One Dish Meal: Classic Greek Moussaka

Here’s a recipe that combines my some of favorite vegetables — eggplant, potatoes and onions — with other ingredients to make a one-dish meal. I ate a wonderful version of this dish, Beef Moussaka, at Lebanese restaurant in Niagara Falls, Canada, of all places. It has been five years since we took the trip to Canada and I’ve made many attempts at duplicating the recipe. With eggplant in season in the summer, I’m trying again and here’s my final recipe.

I love the combination of spicy beef combined with a thick layer of creamy and cheesy béchamel sauce poured over eggplant and potatoes. The recipe includes spices — cinnamon and nutmeg — that I don’t usually associate with beef dishes; but they are used in Greek and Lebanese cuisine and just a small amount of the spices enhance this dish.

Making this recipe has been a challenge. Getting all the ingredients to cook evenly is one issue and determining the proportions of ingredients to fit into a casserole dish is the second issue. I think I finally have the ingredients adjusted correctly for a small casserole. It just fits! And I’ve figured out how to get it cooked properly. This includes some of my own adaptations to traditional recipes.

Trip to Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is an impressive sight and it is one of those places that everyone should visit at least once. We drove there on a crisp, sunny autumn afternoon while visiting my daughter at her upstate New York university while she was in college there. The drive was several hours. After visiting the falls for about half an hour to take photos of this majestic site — what else is there to do? So we drove into the Canadian town of Niagara Falls to look for a restaurant before hurrying back to school for my daughter and her friends to finish homework and attend music rehearsals (they are musicians). We ate at a Lebanese restaurant and enjoyed the meal. I’ve been trying my best to make Moussaka since this trip.

The trip on the beautiful autumn afternoon made some wonderful photo opportunities.

These are the falls on the American side including a tourist who kept getting in the way of my photo opportunities.

The falls were so majestic and powerful. We walked along them for about half an hour. Then went to look for a restaurant away from all the traffic.

Making the Recipe

Back to my recipe. After all my attempts to make a “perfect” recipe, here are a couple of tips that I figured out through trial and error:

  • First, use a casserole dish (or dishes) with deep sides. You really have only enough room to for one layer of potatoes, eggplant, meat and sauce even after thinly slicing or chopping the vegetables. So find a baking dish with 2-1/2″ sides.
  • Second, getting the eggplant and potatoes to cook completely without burning the béchamel sauce is a challenge. To solve this problem, I baked the casserole in two steps. First, I baked the raw eggplant and potato slices along with the browned meat layer for about 45 minutes until the vegetables were tender. Then I added the béchamel sauce and baked just until it was bubbly. This saved the time and step of sauteing the eggplant and boiling the potatoes before assembling the casserole.
  • Since this is such a time consuming dish to prepare, I found that making two small casseroles (or one large casserole) is just as easy. Double the ingredients but not the work. Hence, I have included instructions for two casseroles.

Here are the ingredients: For one small casserole you need about 1/2 of this potato and eggplant. For two casseroles use the entire eggplant and potato.

Peel and thinly slice (or chop) the eggplant and peel the potato. Cook the meat, onion and garlic adding in tomato sauce, cooking wine, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Layer every thing into the casserole dish (or dishes), cover tightly with foil and bake a hour until the eggplant and potatoes are tender. And a little cinnamon and nutmeg go a long way. I used only a very small amount so the spices didn’t overpower the other flavors.

The tricky step is making the thick béchamel sauce or white sauce. This sauce is basically a white roux made with butter, flour and milk. Cheese and an egg are added to this version. Take your time when cooking so the white sauce doesn’t have lumps or curdle. Here are the ingredients.

Cook the white sauce slowly until thickened then add in the egg, cheese, salt and white pepper and cook an additional minute. Layer on top of the meat and bake uncovered about 20 additional minutes until the sauce is bubbly.

Ah, enjoy this classic Greek and Lebanese dish. Add a salad and some sort of bread and this is a meal. I’d say to freeze the leftovers — however, there won’t be any. I always think of our trip to Niagara Falls whenever I see this item on a restaurant menu. Time flies. Can’t believe that it has been five years since we took the trip to Canada. Memories.

One Dish Meal: Classic Greek Moussaka - Small Casserole

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 (8 oz) large baking potato (2 cups sliced)
  • 1/2 (8 oz) medium sized eggplant (1-1/2 to 2 cups sliced)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup cooking wine
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 cup margarine
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tsp salt (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 oz grated Parmesan cheese

Method and Steps:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 9″ x 7″ x 2-1/2″ Pyrex baking dish.
  2. Peel and slice baking potato crosswise into thin 1/8″ slices.
  3. Peel and slice eggplant into 1/8″ to 1/4″ crosswise slices.
  4. Place potato slices into oiled Pyrex baking dish. Lightly salt.
  5. Layer the eggplant slices on top of potatoes. Lightly salt. Set aside.
  6. In medium skillet, brown ground beef along with the chopped onion and garlic cloves. When browned, drain off any fat.
  7. Add tomato sauce, cooking wine, cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper. Sir to combine heat to bubbling.
  8. Layer the ground beef mixture on top of the eggplant in the Pyrex casserole dish. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place in pre-heated oven and bake for about 45 minutes until the eggplant and potatoes are tender. Remove from oven.
  9. Meanwhile, make the béchamel sauce. Add the margarine to a medium-sized sauce pan over medium heat and melt. Add the flour and stir for about a minute. Remove from the heat, slowly add a small amount of milk. Stir until the flour is incorporated, breaking up any lumps. Gradually, add in all the milk. Add the salt (optional) and white pepper. Return to the stove and cook until the white sauce is bubbly and thick. Add the beaten egg and Parmesan cheese and cook an additional minute.
  10. Pour the béchamel sauce on top of the meat mixture in the casserole dish.
  11. Return the casserole, uncovered, to the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the white sauce is bubbly.
  12. Remove from oven, cut into fourths and serve.

One Dish Meal: Classic Greek Moussaka - Large Casserole

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 (1 lb) large baking potato (4 cups sliced)
  • 2 (12 oz) medium sized eggplants (3 to 4 cups sliced)
  • 1-1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1/3 cup cooking wine
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/3 cup margarine
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper
  • 4 oz grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 large eggs

Method and Steps:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 9″ x 7″ x 2-1/2″ Pyrex baking dish and an 8″ x 8″ x 2-1/2″ casserole dish or one 9″ x 13″ x 1-1/2″ casserole.
  2. Peel and slice baking potato crosswise into thin 1/8″ slices.
  3. Peel and slice eggplant into 1/8″ to 1/4″ crosswise slices.
  4. Place potato slices into oiled Pyrex baking dish. (If using 2 casserole dishes, divide the potatoes between the dishes.) Lightly salt.
  5. Layer the eggplant slices on top of potatoes. Lightly salt. Set aside.
  6. In medium skillet, brown ground beef along with the chopped onion and garlic cloves. When browned, drain off any fat.
  7. Add tomato sauce, cooking wine, cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper. Sir to combine heat to bubbling.
  8. Layer the ground beef mixture on top of the eggplant in the Pyrex casserole dish(s). Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place in pre-heated oven and bake for about 45 minutes until the eggplant and potatoes are tender. Remove from oven.
  9. Meanwhile, make the béchamel sauce. Add the margarine to a medium-sized sauce pan over medium heat and melt. Add the flour and stir for about a minute. Remove from the heat, slowly add a small amount of milk. Stir until the flour is incorporated, breaking up any lumps. Gradually, add in all the milk. Add the salt (optional) and white pepper. Return to the stove and cook until the white sauce is bubbly and thick. Add the beaten egg and Parmesan cheese and cook an additional minute.
  10. Pour the béchamel sauce on top of the meat mixture in the casserole dish (if using 2 casserole dishes, divide equally between them).
  11. Return the casserole(s), uncovered, to the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the white sauce is bubbly.
  12. Remove from oven, cut casserole and serve.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s