Moussaka or Messaka’a, my version

The origin of Moussaka has always been a source of confusion to me, between Greece and Egypt, once can’t really tell! Besides, it’s such a versatile dish that you can’t really narrow it to one recipe.
Bless Wikipedia! It looks like the Egyptians are right when they say that Moussaka is from their land, although it has become and Eastern Mediterranean dish with multiple variation ever since.

So the origin of the word Moussaka is Messaqa’a (or Messakaa), the way it’s still pronounced in Egypt, which means chilled or cold. No wonder, I find it better eaten cold or at room temperature because fried eggplants are disturbing when still hot.
The first time I made Moussaka, I fried almost every vegetable. It turned too heavy and I can’t digest fried food.
A slice of Moussaka
The 2nd time I made it, I fried only 1 layer of eggplants, I shallow fried the rest. As for the courgettes or zucchinis, I shallow-fried them then added a few tablespoons of water to let them cook through. That way, I’ve cut the quantity of oil needed. Of course you can cook the eggplants boiled and have a healthy version, but then you would miss what gives Moussaka its famous taste. At least one deep fried eggplant would make up for it.
The first layer to use as a base can be parboiled potato slices, or seasoned breadcrumbs. Last time I made it, I just layered the biggest slices of fried eggplants which I covered the base and the corners.
I don’t like my Moussaka with béchamel, but of course you can add it as an extra layer. I just use grated cheese which works as a binding ingredient instead.
Baked Moussaka
You can use a lasagna baking dish or a 22 cm diameter one..Anything where you can build in layers of vegetables.
Serves 4 to 6
Prep:  30 min – Cooking: 30 to 40 min
The vegetables
  • 4 medium-size eggplants/aubergines
  • 3 medium-size zucchinis
  • 2 medium-size potatoes
  • 1 medium-size green pepper (or capsicum), sliced
  • 1 large onion, finely sliced
  • 1 medium-size sweet red pepper, sliced
  • 1 medium-size tomato, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed

The tomato sauce

  • 1 small can chopped tomatoes with the juice
  • 1 tbsp of tomato paste
  • 1 cup of ground beef (you can omit this if you want a 100% vegetarian moussaka)
Herbs and seasoning
  • 1 tbsp of paprika
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • Salt, pepper
  • Chopped parsley
  • A hint of coriander (optional)
  • Thyme, oregano (optional)

 Extras and topping

  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil for frying
  • 50 g of grated parmesan
  • Breadcrumbs (homemade, seasoned with salt, pepper, herbs and cheese)
Preparing the vegetables
If you are planning to fry the eggplants, cut them along with zucchinis into rings, place them in a colander and salt them generously. Cover and weight down by a heavy can so that excess moisture can be drawn out. This will take about 20 min. skip that if you have no time. Fry until brown. Press extra oil by using a kitchen paper.
Parboil potatoes; they should become just about tender. Drain and set aside, make slices of maximum 5 mm thick.
If you are not planning to fry the eggplants, you may boil for a short time until soft. Drain.
Cut zucchini into rings and shallow-fry them. Cut and shallow-fry potatoes or just use it parboiled.
In a skillet, shallow-fry the onions, green and red pepper until soft and onions slightly brown. Season and add 1 clove of garlic.
If you plan to add minced beef, cook it in a skillet until reduced. Season the sauce with salt, cumin and herbs.
Preparing the tomato sauce
Cook the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, paprika with 1 clove of garlic. Season to taste. Set aside. Add water to cook and simmer until reduced.
Preparing Moussaka/ Messaka’a

I suggest that you layer the ingredients in a baking dish starting in the following order: potatoes or eggplant or breadcrumbs, meat, sauce, zucchini, herbs, peppers and onion, sliced tomato, cheese, sauce, herbs, more eggplant..Breadcrumbs mixed with herbs and cheese.
Building the Moussaka, In this version, I roasted capsicums (discard the skin) instead of frying them with onions
You may keep the green and red peppers uncooked and place them straight under the sauce so they cook in the oven.
Moussaka, ready to go to the oven
Spread seasoned breadcrumbs mixed with parmesan on the top and bake at 180 to 200 C for about 30 min. I cover the dish with aluminium foil and uncover the last 10 min. Allow to cool for 15 – 20 minutes before slicing and serving. Serve in the same dish.
You can make this dish ahead and keep in the freezer (in small or big portions), coat with breadcrumbs and bake the day you intend to serve it.

My slice, a few hours later. It tasted even better

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