Rustic Eggplant Moussaka requires a little love and patience. This is not a 30 minute meal or one pot dinner. Rather, it calls for at least a 2 hour commitment, and will end up claiming most of your pots and pans. I am not trying to dissuade you from making this, but instead, wholeheartedly encourage you despite this, because when all is said and done, it is worth every ounce of effort. It is a very special dish, one of my all-time favorites.
One important step in the recipe calls for salting or “degorging” the eggplant.
Do not be temped to skip this.
Degorging does 4 important things:
1. It helps remove some of the bitterness, especially found in larger eggplants that have a lot of seeds ( where most of the bitterness is) by drawing out the bitter moisture.
2. It helps reduce the amount of oil the eggplant will absorb, resulting in a lighter, healthier, less oily dish.
3. It improves the eggplant’s overall texture, keeping it from getting too mushy.
4. Even though most the salt is rinsed off, it seasons the eggplant nicely.
Make sure to rinse this off well ( this is a bitter liquid). Place on a clean kitchen towel ( or paper towels) and place another towel over top, pressing down to dry the eggplant as much as possible.
A very important step that some forget to do is roast the eggplant. This is must! You can also grill it, if easier, but please, whatever you do, don’t put raw eggplant into the mousaka, it won’t have the texture or depth it needs!!
Place the eggplant slices on a greased baking sheet and either brush lightly with olive oil, or spray with cooking spray.
Roast in a 400F oven until golden, 20-30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, careful not to blacken. If need be, remove any slices that are thinner which will have cooked faster. The eggplant will continue to cook once assembled, so at this point, don’t worry if they don’t seem completely done. Just make sure they are golden in color. You can also broil them, to bring up the color.
In summer, I really prefer grilling the eggplant. It saves on having to clean up an extra pan and I like the flavor and depth the grill adds. If grilling, brush with oil, give a good deep sear on each side and wrap up in foil so it cooks through a bit.
A word on lamb. If you are temped to substitute ground beef, because you are not sure you like lamb, this is the perfect recipe to give lamb a try. The sweet, robust flavors of lamb are at home with the cinnamon and nutmeg and give this dish that extra “something”. The flavors really compliment each other, without tasting too lamb-y.
If you live in the Spokane area, a great resource for local lamb is Rocky Ridge Ranch. They are pastured raised, and never injected with hormones or antibiotics. They sell whole and half lambs, and also by the pound.
Start with the meat sauce, as it takes longer to cook.
Then make the béchamel.
The last step in making the bechamel is adding a lightly beaten egg.
In a greased, oven proof baking dish, layer the first layer of eggplant, on the bottom.
Add half of the meat sauce and add another layer of eggplant.
Add the rest of the meat sauce, and add the third and final layer of eggplant.
By this time, you will have dirtied many dishes, but the smell wafting from the oven will reward you as you begin cleaning up.
When the Rustic Eggplant Moussaka is done, it will be a lovely golden brown.
Let it rest a few minutes before diving into it.
Any leftovers you have will be doubly good the next day.
- 3 lbs Eggplant ( 2 extra large or 3 eggplants)
- 3 T olive oil or cooking spray
- Meat Sauce:
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 large onion diced
- 4 cloves garlic, rough chopped
- 2 lbs ground lamb, beef (or use vegetarian ground meat substitute Gimme Lean or St Ives Meatless Ground.)
- 1½ C diced tomatoes ( canned is OK)
- 2 T tomato paste
- ½ C white wine
- 2 T fresh chopped parsley
- 1 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- cracked pepper
- Bechamel Sauce:
- 3 T butter
- 4 T flour ( or rice flour)
- 2 cups whole milk
- ½ tsp nutmeg ( use fresh grated if possible)
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- ⅛ tsp white pepper
- ¼ Cup grated Parmesan, Pecorino or Kefalotiri Cheese
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- Pre heat oven to 400 F. Cut eggplant into ¼ inch thick rounds ( no thinner), sprinkle with a little kosher salt and let sit in a colander or bowl for 20-60 minutes. Eggplant will start to release liquid ( making it less bitter) Rinse well, pat dry and brush each side with olive oil ( or use spray oil).
- Place on a greased sheet pan and roast in a 400 F oven until golden, about 20-30 minutes. Alternatively you can grill the eggplant- wrapping it in foil after so it steams and cooks through.
- While eggplant is roasting -make the meat sauce:
- Saute diced onion in oil on med high heat for 3-4 minutes, add garlic, turn heat down to med low and saute for 8-10 minutes until onions are tender. Add ground lamb, turn heat up to med-high and brown, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Drain fat if any. Add the rest of the ingredients -diced tomatoes, tomato paste, white wine, fresh chopped parsley, sugar, cinnamon, kosher salt and pepper. Stir and cover and let simmer on med low heat for 20 minutes.
- Make Bechamal:
- Melt 3 T butter. Whisk in 4 T flour ( or rice flour) and let cook for 2-3 on med heat, stirring often. Whisk in 1 C milk. Whisk well, and add the 2nd cup. Stirring constantly bring to a boil, and let simmer on low for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add nutmeg, 2 T Cheese, salt, pepper. Set aside to cool. In a separate bowl, lightly beat an egg, but do not add it just yet.
- Divide eggplant slices into three stacks, reserving the best looking largest pieces for the top an bottom layers. The others can be placed in the middle layer which will be concealed. In a greased 8x 13 in pan, place one layer of eggplant. Add half the meat sauce. Add another layer of eggplant, and the remaining meat sauce. Add the third and final layer of eggplant. Whisk in the beaten egg into the bechamel sauce until nice and smooth. Spread the bechamel over the final eggplant layer. Sprinkle the remaining cheese and place in a 350F oven for 50-60 minutes, until beautiful and gold. let stand 10 minutes before serving.
- Notes: You can make this ahead and refrigerate for a couple days before baking. You can also freeze this after baking.
- An easy way to approach is to make this in stages. For example, roast or grill the eggplant a couple days ahead, make the meat sauce the next day, make the béchamel the last day and assemble the day of baking.
- My personal preferences here are to grill the eggplant if possible, and use ground lamb. Soooo good!