Every now and then, I love a good labour-intensive meal. It’s amazing to just lose yourself on a Sunday in a recipe, especially when you have great memories of the meal that you are making. Growing up, my parents were both teachers which meant that we we lucky enough to go on a lot of family holidays. For years, every October half term, we would head off with my godparents and their two boys to Cyprus to grab a bit of winter sun before the cold really set in. And every October, we would gorge on gourmet Greek delights such as kleftiko, dolmades, tzatziki and, of course, moussaka.
It’s actually pretty difficult to find a good moussaka in a restaurant in England – especially outside of London. It has crept into the world of supermarket ready meals, but it isn’t something you find all over town. So, every now and then, I like to set myself a challenge and make it, just to reignite the memories of my Greek Cypriot getaways. It reminds me of when we used to drive through the mountains near Paphos in soft top 4×4 Suzukis (still my dream car since my binge-watching Sweet Valley High days…), which was so much fun. This kind of food takes me right back to that.
My moussaka recipe is possibly not the most traditional. I make it based on how easily we can get ingredients. For example, we were out of lamb mince this week, so I made this with a mix of pork and beef mince.
2 x large aubergines, sliced
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, grated
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1tsp dried oregano
500g lamb mince
6 tomatoes, freshly chopped (we used a blender)
150ml red wine
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 dried bay leaves
salt & pepper to taste
For the béchamel:
100g plain flour
70g parmesan or pecorino, finely grated
2-3 egg yolks
Nutmeg, fresh or ground
- Preheat oven to 180°C. Season aubergines with salt, pepper, olive oil & fresh thyme and bake for about 45mins or until soft. (We also added chunks of onion to the roasting dish for a little extra flavour.)
- Add oil to a saucepan and heat before adding the onion to soften. Once soft, add garlic, bay leaves, cinnamon, tomato puree & dried oregano. I like to add the herbs & spices to a pan before the meat goes in as I think it adds to the flavour.
- Add the meat to the pan and brown. You can also add red wine at this stage. (I actually forgot this time, so had to drink it instead…). Add in the chopped tomatoes along with a pinch of salt. A little water will also help here (about 150ml). Bring to the boil, before lowering the heat and leaving to simmer. You need to cook most of moisture out of the meat mixture to ensure good layers later on.
- Whilst the meat mixture is cooking, you need to make a start on the béchamel sauce. Start by heating the milk to just below boiling.
- Melt the butter in a separate medium-sized saucepan on a medium heat. Add the flour and combine to make a paste. Cook a little longer, before adding milk slowly bit by bit and whisk in to a smooth paste. Leave to cook for a little longer. I’d recommend doing this about 100ml at a time and giving it a chance to cook a bit, stirring with a whisk constantly. The whole process should take 10-15mins.
- Once you get to a bechamel-like consistency – all smooth, thick and creamy. Turn off the heat and leave to rest. You need the mixture to cool before adding the egg. Once cooled enough, stir in 2 to 3 the egg yolks (you may need all 3 if they aren’t large eggs), before adding the cheese a third at a time, stirring constantly. Finally, add pinch of ground nutmeg and pepper to season. Only salt if your butter was unsalted.
- Remove the bay leaves from the meat mixture before stirring in some of the béchamel (about a third of your sauce mixture) before starting to layer – I find this helps the moussaka to hold its shape. Ensure the mixture is quite thick – too much liquid will affect your layers later on.
- In a medium sized lasagne dish (ideally no more than 3 inches deep), add a layer of meat, a layer of aubergines and a layer of béchamel. You should have enough to do this twice. Sprinkle more cheese and a pinch of nutmeg over the top.
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 180°C.
- Once baked, with a lovely brown topping, remove the moussaka from the oven and leave to cool/set for anything up to an hour to help the layers to form. If you leave it so long that it gets cold, just pop back into the oven.
Enjoy hot with a lovely greek salad.
I wrote this post as part of the #WrenFamilyFavourites Campaign (but the words & recipe are all mine!). Check out more on the Wren Kitchens blog and let me know what your favourite family recipes are in the comments below!