Moussaka might just help you live longer

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

In the 1960s, researchers observed that coronary heart disease caused fewer deaths in Mediterranean countries, such as Greece and Italy, than in the United States and northern Europe. Further investigation showed a link between the diets of people living in Mediterranean countries and better health.

Although there is no single definition of the Mediterranean diet, it is typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and olive oil. While not as trendy as the ketogenic or paleo diets, the Mediterranean diet has been around for a long time and has been endorsed by both the American Heart Association and the World Health Organization.

Because vegetables play a major role in Mediterranean meals, they are given special attention. Moussaka, a Greek version of lasagna, is a case in point. As with most baked layered dishes, there is no definitive recipe. Two components, however, must be included: eggplant and a bechamel layer on top.

Below is a meatless version of the dish. Eggplant, zucchini, feta and potatoes are layered with a savory tomato sauce with a hint of cinnamon. Topped with a thick, cheesy bechamel, the dish will transport you to a Greek isle.

As with making a good lasagna, making moussaka is a labor of love, because each component must be prepared separately. This recipe makes a generous size moussaka, and leftovers can be frozen.

Moussaka is a layered dish featuring eggplant and other ingredients covered in a bechamel sauce and baked.

Moussaka

  • Olive oil
  • 2 medium eggplants
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 russet potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
  • 2 small zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces feta cheese

For the bechamel:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2½ cups milk
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the eggplants into ½-inch rounds. Place them on baking sheets brushed with olive oil. Salt and pepper the tops and brush with more olive oil. Cook for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Flip them midway through the cooking process.

In the meantime, prepare the tomato sauce. In a heavy skillet, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the cinnamon and oregano, and cook for a minute. Add the wine, and cook for 2 minutes, scraping the browned parts from the pan. Add the tomatoes and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and cook uncovered for 15 minutes.

Bring a medium-size pot of salted water to a boil, and add the potatoes. Cook for 5 minutes and drain well.

For the bechamel, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until pale and smooth, about 2 minutes. Still whisking constantly, slowly add the milk and cook until thickened. Stir in the grated cheese and season with the salt and nutmeg. Let the sauce cool for 5 minutes. Whisk in the egg yolks until the sauce is smooth.

To assemble the moussaka, grease a 9½-by-13-inch baking dish. Place a layer of the eggplant, then crumble half of the feta cheese over the eggplant and spread half the tomato sauce on top. Next, place a layer of sliced potatoes and zucchini. Repeat for the second layer.

Smooth the bechamel sauce over the casserole and bake in a 375-degree oven for about an hour, or until the topping is golden brown. Remove the moussaka from the oven and let rest at least 15 minutes before cutting.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.