Our eggplant crop was a complete failure this year. Luckily, over at Intermarché I found pretty, plump, round aubergines in the produce department for just two euros per kilogram — about a dollar a pound. We were still hoping for some home-grown eggplants at that point, but the weather turned very rainy and that was the end of such hopes.
I had my heart set on eggplant dishes including ratatouille, eggplant parmesan, and (above) Greek moussaka. If I had to buy the eggplant, tant pis. At least the store-bought aubergines were grown in France, according to the sign in the produce department.
I guess I didn't take any photos of the process of putting the moussaka together. It's a layered casserole of potatoes, a meat sauce made with tomatoes (from the garden, in our case), red wine, and spices including cinnamon and nutmeg, pre-cooked eggplant slices, and a stiff bechamel sauce with grated cheese in it. I used ground beef for the sauce, but ground lamb might be even better.
I like to pre-cook the eggplant slices, brushed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, on baking sheets in the oven, as you can see above. It's less messy that frying and requires less work. Cook some thinly sliced potatoes the same way and use them as the bottom layer of the moussaka.
Here's a recipe that I first posted in 2010:
with sliced potatoes
3 or 4 eggplants/aubergines (2¼ lbs.)
1 lb. ground meat (lamb, beef, turkey, etc.)
4 tomatoes (1 lb.), chopped
½ lb. (or more) potatoes, sliced
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
olive oil for frying
3 Tbsp. chopped parsley
a pinch of nutmeg
½ tsp. cinnamon
2 bay leaves
½ cup red wine
½ cup grated swiss cheese
For the cheese sauce:
4 Tbsp. flour
4 Tbsp. butter
2½ cups milk (or more)
Salt, pepper, nutmeg
1 egg yolk
½ cup grated swiss cheese
Cut the eggplants into rounds ¼-inch thick. Put the slices in a colander, salt them generously, and let them disgorge or “sweat” for an hour.
Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and cut them into thin slices. Peel the tomatoes if you want.
Make the meat sauce. In a skillet or wok, cook the chopped onion and garlic in olive oil until they’re transparent and just starting to turn a golden brown. Add the ground meat (lamb, beef, turkey, etc.) and season it with salt, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Let it cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Then stir in the chopped tomatoes, some chopped parsley, the red wine, and the tomato paste. Let it all cook together for15 minutes longer, until nearly all the liquid has evaporated. Set it aside.
After an hour, rinse and pat dry the eggplant slices. Arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet brushed with olive oil. Brush the tops of the slices with olive oil. Put the baking sheet in a 400ºF/200ºC oven for ten to 15 minutes, until the vegetables are softened and starting to brown. Do the same with the sliced potatoes. If you prefer, you can cook the eggplant and potato slices by batches in a skillet with olive oil instead of in the oven.
Make the cheese sauce in a separate pan by cooking flour in melted butter for a minute or two, and then gradually stirring in milk (+ some cream if you want it rich) until you have a thick, creamy sauce. Add salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Off the heat, stir in the egg yolk and the grated cheese.
Putting the moussaka together
Put the pre-cooked potato slices in a layer in the bottom of a baking dish. Then put on a layer of pre-cooked eggplant slices (half the total you are using). Spoon half of the meat sauce over all.
Put on another layer of eggplant slices and another layer of meat sauce. Finally, pour the thick cheese sauce over the top and smooth it out with a spoon or spatula.
Cooking the moussaka
Set the baking dish in the oven at 350ºF/180°C for 45 minutes. After about 20 minutes, sprinkle grated cheese over the top and let it melt and turn golden brown.
Take the cooked moussaka out of the oven and let it rest at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before you serve it. It’s good accompanied by a green salad dressed with vinaigrette. And bread and red wine, of course.