The taverna in every village in Greece is guaranteed to have one dish on the menu in addition to Horiatiki or Greek Salad and Souvlaki – grilled skewers of pork or chicken….. a dish of mouth-watering moussaka.
Moussaka is a traditional Greek dish quite similar to the Italian lasagne, comprising a meat sauce interleaved with, in the case of the Greek dish, slices of aubergine or potato. It is topped with a Bechamel (white) sauce and baked in the oven.
To make an authentic moussaka you will need 800gm minced lamb from Top Meadow Farm. Some Greek tavernas do use a mix of minced beef and lamb, but, for an authentic flavour, I prefer just lamb. There are three stages to the preparation before the baking :
1. Slice three aubergines into thick slices and soften in a frying pan with a little olive oil. When starting to colour, remove and drain on kitchen paper. Many Greek tavernas also utilise slices of parboiled potato, alongside the aubergine, and I have found that slices of courgette, plunged into boiling water for a few seconds also work well.
2. The meat sauce is made by clarifying a large chopped onion again in olive oil in a large frying pan, adding the minced lamb with three chopped cloves of garlic, four generous teaspoonfuls of dried oregano, two or three bay leaves, salt and pepper or chilli to taste. When the meat is starting to cook, add some chopped tomatoes and/or tomato paste. Do not overdo the tomato as this is a meat sauce not a tomato sauce! After a few minutes of cooking, turn off the heat.
3. Make a Bechamel or white sauce in a small saucepan over gentle heat. This is done by melting 50gm butter and stirring in 50gm flour to make a “roux”. After a couple of minutes of cooking stirring continuously, slowly pour 500ml. whole milk into the roux and continue stirring until the sauce starts to thicken.
When you have completed these three stages you are ready to assemble your moussaka. Take a medium sized baking dish and place a layer of the meat sauce at the bottom. Cover with a layer of aubergine, add another layer of meat and then aubergine until all are used. Then top with the white sauce, and bake in a moderate oven for 30-40 minutes making sure it does not brown. Serve with a green salad….or even a traditional Greek salad.
The minced lamb with oregano and garlic give this dish a wonderful aroma, reminding us of those far away tavernas. And, like the clever taverna chef, you can even prepare this dish the day before you bake it!