauce complements the creamy béchamel, and a touch of aged cheese like Pecorino Romano or Parmesan add flavor.

Moussaka Recipe

Moussaka is a time-honored recipe that spans across many cultures.

Prep time 1 hour

Cook time 2 hours 30 minutes

Serves 10 to 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 3

    large globe eggplants (about 3 pounds total)

  • 5 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    Yukon gold potatoes (5 to 6)

  • 1

    large yellow onion

  • 8 cloves

    garlic

  • 2 sprigs

    fresh oregano

  • 10 to 11 tablespoons

    olive oil, divided

  • 2 pounds

    ground lamb

  • 2 tablespoons

    tomato paste

  • 1 tablespoon

    paprika

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground allspice

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 cup

    dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon

  • 1 (28-ounce) can

    whole peeled tomatoes

  • 5 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 7 tablespoons

    all-purpose flour

  • 5 cups

    whole milk

  • 3

    large egg yolks

  • Pinch

    ground nutmeg

  • 6 ounces

    finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)

  • 1 cup

    panko breadcrumbs

Instructions

  1. Trim and slice 3 pounds eggplants crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 3 1/2 teaspoons of the kosher salt and toss until combined. Transfer to a colander and set the colander over the bowl. Let drain for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour, tossing the eggplant halfway through. Meanwhile, arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat the oven to 425°F. Peel and cut 1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Dice 1 large yellow onion and finely chop 8 garlic cloves. Pick the leaves from 2 fresh oregano sprigs and coarsely chop.

  2. Rinse the eggplant, then squeeze and pat the slices dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels, removing as much moisture as possible. Arrange the slices in an even layer on 2 rimmed baking sheets and brush all over with 5 tablespoons of the olive oil.

  3. Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets between racks and from front to back. Bake until the eggplant is golden-brown and tender, 10 to 15 minutes more. Meanwhile, brown the potatoes.

  4. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large high-sided, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Working in batches, add a single layer of sliced potatoes to the pan and cook, flipping halfway through, until golden-brown on both sides, 5 to 8 minutes per batch. Add more olive oil to the pan between batches as needed.

  5. Arrange all of the cooked potatoes in an even layer a 9x13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt.

  6. Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Add 2 pounds ground lamb and 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt. Cook, breaking up the lamb into small bits with a wooden spoon and stirring occasionally, until lamb is browned and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the excess fat from the skillet and transfer the lamb to a plate.

  7. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and light golden-brown, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring often, until light golden and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Return the cooked lamb and any accumulated juices to the skillet. Add 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1 tablespoon paprika, 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

  8. Add 1 cup dry red wine and cook until mostly reduced, about 2 minutes. Add the oregano and 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes and their juices. Use a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes into small pieces and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until thickened but still a bit saucy, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, make the white sauce.

  9. Melt 5 tablespoons unsalted butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 7 tablespoons all-purpose flour and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly toasted, about 1 minute. While whisking constantly, slowly pour in 5 cups whole milk and season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened to a thick, gravy-like consistency, about 10 minutes. Scrape the mixture into a large heatproof bowl and press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

  10. When the lamb mixture is ready, taste and season with kosher salt and black pepper as needed. Remove the pan from the heat. When the white sauce is cooled slightly, uncover, add 3 large egg yolks and a pinch of ground nutmeg, and whisk to combine.

  11. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Arrange half of the eggplant slices in an even layer over the potatoes in the baking dish. Dollop the meat mixture on top and spread into an even layer. Layer the remaining eggplant slices over the meat mixture. Pour and spread the white sauce over the eggplant. Sprinkle with 6 ounces finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 2 cups) and 1 cup panko breadcrumbs.

  12. Bake until the top is golden brown in spots and the moussaka is warmed through and bubbling around the edges, 55 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool 15 minutes before slicing.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: All the elements of the moussaka can be prepared in advance and refrigerated in separate airtight containers for up to 5 days. Make sure to place plastic wrap directly over the surface of the white sauce and whisk until smooth before using. Alternatively, the moussaka can be fully assembled, wrapped tightly, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bake directly from the refrigerator, removing the wrapping first, and adding additional baking time as needed.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.