How to make moussaka

Learn how to make a moussaka with chef Maria Elia. She puts a spin on the traditional dish by adding potatoes to the base to absorb the cooking juices.

How to make moussaka

You will need

  • 100ml olive oil, plus extra to grease
  • 2 large aubergines, cut lengthways into 0.5cm slices
  • Juice ½ lemon
  • 2 large potatoes (about 600g), cut lengthways into 0.5cm slices – see Maria’s tips; the food team used maris piper
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 450g British lamb mince
  • 150g British free-range pork mince
  • 150g British rose veal or beef mince
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • Pinch sugar
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1½ tsp dried mint
  • 250g tomato passata (see Maria’s tips)
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 200ml red wine
  • Bunch fresh flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped

For the béchamel sauce

  • 90g unsalted butter
  • 90g plain flour
  • 540ml whole milk
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 100g kefalotyri or gruyère, grated (see Know-how)
  • 100g halloumi, grated
  • 3 medium free-range eggs, beaten

You’ll also need 

  • 24cm x 30cm ovenproof dish

This recipe will serve 8. Hands-on time 1 hour 30 min, oven time 55-60 min, plus resting time.

Know How
Kefalotyri is a hard, salty Greek/Cypriot cheese made from sheep’s and/or goat’s milk. It’s available from Waitrose and Ocado, continental delis and online. If you can’t find it, you can use gruyère instead.

Make ahead

  • Prepare the béchamel sauce up to 48 hours in advance and keep covered in the fridge.
  • Prepare the meat sauce up to 2 days in advance and keep covered in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before assembling.
  • You can also assemble the moussaka and keep it unbaked in the fridge for up to 48 hours; or you can freeze it, unbaked, for up to 1 month. Fully defrost before baking.

Maria’s tips for success

  • You can prep each element of the moussaka over the course of a day or two and assemble just before baking (see Make Ahead).
  • Use cyprus potatoes if you can find them: they’re full of flavour because they’re grown in mineral-rich soil. In the recipe, the potatoes act as a sponge and soak up the meat juices.
  • I use tomato passata from a jar but, if you can get them, a couple of large, full-flavoured beef tomatoes, chopped, would be great instead.
  • I prefer to roast my aubergines (step 1) to cut down on oil and I like the slightly smoky flavour that roasting gives, but if you prefer, you can fry the slices instead. Sprinkle the aubergine slices with salt, leave in a colander for 30 minutes, rinse and pat dry with kitchen paper, then fry in plenty of olive oil (about 300ml) until softened and golden on both sides. Set the slices aside to drain on kitchen paper.
  • Keep tasting the meat sauce (step 3) and adjust the seasoning as you go. If you have time, make the sauce the day before and chill overnight to let the flavours develop (see Make Ahead).
  • Let the cooked moussaka rest for at least 10 minutes before serving to let the sauce set. Greeks never eat their food piping hot – the heat stifles the flavour.

1. Heat the oven 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4 (or see Maria’s tips). Grease a large roasting tray with olive oil and put the aubergine slices in it. Brush the tops with half of the 100ml olive oil and all the lemon juice.

Season well with salt, cook for 20-25 minutes until tender, then set aside.

2. Heat half the remaining oil in a non-stick pan, season the potatoes and fry until golden (about 10-15 minutes), then set aside.

3. Heat the rest of the oil in a large, deep frying pan, add the onion and cook for 5-8 minutes until softened. Turn up the heat and add all the minced meat, the garlic, cinnamon, sugar, allspice, oregano and dried mint with some salt and pepper.

Cook until the mince has browned, then stir in the passata and tomato purée. Add the wine, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 25 minutes until the liquid has mostly evaporated.

Taste, season and set aside to cool, then stir in the fresh parsley.

4. Meanwhile, make the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a low-medium heat, add the plain flour, then stir and cook over a medium heat for 2 minutes until the mixture turns a light sandy colour.

5. Slowly add the milk a little at a time and cook, stirring all the time, until the sauce thickens.

Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg, two thirds of the cheeses and all the eggs. Season, then turn up the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.

6. Arrange the potatoes in a layer in the ovenproof dish. Top with half the meat sauce, then the roasted aubergine slices and the remaining meat sauce.

Spread the béchamel sauce over the meat, then top with the remaining cheese.

7. Bake the moussaka for about 35 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for at least 10 minutes (see Maria’s tips). Serve warm.

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