Moussaka is essentially a casserole-type, eggplant based dish that consists of ground beef and tomatoes, among other important ingredients. It is an Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dish, although some credit the Greeks as being the inventors of this preparation. This savory preparation has a crusty top and soft, chewy center. Moussakas are very versatile and there are various versions of this dish all over the world. The name of the dish is Arabic.
Ingredients and Preparation
Moussaka is essentially made with 3 basic ingredients - a meat mixture (usually beef), a vegetable (most commonly eggplants) and a sauce. Additional ingredients may or may not be used based on the recipe being followed as well as personal prfeerences. Since the dish is highly versatile, it can be made in various ways, with almost every available ingredient. Vegetarian versions of the dish eliminate meat and use another, slightly meaty vegetable like mushrooms. Over time, cheese has become a popular ingredient, usually used as a topping but sometimes mixed with other ingredients to make a softer casserole. Instead of eggplant, potatoes, zucchinis or carrots are sometimes used and lamb, chicken, seafood or even pork can replace beef. The sauce most often used in cooking is tomato sauce but it can be replaced with white sauce or even whole tomatoes.
Moussaka is an easy preparation and commonly made in homes. The vegetables are fried and the meat is thoroughly cooked. At times, the vegetable slices are breaded for added flavor. The ingredients are then layered in the casserole dish with the sauce and baked. When made well, the dish has a very pleasent, light flavor and layers of different textures and tastes. An important thing to remember is to use the oil very sparingly when layering the ingredients as too much oil can make the dish unnecessarily greasy and heavy.
While most moussaka versions are based essentially on the standard ingredients, the Greek version is inclusive of the aubergine and meat layer, topped with Bechamel sauce or white sauce. The casserole is then baked till done. On the other hand, the Turkish Mussaka is not layered. It is instead, made with sauteed eggplant, tomatoes, onions, green peppers and minced meat. The baked delicacy is usually consumed with pilaf. There are some variants that are made with potatoes, zucchini and carrots.
The Serbian and Bulgarian moussakas are made with potatoes instead of eggplant sliced. Minced pork makes the meat layer and the top layer is made up of yogurt mixed with some flour and raw egg. In Arabic cuisine, mussaka is a term applied to a special cooked salad made with eggplant and tomatoes. It is very similar to the Italian caponata and mostly served cold like a mezze dish.
In the Balkans, the top moussaka layer is most often a custard. A generous sprinkling of cheese or breadcrumbs is often used as a topping.
When prepared with traditional ingredients, moussaka is a calorie and fat-dense dish. On an average, a cup-sized serving of the casserole has about 550 calories and 40 grams of fat. This makes it a very rich preparation and not an option for people who suffer from weight-related health issues. The dish is also very rich in sodium and carbohydrates. One way of making moussakas suitable for consumption by everyone is to use no oil and cheese and to substitute red meat with white meat like chicken.