Preparation time: 40 minutesCooking time: 40 minutes
Serves: 4Difficulty: Moderate


Bottom layer:

  • 3 large potatoes
  • 5 aubergines (eggplants)
  • 3 courgettes (zucchini)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Thyme (optional)

Middle layer:

  • 800g/28oz/4 1/2 cups of beef or plant-based mince
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 red onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 800g/28oz/4 cups of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoons of tomato puree
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick, or 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 200ml/2dl/1/3 pt/just under a cup of red wine
  • Salt and pepper

For the béchamel sauce:

  • 1 litre/10 dl/just under 2 pints/4 cups of milk or soya milk
  • 120g/4oz/just over half a cup of butter or margarine
  • 120g/4oz/1 cup of flour or cornflour
  • 2 egg yolks (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper
  • 100g/3 1/2 oz/1 cup of parmagiano reggiano, kefalotyr, or alternative cheese

Make it vegan: Use plant based mince instead of beef mince- alternatively, you could use the equivalent amount of lentils– and use an unfiltered vegan red wine. For the béchamel sauce, use plant-based margarine and vegan milk (I used unsweetened soya.) Leave out the egg yolks.

You can also leave out the cheese. Alternatively, you can buy vegan cheese, including vegan feta, from some supermarkets and vegan stores. You can also use homemade vegan parmagiano reggiano or feta.

Special Equipment

  • At least one large frying pan
  • Two saucepans
  • A wooden spoon
  • A large baking dish
  • A whisk


  1. Slice the potatoes, aubergines and courgettes- the slices can be thin or thick, whichever you prefer.
  2. Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil to a large frying pan and set it over a medium heat before adding the potato slices. Fry the potatoes for 5-10 minutes, turning them over occasionally, until they are browned. Then remove them from the pan and allow them to cool slightly.
  3. Next, fry the aubergine and courgette slices, again with a tablespoon or so of oil, until they’re browned. Remove them from the pan.
  4. Meanwhile, peel and roughly chop the onion and garlic.
  5. Place a large saucepan over quite a high heat. Add four tablespoons of olive oil and the chopped onion. Saute for a minute or two, stirring occasionally.
  6. Next add the garlic and sugar to the pan, and saute for a further 2 minutes.
  7. Add the mince to the pan and saute for a further 5 minutes. While it’s cooking, stir the contents of the pan together so that the mince is broken up and well combined with the onion and garlic.
  8. When the mince is browned, stir in the tomato puree. Then add the wine, chopped tomatoes, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and a cup of water to the pan. Bring the pan contents to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat.
  9. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180’C/350’F/Gas Mark 4.
  10. To make the béchamel sauce, set a medium-sized saucepan over a moderate heat and add the butter or margarine.
  11. When it’s melted, whisk in the flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg, then add the milk. Cook, whisking constantly (I used an electric whisk to get rid of any lumps) for a few minutes or until thickened. Remove from the heat. Allow to cool slightly, then whisk in the egg yolks and two thirds of the cheese (if using.)
  12. To assemble: evenly spread the potatoes across the baking dish. Season them with a little salt, pepper and thyme (if using.) Repeat with a layer of seasoned aubergine, then a layer of seasoned courgette. Stir two tablespoons of béchamel sauce into the mince, and remove the bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Then spread the mince evenly across the layered vegetables. Finally, spread the remaining béchamel sauce over the mince and top with the remaining cheese (if using.)
  13. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until nicely browned.
  14. When it’s ready, remove from the oven and allow it to cool down for 20 minutes or so. Then serve, preferably with Greek Salad and a glass of Greek red wine.
  15. Kali Orexi!


  • It’s easiest to use at least two frying pans to saute the vegetables- if you sauté too many in one pan it’s quite hard to make sure they are evenly cooked.


Home: Greece
/ˌmuːsɑːˈkɑː/ (moo-sah-KAH)

Relatives: Musakhkhan (Palestine) Musakka (Turkey) Karnıyarık (Turkey)

Moussaka was probably introduced to the Levant and Anatolia by Arab settlers: its key ingredient, the aubergine, is native to India and was brought to the region by Arab traders. The oldest known reference to Maghmuma, a precursor to Moussaka, appears alongside 160 other recipes in the Kitab al-Tabikh (‘Book of Dishes’), a thirteenth century Baghdadi cookbook by the Abbasid scribe, Muḥammad bin al-Ḥasan bin Muḥammad bin al-Karīm al-Baghdadi. According to Al-Baghdadi’s recipe, Maghmuma consisted of layers of cooked aubergine and onions topped with spiced minced meat, which were cooked over an open fire.

Baghdad was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in the early 16th century and the ‘Book of Dishes’ made its way to Istanbul, where it became a popular source of recipes. Over the centuries, numerous Turkish recipes were added to the book, which was translated into Turkish and copied several times, with copies housed at Süleymaniye Library and Topkapı Palace Library.

In the early 19th century, the Greeks fought the Αγώνας (‘struggle’), or War of Independence, against the Ottoman Empire. They were successful and the Kingdom of Greece emerged as an independent state. By the 1920s, Greece had doubled in size and acquired a large urban centre (Thessaloniki.) The country also underwent a significant population increase as a result of the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922 and the ensuing 1923 population exchange with Turkey. A significant number of refugees arrived from across the Aegean, including a number of well-traveled metropolitan refugees from Smyrna and Istanbul. As a result, 1920s Thessaloniki was a melting pot of Greeks, Jews, Turks and Bulgarians, many of whom introduced a wide variety of novel ingredients, spices and dishes to the city.

Moussaka was already popular in Greece. However, many viewed it as too Turkish for an independent Greece. At this time, the emerging Greek middle class and urban population were experimenting with new cuisines- with French cuisine viewed as particularly sophisticated- and efforts were made to Hellenize dishes of Turkish origin and to ‘Europeanize’ traditional Greek dishes. A more Europeanized version of Moussaka was developed by Nikolaos Tselementes, a chef from the island of Sifnos who had studied cookery in Vienna and America. Tselementes adapted many traditional Greek recipes in his 1950 work, Greek Cookery, including his version of Moussaka, topped with French béchamel sauce.

Thessaloniki, 1916
H. Charles Woods, ‘Rue de Thessalonique (1916)’, in ‘The Balkans, Macedonia, and the War’, Geographical Review, 6 (1918)

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