A classic and comforting dish, full of flavour with flexible options to suit everybody.
Layers of rich meaty sauce, flavoured with earthy Mediterranean spices and herbs, alternating with tender slices of aubergine, topped with a béchamel sauce enriched with egg yolks and cheese.
I like to make up a double quantity of the meat sauce, and freeze it so that next time I just have to cook the aubergines and béchamel before assembling - however, to avoid confusion, I've just put the quantities as you need them to serve six (they're easily doubled if you want to do this too - which is why I've separated the different parts of the dish to make it easier to double up the sauce).
This serves 6 people. If you're counting calories and keeping it lean with the skinny version, then this is from 347 calories per serving with skinny béchamel, steamed aubergines and extra lean beef mince. For a more luxurious and traditional version, it's 566 calories per serving as below, with oven-baked aubergines. You can switch which bits you please to suit you - the calories are split out for each ingredient to help you re-count. See Notes below for some of the variables.
You can make and assemble this a day or two in advance if you like, as it tastes even better the next day, sets nicely and is easier to cut once it's chilled - it will just need longer to cook from chilled.
Oh - and 'The Quick Cheat': If you don't want to faff about layering meat sauce with aubergines and potatoes and all that... well, you really don't have to for a simple supper. Just cook the meat sauce in a large pan which will fit underneath the grill (USA broiler) while you're cooking the aubergines/potatoes, and add in the tomatoes a little earlier (skip the egg white) to reduce down while you make the béchamel, then toss in the aubergines (and potatoes if using). Stir through and cook for a few minutes until the aubergines are heated through, then pour the béchamel over the top, scatter with the grated cheese, and pop under a pre-heated grill (broiler) until it's bubbling and browned (You could even Super-Cheat and just scatter over a block of crumbled feta if you didn't want to make the béchamel sauce, as a tasty alternative!). Set aside for a few minutes to cool, and serve with a fresh green salad (and some crusty bread)!
- 3 aubergines (eggplants), about 350g each (or 2 aubergines, plus 2-3 potatoes - around 300-350g) [aubergines only, 210]
- 1 tbsp & 1 tsp (20ml in total) olive oil (depending on whether steaming or oven-baking aubergine slices - you'll need greaseproof paper to oven-bake them - or 1 tbsp plus 12 sprays of pure oil spray) 
- 50g Greek kefalotyri cheese, if you can track some down, grated (or substitute pecorino or parmesan cheese) 
For the meat sauce
(easily doubled for freezing half for another time)
- 250g minced lamb* (20% fat) 
250g minced beef* (10% fat) 
Or use 500g extra lean minced beef for a skinny moussaka 
- 2 tsp olive oil 
- 1 onion (100g) 
- 3 fat garlic cloves 
- 125ml red wine 
- 1/2 a lamb stock cube (e.g. Knorr does gluten free, or sufficient for 250ml stock) 
- 150ml water
- 2 tbsp tomato puree 
- 1/2 tsp sugar 
- 1 tbsp ground cinammon 
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice 
- 1/2 tbsp dried oregano 
- 2 tsp dried mint (optional, but adds a nice, warm, fragrant depth) 
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 400g tomato passata / chopped tomatoes** 
- Handful fresh parsley 
- 1 egg white 
- 1 tbsp cornflour 
For the béchamel sauce
- 500ml whole milk 
- 50g butter 
- 50g plain flour (for gluten free version, see skinny bechamel link below - you can still use whole milk) 
- Nutmeg (freshly grated) 
- 2 egg yolks (if you're making up a second moussaka with defrosted meat sauce, it's fine to use two whole eggs if you don't have a use for the whites) 
- 25g grated Greek kefalotyri cheese (or substitute pecorino or parmesan cheese) 
- Salt (and optional freshly ground pepper)
To garnish (optional)
- A sprinkling of paprika 
- 1 large vine tomato, thinly sliced (80g) 
(Thermomix instructions in italics in brackets - you will need to read the rest of the method too - grate your cheese first, weighing 75g in total, then blitz for a few seconds on speed 10, until finely grated, then reserve in the fridge before chopping parsley to reserve, garlic and onions, rinse and make bechamel and set aside to cool, optionally steam aubergines)
Aubergines (and potatoes if using)
If oven-baking the aubergines (it's much quicker to steam them, and they're more tender), line two large trays with greaseproof paper, and pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5 / 190C / Fan 170C. If you're using potatoes, then I'd recommend that it's easiest to par-cook them in a pan of boiling water (or if you're steaming the aubergines, steam along with them). Cut into slices, maximum 5mm thick, then par-boil for 5-7 minutes until only just tender, but still firm and not falling apart (Or if using Thermomix, steam in Varoma with aubergine - see below).
Slice the aubergines into 5mm thick slices (discarding the stalk, and the very end slice), lightly grease the two trays lined with baking paper with either 6 sprays pure oil spray each (e.g. Bertolli), or 1/2 tsp oil each, lightly rubbed in with fingertips, then arrange the aubergine slices on them.
Put the 1tbsp olive oil into a small dish or ramekin etc., and using a pastry brush, lightly brush all of the tops of the aubergine slices, and lightly season with a little sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put into the oven, and bake until completely tender, turning once (depending on how thick you've cut them, and their water content, size, age etc., this should take around 30-50 minutes - you may need to swap the trays around, and it may take longer if your oven is unevenly heated).
To steam the aubergine slices, season lightly, then arrange evenly in 2 or 3 layers of steamer baskets, and steam until completely tender, this will take about 10-15 minutes over water which is already boiling, and you can steam the potato slices if using at the same time. Make sure you leave room for the steam to get through. Leave to cool a little once steamed. (Thermomix, put 1 litre water into the bowl, arrange slices in the varoma, and cook 25 minutes / Varoma / Speed 3 - remove and shuffle the slices around once, you may need an extra 5 minutes depending on the age and variety of your aubergine - or for a quicker version add 1.5 litres of just-boiled water to the jug and pop it on Varoma for 12 minutes, Speed 4 - if you're using a sliced potato, put it in the bottom in a slightly overlapping circle with a hole in the middle, with the aubergines similarly arranged on the top. Once steamed, remove and cool a little).
Next, get your meat sauce on the go. In a large non-stick pan gently fry the onion and garlic in a tsp of olive oil until softened (5-7 minutes). Push to one side (or temporarily remove while you brown the meat, if you find it easier, and add back once you've browned both sides), add the other tsp of oil, turn up the heat and then add the meat in a block (as it comes) and leave to start browning without moving it, for a couple of minutes. Try to turn over in one piece, and brown the other side for a couple of minutes, and then break up, turning and mixing in the onions and garlic, and cinnamon and allspice, cooking for another 5 minutes while you break up and brown the meat (don't worry if there are still pink areas left at the next stage).
Add the wine, crumbled stock cube and hot water (150ml), tomato puree, oregano, mint and sugar and stir through thoroughly. Bring to a simmer, then turn down the heat and cook until the liquid has virtually all evaporated (this will take about half an hour, remember to stir occasionally so it doesn't burn on the bottom).
As soon as your meat sauce has come to a simmer and you've turned it down, get your béchamel sauce on.When your meat sauce has had at least 10 minutes to cool down, stir through the passata (or chopped tomatoes) and parsley, taste for seasoning, and if you don't find it too salty, add 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste) and plenty of freshly ground black pepper and stir the cornflour into a tbsp cold water and stir that in, and finally lightly beat the egg white and stir that through thoroughly too.
If you're making the skinny gluten free version, see here for the method, otherwise get yourself a small pan, add the butter over a low heat, then as soon as it's just melted, add the flour and keep stirring. You don't want it to change colour, you just need to cook out the flour for a couple of minutes (this is called a 'roux') and keep it a beige colour, while it cooks. After a couple of minutes of stirring it, it's best to use a whisk for the next bit (preferably silicone coated so you don't scrape your pan). Start adding the milk a splash at a time, and whisking it in - at first it will seem like a big lump of horrible, lumpy dough, but don't worry, persevere, adding a little splash more at a time while you stirr. After a few splashes, it will seem like a thick batter and once all the lumps are whisked out, you can add it a bit faster, until you've added it all. Keep gently cooking it, until it's nice and thick and smooth, then grate in plenty of nutmeg, add your grated cheese, stir in for a minute or so, season to taste (maybe 1/2 to 1 tsp salt - go easy to start with), and set aside to cool. (Thermomix - if you're cooking the full fat version above, put the milk, flour, butter and a generous sprinkling of nutmeg into the bowl, or for the skinny version add the milk, cornflour and nutmeg to the bowl, and either way cook for 9 minutes / 90C / Speed 4 / MC on, until thickened, then add 25g of the grated cheese, plus seasoning to taste for another 30 seconds / 90C / Speed 4, then leave to cool).
Once your béchamel sauce has cooled down for at least 10 minutes, you can quickly whisk in your two (beaten) egg yolks or whole eggs if using (TM Speed 4 / 20 seconds).
Time to assemble your moussaka
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5 / 190C / Fan 170C (if you've turned it off in the meantime!). In a large oven dish, mine is approximately 7 inches by 9 inches wide (one big enough to hold the raw ingredients snugly will give you plenty of room!), place 1/3 of the aubergine slices (1/2 if you're only using 2 aubergines, and potatoes as the middle layer). Spread half of the meat sauce on top of the aubergines (it won't be a hugely thick layer), and sprinkle with half the remaining cheese (25g). On top of this, arrange another third of the aubergines (or your potato layer), then carefully spread the remaining half of the meat sauce. Layer the rest of the aubergines on top of this, then pour the béchamel sauce on top, and scatter the remainder of the grated cheese on top. If using, sprinkle lightly with paprika, and dot the tomato slices on the top. Place into the middle of the oven,
for approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours until cooked all the way through, bubbling and lightly browned on top. If the topping starts to brown before the middle is cooked all the way through (test with a skewer - is it uncomfortably hot on your lip when you pull it out?), you can cover lightly with foil.
Once it's fully cooked through and golden-browned, take out and set aside for 20 minutes to cool down a little, and make it easier to cut and serve. Enjoy with a fresh green salad. It's also even more delicious warmed up the next day, and freezes well. I actually prefer to cook it the day before I want it, and then warm it all up the next day for a meal, as the flavour improves.
The variables you can adjust to suit you:
*Meat-wise: My preference is for a 50/50 minced lamb and lean minced beef combination (organic if possible), but you can choose to use both or either (if you're counting calories, make sure you adjust as per the calorific value per 100g of the meat you use). If you want a rich dish, you could plump for all lamb, if you're cutting calories, you could go for a lean beef mince. For a really skinny version, you can use extra lean minced beef (which comes in at around 122 calories per 100g).
**Tomatoes: You can use passata, as in the recipe (pureed, seived tomatoes), or blitz up canned chopped tomatoes (or fresh) if you can't get passata, or if you want a bit more chunkiness you could use canned chopped tomatoes (or fresh, skinned) as they are. I recommend passata, (or good quality canned chopped tomatoes if you want it chunky), as the other options are more watery, which will leave more liquid in the bottom of your moussaka (but won't kill it).
Aubergines or potatoes: It's up to you - you can go for three layers of aubergine slices, or substitute the middle layer for sliced potatoes, or switch it around however you like. I prefer not to fry the aubergines, but to brush them with olive oil and oven-bake, or steam, as I feel the dish is too oily otherwise. However, if you want to fry yours, then go for it! Potatoes can be boiled separately, or steamed or oven-cooked with the aubergines.
Béchamel sauce: You have two main options - the traditional full-fat butter, flour and whole-milk version in my recipe, or my skinny béchamel-style sauce, which is gluten free as it's thickened with corn-flour. Both versions are enriched with egg yolks and topped with cheese.
Cheese: If you can get hold of traditional Greek kefalotyri cheese then brilliant, use that! If not, pecorino cheese is an excellent substitution, as it is also a hard, ewes' milk cheese, or use parmesan cheese instead for an equally delicious result.