love - hate moussakalove - hate moussakalove - hate moussakalove - hate moussakalove - hate moussakalove - hate moussaka

"There are two kinds of people in this world… there's them and there's us." …funny words surprisingly uttered to us by a then-waitress now-kind-of-superstar living in London, while sitting in a Greek-run coffee shop in Montreal, sometime in the late 80's. "Us" Greeks (also known as "my people") and just about everyone else (also and equally lovingly known as "them") love eating moussaka. Us Greeks hate making moussaka. A multi-layered partly-fried then oven-baked assembly of potatoes, then meat filling, then eggplants, then meat filling again, then zucchini (and perhaps a third layer of meat filling) and finally a creamy béchamel sauce to top it all off. This is the type of meal that our loving parents will only make once or twice a year, the reason being is that it takes half a day to prepare (at best and if you’re organized) and for which we show our well-deserved annual, bi-annual (if you’re lucky) and sometimes necessarily eternal (or it may just seem like an eternity since the last time you ate some) gratitude. Now when you do decide to give in to the moussaka love urges (yours or theirs and the ensuing spur-of-the-moment promise you may have made in response to these in a moment of weakness) and you get ready to set the machine in motion (because you did the math and loosely calculated the maximum quantities that you think you can handle and bought all of the ingredients and have had them laying around in the fridge and/or pantry for several days now and you very well know that the passing of time will not necessarily be very kind to them nor improve their taste but you can’t just freeze them because fresher is better and every day you're toying with the possibility of waiting just one more day before actually committing yourself and now you're considering a change of menu because everybody loves a barbecue and also guiltily encouraging the more drastic eventuality of just letting everything rot so you can throw all the stuff away because then and only then will you be free and what's the big deal anyways because you know you can just make it another time…). Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the hate part of making moussaka (also known as gradual disengagement). Where was I ? Yes, when you finally decide to take the leap (and subsequently clear your schedule for the day, the second half is for cleaning-up) and start making the moussaka, "it" will most probably require the hugest oven pan you own (and perhaps counter space that you don't) and you've most certainly already informed and invited over the not-so-few chosen ones (family and friends and colleagues and neighbors) to be part of this unique (too late to back out now) occasion during which your efforts will be evaluated, acknowledged and complimented (by those guests whose satisfactions were met and who may hope to get re-invited again the next time) because you know (and they do too) in your heart-of-hearts, that the next moussaka meal you make will either be not before the end of this summer or the beginning of the next). Why the hesitation you ask? Because when us Greeks "think moussaka", we feel obligated to "think big", because we seldom make it and because oven pans are usually sized from large to extra large and because we'll have to invite many people over to start and to finish it. First, you need to prepare a meat sauce, easy enough, a béchamel cream sauce, manageable. Now comes the hard part… large quantities of vegetables that require slicing (into round relatively thin disks), perhaps salting and eliminating the excess water content of some vegetables before frying them, frying them separately, again and again and again… Try imagining 3 frying pans, filled up with oil, frying and turning over the vegetables once they're half-cooked so the other side gets cooked, oil splattering everywhere, blotting the excess oil on paper towels, etc… Now imagine 9 frying pans, because you'll probably have to repeat the vegetable-frying step 2 more times for the quantities needed since you'll be layering and tightly overlapping each layer of each different vegetable, with the meat filling in between the 3 layers and topping it with a thick layer of béchamel sauce that you’d prefer to remain on the top and not ooze downwards! Did I mention the washing-up ? If you were patient enough to read this raging rant, then my moussaka version will seem like a breeze… life is but a dream. This recipe (and rest assured, most probably the longest I'll ever share with you) is for my dear Greek-Canadian friend in Ottawa (great cook and mother of my godchild) who I had called on a Sunday night (a few weeks ago) and who was the first to suggest I start this blog and who, right before the end of our long-distance telephone conversation, had a second eye-opening comment by cleverly adding "Can you please figure it out a way to make moussaka easier and less painful !?" Here is my solution : My adaptation and version is, first and foremost, based on single-portioned baking sizes, allowing you to easily make 2 or 4 or 6 good-sized servings (each weighing about 345 grams each). The quantities of ingredients in my recipe here are for 4 individual servings or the M (for medium-sized and manageable) version. I've used 4 round stainless steel baking rings for this recipe as you can see in the photos, each about 9cm x 5,5cm, which is still less than the smallest oven dish, (ramekins are much easier to use and fine too, by the way). You can easily divide the recipe by half (for just 2 portions or size S for small) hence making it much faster and more manageable (at least for a first try) … or increase it by half for 6 pieces (or size L for large), in this case you could just use the smallest size roasting pan you probably own (usually about 25cm x19cm / 10 x 7 inches) instead of baking rings… My parents’ moussaka would probably be an XXXL size at least (12-16 servings minimum). I've also omitted the frying of vegetables. Why ? Because it's heavier to digest and because it takes so long. I simply oven-bake the vegetables (tossed with olive oil and salt) on waxed-paper covered baking sheets. If you make the 2 portion version, then 1 oven-sized baking sheet will do, for 4 portions then two and if you make the 6 portion size, then 3 sheets. I also use 3 types of vegetable layers instead of the usual 1 or 2, which makes it fuller in taste and which allows me to make and use only 2 layers of meat filling. You could prepare the 3 steps separately and at different times and also make it more often for fewer people at a time… Good Luck and Kalì Òrexi*. *Bon Appétit in Greek

love - hate moussaka


4 portions (345 grams each)


part 1 - meat filling

  • 350 grams of lean ground beef
  • 1 peeled and chopped onion (85 grams)
  • 1 very small peeled and crushed clove of garlic (3 grams)
  • 3-4 tbsp of olive oil (20 grams)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 3-4 ground cloves
  • 1-2 pinches of grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp red wine
  • 1/2 can of crushed tomatoes in their juice (200 grams)
  • 3 tbsp of chopped parsley

part 2 - vegetable layers (I use small vegetables to easily layer and overlap them inside my baking rings)

  • 3 small potatoes, with the skin on (300-325 grams)
  • 2 small eggplants (300-325 grams)
  • 1 medium zucchini (300-325 grams)
  • ***slice all vegetables in round slices about 7 mm or 1/4 inch thick
  • 60 grams of olive oil (3 times 20 grams for each vegetable)
  • 15-21 grams of salt (3 times 5-7 grams for each vegetable

part 3 - béchamel cream topping

  • 30 grams butter
  • 30 grams white flour
  • 280 ml/grams of milk
  • 1 beaten egg (55 grams)
  • 30 grams of grated gruyere cheese (or other mild cheese)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 pinch pepper
  • 2 pinches of cinnamon (1 for the sauce and 1 for sprinkling as garnish)
  • 2 pinches of all spice (1 for the sauce and 1 for sprinkling as garnish)
  • 4 cut parsley branches for garnish


part 1 - meat filling

  • grate or finely dice the onion and fry for 2 minutes at medium-high heat with 3 tbsp of olive oil until translucent
  • add the crushed garlic
  • add the lean ground beef and fry for another 3 minutes until lightly browned
  • add the salt and spices and red wine and cook for 2 minutes
  • add the crushed tomatoes and cook until absorbed and drier
  • taste and feel free to add some extra salt and/or spices
  • toss in the parsley and remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • remove from heat and transfer to a bowl

part 2 - vegetable layers (I use small vegetables to easily layer and overlap them inside my baking rings)

  • wash your vegetables, keep the skins on and slice them up separately about 7 mm or 1/4 inch thick (using a mandoline slicer is quick and easy)
  • place the 3 varieties of vegetables in one bowl (or 3 bowls) and toss and coat the slices with the olive oil and salt
  • line a baking sheet with waxed-paper and place the slightly spaced vegetable slices on the sheet(s), sprinkle with some extra salt
  • bake at 190°C (375°F) for 10-15 minutes (10 minutes for the zucchini, 12 minutes for the eggplant, 15 minutes for the potato slices)
  • if you’re making half of the original recipe (the 2 portion size, just bake everything one 1 sheet for 12 1/2 minutes)
  • remove from oven and set aside to cool
  • when cooled and to save space, transfer all vegetables separately to 3 bowls

part 3 - béchamel cream topping

  • gently heat up the milk in a small saucepan
  • while the milk heats up (do not boil), melt the butter in a second larger saucepan and toss in the flour while continually stirring until creamy
  • slowly pour in the warmed milk while continuously whisking until it thickens slightly
  • add in the beaten egg continuously whisking
  • add in the salt and spices
  • add in the grated cheese and keep stirring
  • remove from heat for now, if it needs thickening, you can simply heat it gently while stirring right before using it and/or add 1 tbsp of sifted flour to thicken the cream
  • the béchamel cream should be thick yet still liquid enough to be poured

part 4 - final assembly

I apologize for the length of this recipe, it is the longest recipe I’ll ever be making and writing about but I sincerely consider it worthwhile, for the taste, the sharing and the experience. I made it last night and we enjoyed it wholeheartedly. As you can see in the photos, I’ve used baking rings to cook the moussaka portions and that easily slip off after the moussaka is cooked, in order to display the different layers, like a cheesecake. I don’t own nor even know if miniature spring-form pans (like for cheesecakes) exist in these small sizes but that could be the perfect solution. Anyways, my 4 baking rings measure 9 cm in diameter and 5,5 cm high (a perfect size for this) but feel free to use ramekins too, transparent oven-safe glass ones would be wonderful. Unfortunately there is one drawback, baking rings do not have bottoms, so they have to be placed on waxed-paper and sealed around the bottom edges with a "pâte morte" dough which is like a doughy cement to seal casseroles (I use leftover dough but you can just as easily make some yourself at the beginning of the process or the night before and just wrap it up and store it in the fridge)*.

*At this point, even though I recall, both easily and joyfully, making 4 individual portions of the moussaka last night, I now realize how crazy all of this may sound to you, it’s another aspect of the love-hate thing resurfacing, I loved making and eating it, I don’t mind explaining it to you and jotting it down but I just hate the idea of you reading it and thinking to yourself that this is dangerously close to what I (and others) may qualify as "crazy-talk"…

Pâte morte recipe (enough for sealing 4 baking rings) :

  • mix 5Og of flour (3/4 cup) with 1 gram (1/4 tsp) of salt
  • add 5 grams (1 tsp) softened butter or oil and mix well
  • slowly add 20 grams (4 tsp) of slightly warm water and mix by hand until you get a compact and firm dough ball
  • wrap it up and store it in the refrigerator, you can use it one hour later
  • when it’s time to use it, let it sit at room temperature for 5 minutes
  • stretch it out to a length that fits around the circumference of 1 baking ring, then roll it out and cut it lengthwise into as many strips as you need
  • press it down around the outside bottom edges of the baking rings to create a good seal

Back to the assembly…

  • preheat your oven to 180°C (355°F) with the rack in the middle
  • brush olive oil on the inside and bottom of your 1 baking pan or 4 ramekins or if you’re trying it out with the baking rings cover a flat baking sheet with waxed-paper, place the 4 stainless steel baking rings on the waxed-paper, seal the bottom edges of the baking rings with the "pâte morte" sealing dough and now brush some olive oil on the bottom and insides of the baking rings
  • lay down the potato slices inside your 1 pan or each ramekin/baking rings by overlapping them by half
  • evenly cover the potato slice layer with the 1st layer of meat filling (there will be a 2nd layer so divide up the filling in two parts, one half for the first layer, to be divided up amongst the ramekins or baking rings, and then the second half for the second layer)
  • evenly cover the meat filling layer with the eggplant slices, also overlapping them by half
  • evenly cover the eggplant slices with the second layer of meat filling
  • evenly cover the second layer of meat filling with the zucchini slices, also overlapping them by half
  • pat everything down gently to make it more compact
  • pour the slightly warmed béchamel cream sauce onto the top last layer (if you prepare the moussaka earlier in the day, then only pour the warmed béchamel cream sauce onto your layered assembly before placing it in the oven to avoid crusting and cracking of the cream)
  • sprinkle with a few pinches of cinnamon and allspice and fresh parsley leaves
  • bake for 45 minutes (if making 2-4 small individual portions) or up to 60 minutes (if making a larger 6-8 portion size) and even longer (75-90 minutes) if tripling the recipe
  • rotate the pan half-way through the cooking time
  • the béchamel topping should develop a golden crust, but if it browns too quickly, cover loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil for the last 15-minutes of cooking time required
  • remove from oven and let cool 5-10 minutes before slicing (if you’re using a large pan) and then serving or simply removing baking rings
  • serve with a green salad and fresh bread

Oooh la la la la la la la laaa… it’s done !