Greek lasagna you say? What the heck is that? Okay I admit it, I kind of tricked you with this title as this recipe is actually for moussaka, which is basically Greek lasagna and happens to be naturally gluten free. However the name moussaka conjures images of something strange and fishy more than it does a meaty, saucy, creamy eggplanty type delight and wanted you to give it a fair chance.
Moussaka is practically the national dish of Greece. The dish originated in Turkey as a lamb and eggplant braise, which was then reworked by the Greek chef Tselementes and became the dish it is today. The classic version is still prepared almost the same way wherever you go in Greece.
I saw moussaka being cooked on the food network a year or so ago and have made it many times since then. Guests never have any idea what it is but always seem to enjoy it quite a bit.
Here is how it differs from Italian lasagna:
-No noodles! Instead to create layers there are usually sliced potatoes on the bottom and a layer of eggplant (can be substituted for zucchini) in there somewhere as well.
-Many recipes do not contain cheese, and if they do it is usually feta or a hard Greek sheep cheese called Kefalotyri (κεφαλοτύρι) . I have used feta, no cheese, and a blasphemous combination mozzarella and ricotta, as I describe here. All were delicious. Instead of using the no- cook ricotta mix for the topping as I have described here you can use a béchamel sauce with an egg (or two) mixed in at the end. This makes it a much more frugal dish than lasagna (which you must buy ricotta for) if using the béchamel sauce.
-The sauce is tomato based like Italian Lasagna, but usually has spices like cinnamon or allspice included, which makes the flavour out of this world! Since stumbling across moussaka I have been putting cinnamon in all my Italian style tomato/pasta sauces as well and it is very good. Subtle and most people can’t quite guess what the ingredient is.
-Some recipes I have seen use beef, some lamb, and some a combination. I have used beef, ground pork, and a combination and they are all very good. We aren’t lamb lovers but if you are I am sure that is tasty (and more traditional) as well.
I heavily adapted this recipe from Chef Peter Conistis and it was much easier than other recipes I have used due to the no cook cheese topping (I also used leftover meat sauce from Won Ton Wrapper Mini Lasagnas I had made for a party a few days ago which made assembly a breeze).
Greek Lasagna (Moussaka)
Sauté 1/2 lb. of pork, beef or combo, drain, add a chopped onion and a few minced cloves of garlic and either a jar of tomato sauce or a can of crushed or strained tomatoes). Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 2 teaspoons of sugar, and 1 cup of water or red wine.
Cover and simmer on low for as long as you have (10 minutes – a few hours).
Preheat oven to 400f convection.
Wash and slice 3 large potatoes or 6 small (I used new potatoes). Toss in salt, pepper and oil and throw into an oiled casserole dish (I used an 8×8 but it was really pushing the limits).
Slice 1 large eggplant or 3 baby eggplants lengthwise and toss in oil and salt and pepper. Place on parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake eggplant and potatoes in oven together for 20 minutes or until eggplant a little brown. Remove from oven and turn oven down to 375f.
Meanwhile, in a bowl mix half a large container of ricotta, 1.5 cups of grated mozzarella, a handful of chopped parsley, salt and pepper, a dash of nutmeg, 3/4 cup of half and half cream, and 2 eggs.
Push potatoes around in dish so they are evenly layered.
Pour all of your meat sauce over the potatoes.
Lay the eggplant in a layer (slightly overlapping) overtop of the meat.
Pour on your ricotta mix.
Refrigerate for later baking or bake for 30-40 minutes or until browned.
Storage: The next day, separate cut slices onto foil lined pan and freeze for a few hours. Remove from pan, wrap each slice in plastic wrap and place in a labelled freezer bag. Stores well for several months and individual slices reheat great in microwave or toaster oven.