This Rustic Eggplant Moussaka takes a little bit of time and effort to make- but despite this, I wholeheartedly encourage you to give it a go, at least one time this fall because when it is all said and done, it is worth every drop of energy you put into it.
It is that good. It is very special to my heart, one of my all-time favorite recipes on the blog!
Comforting, hearty and flavorful this authentic Eggplant Moussaka Recipe ticks all the boxes for me and honestly, I just can’t wait for you to try it because I know you will love it. It is also easily made vegetarian and vegan!
Make this on a day where you have ample time and are not rushed. Or make it in stages!
Rustic Eggplant Moussaka! | 45-sec video
What is Eggplant Moussaka?
Eggplant Moussaka originates from the Mediterranean region of the globe, but most commonly hails from Greece. Succulent, roasted (or grilled) eggplant is layered with a rich meaty tomato sauce made with ground lamb and a hint of cinnamon. This version is vegetarian-adaptable!
It is topped with a wobbly béchamel sauce infused with fresh nutmeg, then placed in a hot oven to bake and meld. It smells divine.
The creamy white béchamel turns a lovely golden brown and infuses your home with goodness. Every time I make this I find myself wishing I would have made a double batch, freezing one for another time.
- Always roast or grill the eggplant first. There are many recipes out there on how to do a quicker version. Numerous ways to cut corners. And while I am all for efficiency, I have never been happy with these results when it comes to Moussaka. Whatever you do, please do not layer the eggplant without roasting (or grilling) it first!
- Make this in stages if pressed for time. The eggplant can be roasted or grilled ahead and refrigerated. Same with the tomato- meat sauce. Same with the Bechamel! Then just assemble and bake.
- Bake this ahead. The Eggplant Moussaka tastes even better the next day, so feel free to make and bake and ahead, and reheat before serving!
- Salting the eggplant reduces bitterness.
Benefits of Salting the eggplant:
- Salting the eggplant ahead 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.
- It helps reduce the amount of oil the eggplant will absorb, resulting in a lighter, healthier, less oily dish.
- It improves the eggplant’s overall texture, keeping it from getting too mushy.
- Even though most of the salt is rinsed off, it seasons the eggplant nicely.
How to salt Eggplant:
- Cut eggplant into ⅓ -1/4 inch disks (no thinner).
- Sprinkle salt on the eggplant and place in a bowl or colander to sit for one hour.
- As you will see, the eggplant will release moisture.
- Rinse and pat dry.
Make sure to rinse this off well (this is a bitter liquid).
Place the eggplant on a clean kitchen towel ( or paper towels) and place another towel over top, pressing down to dry the eggplant as much as possible.
Roast the eggplant!
- Place the eggplant slices on greased baking sheets 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.
Grilling vs. roasting the Eggplant for Moussaka:
- In summer, I really prefer grilling the eggplant. It saves on having to clean up an extra sheet pan
- and keep the kitchen cool. Plus grilling adds more flavor!
- If grilling, brush with oil, give a good deep sear on each side and wrap up in foil for 10 minutes so it cooks through and gets soft.
Eggplant Moussaka’s Two Signature Sauces:
- A meaty tomato sauce with a hint of cinnamon (vegetarian adaptable) similar to Bolognese typically made with ground lamb ( or beef).
- A creamy bechamel sauce with a hint of nutmeg.
If you are tempted to substitute ground beef, because you are not sure you like lamb, this is the perfect recipe to give the lamb a try. The 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. Ground lamb truly elevates here!
Start with the tomato meat sauce, because it takes longer to cook. And like I said before, feel free to make this 1-2 days ahead!
The last step in making the bechamel is adding a lightly beaten egg.
Assemeble the Moussaka
Add half of the meat sauce and then 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.
Other recipes you may like:
An authentic, delicious recipe for Eggplant Moussaka- with a Tomato lamb sauce, and creamy béchamel sauce. Vegetarian Adaptable! Can be made ahead and baked prior to serving. See notes for VEGAN.
Tomato Meat Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons 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.) I prefer lamb.
- 1 ½ cups diced tomatoes, with juices (or 14-ounce can, with juices)
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- ½ cup white wine (optional, sub 1/4 cup water)
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cracked pepper
- 2–3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- 3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg (use fresh grated if possible)
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/8 tsp pepper or white pepper
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, Pecorino or Kefalotiri Cheese ( plus an additional 1/4 cup for the top-optional)
- 1 egg, room temp, lightly beaten
- Pre-heat oven to 400 F. Cut eggplant into ⅓- ¼ inch thick disks (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 on each side ( getting nice deep grill marks) then wrapping it in foil after for 10-15 minutes, so it steams and cooks through.
- While eggplant is roasting -make the tomato- meat sauce: In a large pan, 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 the ground lamb ( or beef or vegetarian meat), turn heat up to medium 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 Bechamel Sauce: In a small pot, heat the butter. Whisk in the flour and let cook for 2-3 minutes on med heat, stirring often. Whisk in the first cup of milk a little at a time. Whisk well, and add the 2nd cup. Stirring constantly bring to a boil, lower heat, and let simmer on low for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add nutmeg, cheese, salt, pepper. Set aside to cool. In a separate bowl, lightly beat an egg, but do not add it just yet.
- Assemble: Divide eggplant slices into three stacks, reserving the best looking largest pieces for the top and bottom layers. The others can be placed in the middle layer which will be concealed.
- In a greased 8x 13 inch baking dish, 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 2-3 tablespoons of bechamel sauce, into the beaten egg (to temper it) then pour this into the bechamel sauce, whisking until nice and smooth. Spread the bechamel over the final eggplant layer.
- Sprinkle with the remaining cheese ( optional) and place in a 350F oven for 50-60 minutes, uncovered until beautifully golden. 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 this 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 to use ground lamb (or a mix of beef and lamb). Soooo good!
- VEGAN: You could make this vegan by using vegetarian meat – then olive oil, nut milk and vegan cheese in the bechamel. It can be done. Just make sure both the red sauce and white sauce are flavorful, tasting and seasoning 🙂
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