In love with a magical Moussaka


Eggplants are plentiful right now and I had two rather large ones needing some attention. A couple months ago I wrote of an almost vegetarian lasagna that used zucchini and eggplant in place of pasta. Peter of Kalofagas mentioned its construction was similar to that of Moussaka. Well, moussaka stuck in my head ever since.

Last night, I decided to make it. I wish the photos had turned out better because it tasted SO GOOD. I used a grill pan so they are not as nicely charred as they could have been. The grilling adds a nice extra bit of flavor.

Pour remaining olive oil into a heated skillet. Add onions, garlic and bay leaves. Cook until translucent then add meat. Continue cooking until meat is browned, season with salt and pepper.

Add pureed tomatoes, basil, and oregano. Cook until sauce reduces and thickens. Add cinnamon and remove bay leaves. Remove from heat.

Faux-Bechamel Topping
1 cup fat-free plain Greek-style yogurt
1 cup fat-free cottage cheese
1/2 cup grated romano, separated
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
1 egg

My goal was to replicate a thickened milky sauce which I would then infuse with flavorful cheese. Begin by combining the cottage cheese and yogurt into a mixing container. I used a stick blender to puree into a thick cream consistency. Add 1/4 cup of the romano and a pinch of nutmeg, then mix in the egg until thoroughly combined.

Once you have the eggplants grilled, the sauce prepared and the topping mixed, it’s a matter of assembling the moussaka.

In a baking dish, place half of the eggplant into an even layer. Cover with half of the meat mixture. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of the remaining romano cheese. Place the second layer of eggplant, followed by the final layer of meat.

Pour the bechamel topping over the top and spread to cover the entire dish. Sprinkle with remaining romano cheese and breadcrumbs. I added the breadcrumbs because I thought they would help add further crispiness to the topping. Ultimately, they didn’t do much and I would likely omit them next time.

Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned.

Peter’s recipe will provide you with the full authentic recipe, since I have made a few changes. For example, in the meat mixture I omitted the use of white wine. I did this primarily for two reasons 1) removing the calories, 2) didn’t have any :(

I am thrilled with how well it turned out, especially the faux-bechamel. I’ve been experimenting with fat-free cottage cheese lately with some success. When you puree it, it becomes thick like sour cream and would be a perfect base for dips. The faux-bechamel turned out better than I expected — it was flavorful and thickened into a custardy topping. I feared it would melt away into a watery mess.

I immediately cut the moussaka and would suggest allowing it to rest for 15 minutes before serving. It appeared a little juicy at first but once it sat the juices disappeared.

The flavor is wonderful. The eggplants are soft and rich, and the meat mixture takes on a whole new flavor sensation with that little bit of cinnamon. The recipe is definetly a keeper and I can only imagine how good the original un-bastardized version must be. A big thank you to Peter for sharing his recipe!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Manggy July 28, 2008, 1:29 am

    Would you believe I had my first taste of moussaka only about 2 months ago? It was uber-delicious, but really, really rich. I was looking for a piece of bread– really, anything– to blunt the heady, intoxicating taste of ground beef, oil, cheese, oil, tomatoes, and oil. When I saw this come in my RSS reader (I know, I should be studying), I was a little shocked and amused. I’m glad the faux bechamel worked out. Sorry bout the breadcrumbs, though. Maybe just a bit of extra cheese on top and a trip to the broiler might be a better solution next time. But it’s just a minor thing… That looks incredible as it is. It’s on my list of things to make (whether I will make it healthier or not’s still up in the air :)

  • Arundathi July 28, 2008, 2:35 am

    That does look good! The faux bechamel is a fabulous idea. Peter’s recipes are all so great. Wonder if i can go one step further and make it vegetarian!

  • Peter M July 28, 2008, 4:59 am

    Allen, thanks for trying out and enjoying the Moussaka dish. It's one of my faves and ground turkey sounds fine, omitting wine is a personal preference and nice to see you grilled the eggplant, I'm doing more of that too.

    On to your Bechamel…you & I diverge here. Moussaka will not win any health-food awards but then again it's not a weekly dish either.

    Splurge on the Bechamel and you'll understand it's place in the dish.

    Regardless, bravo…well executed!

  • Ben July 28, 2008, 6:57 am

    Oh, that looks lovely. I am not a big fan of eggplant (actually, I am not sure because the only time I’ve eaten them I didn’t really get their taste), but if I ever make a vegetarian lasagna, it would be this one. Hehe.

    Do you use photoshop to edit your pics? I am sure you could fix the curves in those pics to make them look better.

    Cheers!

  • Peter G July 28, 2008, 8:00 am

    Good on you Allen! This turned out wonderful…I am really impressed with your faux bechamel…it’s brilliant! I will def be giving it a try in the near future.

  • Fearless Kitchen July 28, 2008, 8:48 am

    Your take on moussaka looks great. I’ve never thought of doing it with turkey breast, but I’d bet it works just fine.

    My first reaction to the bechamel was… well, not printable, but I think that’s just traditionalism rearing its head. When I re-read it, your adaptation made a lot of sense. I think it’s a creative solution to a problem I’ve definitely faced myself!

  • Erin July 28, 2008, 8:55 am

    Looks lovely! Although I do draw the line at fat free cheese of any kind. Fat free Fage – we’re cool, but fat free cottage cheese. I just can’t do it. You’re too good!

  • kat July 28, 2008, 9:16 am

    Oh this must be the head-sized eggplants you told me you got in your CSA, great use of them. Thanks for the idea for the faux bechamel, I really want to try it on lasagna this fall to lighten that up a bit.

  • Mark Boxshus "Cookie Doctor" July 28, 2008, 4:18 pm

    Congrats on trying to “healthanize” the Mousakka. However, you really should try the real thing at least once in your life time. If made correctly (Peter M has a great recipe) it is sublime and very satisfying. And of course, this is not a dish you would want to eat often……only on special occasions. Your version looks creative, but I’m afraid I’ll have to stay true and go with the real thing.

  • Allen July 28, 2008, 5:30 pm

    Manggy: Yes, really really rich … which is why I wanted to make a healthier version that I could enjoy more often :-)

    Arundathi: I’m sure you could figure out a solution for removing meat altogether — beans, lentils, chickpeas?

    Peter M: Haha – I wondered what you might think of this concoction :-) I almost sent you an email to give you a heads-up! I realize I diverged pretty drastically from the original … thank you for not hating me ;-)

    Ben: Oooh, give eggplant another chances — it can be used so many ways. I’m a newbie to photoshop so my skill level is pretty basic, unfortunately.

    Peter G: Thanks! I checked your site for a recipe too … but you didn’t have one — bad Greek boy …

    Fearless Kitchen: I can understand your reaction to my recipe — as I made it, I worried about what I was doing … but pushed ahead anyway :-)

    Erin: I have issues with some fat-free products but cottage cheese is one that never bothered me. I liked it in this instance.

    Kat: Yep, the lighter purple one was so huge … the photo doesn’t do it justice!

    Cookie Doctor: I can understand your position on this one — it won’t appeal to many. The leftovers I had today were wonderful though :-)

  • Tom Aarons July 28, 2008, 8:37 pm

    Your photo of the grilled eggplant is brilliant. I can almost taste those heat caramelized lines of browned eggplant flesh right now. Yum!

  • canarygirl July 29, 2008, 1:21 am

    Mmmmmmmmoussaka! One of the foods of the Gods, for sure. Peter’s version has to be fantastic! Good job “skinny-ing” it up a bit.

  • Kevin July 29, 2008, 8:15 pm

    I really enjoy moussaka as well. Yours looks good!

  • Jen August 20, 2008, 10:04 am

    Hi Allen- I made the moussaka last night (the first time I’ve ever tried it) and posted it on my blog. If you’d like to check it out, it’s here: http://realgoodtaste.blogspot.com/2008/08/moussaka-minis.html

    Thanks for posting the recipe- I really loved your low fat topping!

  • Melissa October 4, 2008, 9:02 pm

    I realize I’m coming in a bit late on this (just found you recently), but to chip in, I have a lightened up version of pastitsio where the light version of the bechamel is made with low-fat milk and eggs. It’s a bit time-consuming to make, but has this really interesting, almost fluffy, texture because of the starches used to thicken it up. I whisk together 3 cups of 1% milk, 1/4 cup cornstarch, and 3 large eggs (lightly beaten). Then I heat it, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken. This takes forever over low heat, so I usually clip a candy thermometer to the side and do it on medium-high heat (shocking!). Around 170 degrees it will suddenly start to thicken very quickly. Stir in 6 tablespoons of shredded parmesan, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp pepper, and 1/8 tsp nutmeg. Cover and set it aside until you need it for the top of the dish.

  • Jazzie February 18, 2009, 4:17 pm

    Hmm, looks great! Although here in Egypt, they don’t add the bechamel sauce on top of it. It’s a national dish over here and they usually make it too… oily. So, I don’t usually like it. BUT I love the way yours doesn’t have so much oil running from it, so I’m definitely trying it.

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