The smell of potatoes, herbs and mince in light tomato juice baking in the oven - is melting me away every time I cook it. And until the next time I almost forget about it and am delightfully surprised every time some 15 minutes after I turned the oven on and placed the dish on the rack to cook.
The smell of moussaka baking in the oven is haunting, especially if you're familiar with it since your childhood. And when it's ready and served and you put a bite in your mouth - a pure delight of flavour and delicious memories.
Moussaka is very common dish for the Balkan region where I come from and almost every country and region has its own regional varieties. But nothing can stop me to experiment further and use whatever vegetables are in season.
Basically it is made of mince and potatoes mainly, but this time I thought I should use more in season vegetables and experimented with untraditional veggies as swede and sweet potatoes, and the season of course was winter.
The most important part of moussaka for every child I knew was the topping. In Bulgaria it is traditionally made with yogurt and eggs instead of the alternative Béchamel sauce, and most of the time no flour is involved. Getting the topping right is tricky and I still haven't found my ideal recipe.
I once tried a shop-bought moussaka out of curiosity and believe me - don't ever waste your money on the stuff -it has nothing to do with the real thing. It was soaked in greasy sauce which I guess was supposed to represent Béchamel and the ratio topping to filling was 2:1, while it has to be not over 1:1. And most of the time it's 1:2 or 1:3.
I tried to include more vegetables to potentially reduce the glycemic inde of the dish, but it turned out both swede and sweet potato had higher or similar GI than/to potatoes, so I guess my only victory was to introduce more vitamins and raise nutrition value.
To be honest I have to admit the moussaka turned out way sweeter than I like which somehow generally changed the taste, but on a positive note, my toddler who adores sweet foods liked it very much!
The most time consuming part is chopping the veggies, but besides that moussaka is fairly easy and doesn't require much effort. You can chop the vegetables coarsely if you don't feel like chopping them finely for an hour or so, but the more finely chopped they are the better, faster and more evenly they will cook.
You need to have a deep oven proof dish and any dish you use for lasagna will do.
This is how I made it.
2 large sweet potatoes - peeled and chopped
4-5 large potatoes (I use Charlotte variety) - peeled and chopped
1 large head of onion - peeled and chopped
1/2 large (or 1 small) swede - peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic - mashed
600 gr beef or pork mince
2 tbsp olive oil
the leaves from 4-5 fresh sprigs thyme
1/2 cup fresh parsley - cut
2-3 medium carrots - peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp black pepper
salt to taste
1/2 tsp cumin
1 cup tomato passata or peeled chopped tomatoes
For the topping:
300 ml yogurt (I use Onken set yogurt because that's the closest to Bulgarian yogurt that can be found)
grated cheddar or other hard cheese (optional)
Strained yogurt (I use Total)
Heat the oil in a large saucepan (I use my multifunctional heavy-base wok with a lid). Add the onion and garlic and sautee for 2-3 minutes. Add the swede and carrots, mix and leave for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add the potatoes, mix well, cover with the lid and leave for more 5 minutes. Add the salt, cumin and pepper, the mince and mix well, so the new products go on the bottom of the pan. Cover ith lead and sautee for more 5-6 minutes, then add the tomato passata or peeled tomatoes, leave on the heat for some 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add the parsley and thyme leaves, mix well to distribute evenly, then transfer to a deep baking dish.
Transfer the dish to the oven and cook at 180 degrees for some 30 minutes more until all the the vegetables are soft.
In the meantime prepare the topping.
In a bowl beat the eggs with the yogurt. Add some salt and cover the moussaka in the oven. You will first need to take it out of the oven so you can distribute the topping well. Return to the oven and bake for more 15 minutes until golden.
At this point you can add some grated hard cheese if you'd like.
Turn the heat off. You can leave it in the oven to set, or you can get it out but it still will need some good 30 minutes to 1 hour to set.
Serve with a dollop of creamy and deliciously low-calorie strained yogurt!
You can use crème fraîche as well, but I prefer the yogurt.