As I sit here trying to recall my first introduction to Moussaka, I draw a blank - because it seems as though I have been preparing this dish for as long as I can remember. I do however recall without a doubt, the day I was guided from preparing a mediocre Moussaka to a great one! (I say this with all humility)
It was six months after I had given birth to our firstborn. My friend Aliki who is Greek, had also delivered her baby around the same time so our sons were no more than a few days apart. Her mother-in-law had also arrived from Athens for the birth of her first grandson.
As a celebration, they had invited us to dinner with her family. The meals consisted of Moussaka and Greek salad followed by a Baklava. It was by far the finest I had ever had.
Knowing what a food fiend I was, she offered to let me watch her prepare another batch of Moussaka the next day. An idea which I jumped on with all fours!
As I watched her prepare this dish, I was able to see glaring as well as subtle differences in the way I was preparing this dish thus far to the way it ought to be done. I have never reverted ever since.
I also learnt some interesting tit bits - it is a dish that hails from the Balkans and the Middle East. Though it is part of all the cuisines of the former Ottoman region, it has an Arabic name but in the West, it is best-known in its Greek form.
The trick to a lighter instead of a heavy, greasy Moussaka is simple albeit key one - separating the eggs and folding whisked egg whites into the sauce in addition to adding the egg yolks for creaminess.
If there ever was a recipe that is truly the sum of it's parts, this is it folks! Here's how I would tackle this culinary giant,
- Meat sauce: 2 days ahead - this really helps all the flavors meld
- Béchamel sauce: day ahead
- Roasted veggies & assembly - the day off
I'd also make a giant tray of this because leftovers are incredible! With cold weather nipping at our heels and holidays fast approaching, this is one dish I'd definitely want in my arsenal for all those gatherings.
PS: I would use a lasagna pan for this dish. A 9" x 13" isn't deep enough.