Moussaka is a great Greek dish; layers of potatoes, fried eggplants, minced meat cooked with tomatoes and herbs, all topped with thick Béchamel sauce… It is so very tasty, yet at the same time, quite heavy, mostly due to the enormous amounts of oil the eggplant absorbs while frying.
In the following recipe, I’ve tried to prepare a fairly lighter version of the dish. While the dish requires some make-ahead preparations, it’s really not that difficult to make, and it’s well worth your time and effort.First, I used an old Mediterranean trick to make the eggplant absorb less oil while frying: when the sliced eggplants are sprinkled with salt, and left overnight to “sweat”, they hardly absorb any oil when fried. Trust me, it works!
Another trick was to replace the layer of heavy Béchamel sauce with a somewhat lighter one, made with chicken stock instead of the milk and eggs, and with far less cheese. The result was as meant to be – tasty and not too oily or heavy. I hope you’ll try the recipe and see for yourself.
* While the dish requires some make-ahead preparations, it’s really not that difficult to make, and it’s well worth your time and effort.
Make ahead preparations for the eggplants: overnight
Prep time: 45 minutes Frying/Cooking time: 45 minutes
Baking time: 1 hour
For the eggplants:
3 medium size eggplants, ends cut, sliced lengthwise – medium thickness
About 1 cup oil for frying
For the potato layer:
1 large potato, peeled and thinly sliced
For the meat layer:
3 Tbs oil
1 medium size onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1.65 lbs (750 grams) ground beef chuck (or lamb, if you want to be more authentic)
1 tomato, peeled, diced
2 Tbs tomato paste
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1/8 tsp cinnamon
Salt and freshly black pepper to taste
2 cups chicken stock
For the sauce:
½ stick (55 grams) butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups chicken stock
¼ cup Pecorino cheese, finely grated
Salt to taste
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1. The eggplants: spread the slices on a work surface and sprinkle with salt on both sides. Place the slices in a large colander and place in the sink or in a big bowl. Let the eggplants “sweat” overnight. The following day, pat dry the slices with paper towels.
2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry to golden brown. Transfer to paper towels and let cool.
3. The meat: in a large pan, mix the oil and onions. Fry over medium-high heat until the onion is transparent. Add the garlic, and fry a bit more. Add the meat and cook, mixing with a spatula to prevent forming lumps, about 5 minutes. Add the rest of ingredients. Season and mix well. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Discard the bay leaves and thyme.
4. The sauce: melt the butter in a large pot. Add the flour and stir. Gradually, add the stock and whisk to a smooth sauce. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Turn heat off. Add the cheese, salt and nutmeg and stir.
5. Preheat the oven to 330F (165C). Layer the potato slices in a 9.5” (24cm) square pan. Top with a layer of fried eggplant slices.
Spread the meat mixture on top and place another layer of eggplant slices on it. Spread the sauce on top. 7. Bake for about 1 hour, until the crust is golden. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.