For me, moussaka is one of those staples to serve to a group of friends. Its Greek origin always leaves me feeling a little adventurous when I make it, eventhough it is really simple fare! It can be served in a small portion as a starter, as a lunch or as a wholesome supper – it is up to you. Traditionally this is made with veal mince; lamb works beautifully, but I like using beef just as much, it is not as rich and if you want vegetarian, just replace the mince with a mixture of lentils, chickpeas and some soya mince soaked in really good quality stock to give you some robust flavour. I know brinjals are not everyone’s cup of tea, but give this a go, the difference in taste between fresh brinjals and ones that have been hanging around on a shelf in a shop is quite dramatic – if you can, grow your own for the best tasting ones ever! Another trick for brilliant brinjals is to paint your olive oil onto the slices while you are getting your pan or griddle nice and hot. Do this rather than pour the oil into the pan, it helps prevent the aubergines getting soggy and oily and also stops the oil burning. As to sprinkling salt over the slices, that is up to you – I don’t do it but please go ahead if you like, just be sure to rinse them well and make sure that they are patted thoroughly dry. There are basically three components here: nicely browned slices of brinjal (I like them a little crispy), tasty mince and a nice rich béchamel sauce. If you have your own technique in preparing any of these components feel free to use them. Be as adventurous as you please, have some fun, remember this is cooking not accounting!
For the béchamel sauce
Pre-heat oven to 180°. Slice your brinjals lengthways in 1cm slices, don’t peel. Paint the slices with olive oil and fry them on both sides on a very hot plate until deeply golden brown. Set them aside. Fry the onions and garlic on a medium heat until very tender and starting to caramelize, turn up the heat and add the mince. Brown the mince well until starting to stick to the pan and quite dry. Add the tomatoes, wine, cinnamon and oreganum and simmer for around 30mins until all the flavours have developed and most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the parsley and season. Melt the butter in a pot and add the flour whilst stirring continuously to make a roux. Cook the flour off. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook very gently for 5-10mins. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese and nutmeg. Now beat in the egg and season. Arrange a third of the brinjals on the bottom of your dish, top with half the mince and repeat the layers, finishing off with a layer of brinjals. Cover with your luscious béchamel and pop in the oven for about 45mins until well browned. Remember to let it rest before serving so it holds its shape and the flavours present themselves without the burn! Warm your hearts and souls and share with friends. I will be serving this on Sunday with a green side salad and a glass or three of wine!