In my younger days, I spent a lot of time in Greece: Poros, Zante, Athens, Halkidiki, Thessaloniki, Kavala, Thassos, Giannitsa……lovely places. In 1978, I spent an idyllic summer teaching English to a group of sweet Greek children on the beach just outside of Kavala. Their appreciative and hospitable parents often invited me to dinner where I had the most wonderful home cooked food, including this memorable moussaka. Lighter than lasagne (good for the ‘no carbs’ brigade) and seasoned with fragrant cinnamon and oregano, it makes me feel like a booking a holiday on the Greek islands right now!
You will need…
- 900g lean minced lamb
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed into a paste with sea salt
- 50ml white wine or 20ml Ouzo (my Greek friend’s mother put Ouzo in everything!)
- 400g can of chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- 1 large stick of cinnamon
- 2 tsp good quality dried oregano
- Optional: a generous handful of fresh oregano leaves
- 3 large aubergines, cut lengthways into 5mm thick slices
- 4 tbsps olive oil
- Sea salt and pepper
- 75g butter
- 75g plain flour
- 600 ml of milk
- 50g grated kefalotiri cheese (use Pecorino if you can’t get the authentic Greek cheese)
- 2 medium eggs, beaten
There are three components to this dish: the meat sauce, the grilled aubergines and the béchamel-style egg custard topping. Make them in this order and you can have a very good version on the table within an hour and a half. For best results, I make the meat sauce the day before to allow the flavours to develop and assemble the rest the following day.
- First, the sauce. Saute the onions in a little oil until slightly brown, then add the garlic to cook through for just a few seconds. Next, add and brown the lamb. Add the tomatoes, ouzo or wine, cinnamon and oregano. Simmer gently for 40 minutes or so until the lamb is tender and the sauce has reduced and thicker. Adjust the seasoning and remove the cinnamon stick before using.
- Secondly, the aubergines. Traditionally, the aubergine slices are lightly fried in olive oil until soft and golden. For a lighter and smokier flavour, I brush the slices with a little oil and grill them on the BBQ outdoors. Lay the cooked aubergine slices evenly across the base of a 2.5-litre ovenproof shallow baking dish. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Pour the meat sauce over the aubergine base.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C.
- Make the topping by melting the butter in a nonstick pan, stir in the flour to make a roux and cook out for a few minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk until you make a smooth, creamy sauce. Take it off the heat and stir in the grated cheese. Season to taste with a little salt and ground white pepper (black will spoil the look of the sauce). Allow it cool slightly and then beat in the eggs. Pour it evenly over the meat sauce layer.
- Bake the moussaka in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes. The top should be golden and slightly set. Remove from the oven and allow to rest and cool down slightly before serving. Serve with a simple green leaf salad on the side.
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