Sofia’s Moussaka

Sofia’s Traditional Moussaka


Sofia’s Traditional Moussaka

When my youngest was six months old we travelled to Greece as a family. We travelled from Melbourne to Athens, a very long journey in itself, and then immediately drove the 5 – 5 ½ hours up to my parents’ village of Kastraki. We arrived at my aunt’s house in the village excited, yet weary and hungry. We were welcomed with the tightest hugs, countless kisses and an incredible feast. My mother had prepared a delicious spread of her signature dishes and my cousin Sofia had made a tray of her amazing moussaka. 

We filled our bellies with delicious food and our hearts with love. We sat and chatted till our heads could no longer carry their weight and then we washed and fell asleep… at 6pm. My baby girl slept well, but woke for a night nurse at about 3am. After nursing her, I felt a little hungry too, so I went into the kitchen and had a big, beautiful serve of the leftover moussaka…  one handed of course, because one of my arms was carrying my girl… it was soooo good.   

We were both wide-awake then, so we headed out of the house. I was still in my pyjamas. My aunt’s house is right on the village platia – village square. The platia is paved with traditional slate pavers and surrounded by horse-chestnut trees and traditional street lamps. The lamps were still on and their light had that fuzzy nighttime glow. The cicadas were chirping and the air was warm and still. Just beyond the last houses of the old part of the village I took in the silhouettes of  Meteora and my heart welled with gratitude for all the blessings of that day…

Make Sofia’s Moussaka and contemplate all the blessings in your life too!

Sofia’s Traditional Moussaka

Sofia’s Traditional Moussaka is based on a recipe my cousin Sofia Tsourvaka-Karaskosta shared with me. She resides in Kastraki, Greece and is a fabulous cook!

Ingredients

For the meat sauce

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil EVOO
  • 4 medium onions finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 1.2 kg beef mince full fat
  • 1.2 kg canned diced tomato – puréed
  • 1 large bunch parsley – finely chopped
  • 2 large sticks cinnamon
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 whole nutmegs
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

For Layering

  • 4 extra-large potatoes
  • 3-4 large eggplants
  • 400 g feta cheese crumbled

For the béchamel sauce

  • 2 litres full-cream milk
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 225 g sifted plain flour
  • 100 g salted butter

Instructions

Preparing the meat sauce

  1. Sauté the onions in the olive oil until they begin to brown
  2. Add the mince-meat and push down on it with a wooden spoon to help break it down
  3. Continue mixing and pushing down on the mince until it cooks through and browns a little
  4. Add the puréed tomatoes and mix through
  5. Add a little water to any tomato residue remaining in the cans or food processor (if either used), swirl to release the residue and add that water to the pot
  6. Add the parsley and mix in well
  7. Place the cloves and nutmeg in a closed tea-strainer or bouquet-garni container. Place it in the pot and add the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, parsley, salt and pepper
  8. Simmer until all the water has reduced, leaving a layer of orange-hued oil on top - about an hour or so
  9. Remove the cinnamon, bay leaves and tea-strainer from the pot

Preparing the eggplants and potatoes

  1. Peel the potatoes and trim them to form a rectangular block
  2. Cut them into thick, rectangular slices (2cm thick)
  3. Bake the potato slices at 200°C, ensuring they brown nicely on both sides
  4. Top and tail the eggplants
  5. Cut them lengthways into thick, rectangular slices (2-3cm thick)
  6. Bake the eggplant slices at 200°C, again ensuring they brown nicely on both sides

Assembling the moussaka

  1. Line the base of a large baking dish with the cooked potatoes ensuring no gaps remain
  2. Spoon one half of the meat sauce onto the cooked potatoes
  3. Layer the cooked eggplants on top, ensuring no gaps remain (Sofia suggests orienting the eggplants perpendicular to the potatoes)
  4. Spoon the remaining meat sauce on top
  5. Sprinkle top evenly with the feta

Preparing the béchamel sauce

  1. Place all ingredients in a pot on medium heat and stir continuously with a whisk, until all the flour is combined and the butter has melted
  2. Continue to heat and stir the sauce until it thickens and shows the first signs of bubbling
  3. Remove from the heat and pour on top of the final meat sauce layer
  4. Using the back of a spoon or a spatula, spread the béchamel evenly across the top of the moussaka

Finishing the moussaka

  1. Drizzle the top of the moussaka sparingly with EVOO and generously top with finely grated kasseri

Baking the moussaka

  1. Bake the moussaka at 200°C for approximately 30-40 minutes, until the top has browned
  2. Keep an eye on the moussaka as it bakes and place pieces of either baking paper or aluminium foil over the areas that have browned
  3. Continue to do this until the entire moussaka has browned on top

Serving the moussaka

  1. Allow the moussaka to cool and set for 1 hour before serving
  2. Serve and enjoy!
  3. Recipe makes 12-16 serves

Recipe Video

Key Points

  • As the water content in the meat sauce reduces during the simmering process, the heat setting on your cooktop also needs to be lowered; otherwise you run the risk of burning the sauce. Keep an eye on your sauce and your cook-top heat setting!
  • Since documenting this recipe, Sofia now adds half a bunch of chopped basil to her sauce too. She says it makes her sauce even more flavoursome
  • Do not overcook the sauce or the beautiful infusion of spices will be overwhelmed by the overcooked flavour of the oil, tomato and meat
  • You can fry the eggplants and potatoes if you prefer
  • Continuous stirring and patience is essential for the béchamel sauce. If you do not stir the sauce it may ‘catch’ or burn at the base of the pot and then when you do stir it, small brown fragments will appear throughout your sauce – not a good look!
  • The béchamel sauce is ready to pour once it starts bubbling. It will appear runny when you’re pouring it into the pan, but do not worry, as it will thicken further in the baking process and it will set and firm up during the cooling phase
  • If the moussaka cools for longer than 2 hours, reheat it covered at 180°C for approximately 30 minutes before serving
  • The recipe halves perfectly!