Moussaka: Mediterranean Origin of Eggplant & Meat Casserole Dish

Mediterranean cuisine is a culinary tradition celebrated for its delectable flavours, healthful ingredients, and cultural significance. It encompasses the diverse culinary practises of countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece, Italy, Spain, and Turkey. The cuisine is characterised by its emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, olive oil, fish, and whole grains. Herbs and spices like oregano, basil, garlic, and lemon add a burst of aromatic richness to the dishes. Mediterranean cuisine is not just about nourishment; it reflects the region's history, traditions, and holistic approach to food that promotes well-being and conviviality.

Origin and History of Moussaka

Moussaka, a beloved dish of the Mediterranean region, has a rich history that dates back centuries. Its exact origin is a subject of debate, with various countries claiming it as their own. However, it is widely believed that moussaka originated in the Eastern Mediterranean, specifically in the Levant region. 

Moussaka, a beloved Greek dish, has a rich and diverse history with influences from various cultures. While each Greek family has its own unique recipe, moussaka is also popular in Balkan nations, the Middle East, and Turkey. The origins of this casserole dish can be traced back to the Arab introduction of eggplant to Greece.

It is believed that the Arab influence on Greek cuisine led to the creation of moussaka, possibly derived from the Levantine musakhkhan. The word "moussaka" itself may have originated from an Arabic word. A 13th-century Arabic cookbook called the Baghdad Cookery Book describes a recipe that could potentially be the precursor to moussaka. Today, Lebanon and the Arab world have their own version of moussaka, consisting of eggplants, olive oil, garlic, onions, and tomatoes.

In 1910, Nikolas Tselementes, a renowned Greek chef, published Greek recipes that included a moussaka variation featuring a French béchamel sauce on top. This version became widely embraced by Greeks and is the moussaka that is cherished and enjoyed today. Through a fascinating blend of culinary influences, moussaka has become a celebrated dish, showcasing the rich history and diverse flavours of Greece and its neighbouring region.

Moussaka, a beloved dish of Mediterranean origin, features a delectable combination of ingredients that contribute to its distinctive taste. The primary ingredients used in moussaka include eggplant (aubergine), ground meat (usually lamb or beef), tomatoes, onions, and a variety of spices. 

Eggplant serves as the star ingredient, providing a rich and creamy texture to the dish. Ground meat adds depth and savoury notes, while tomatoes contribute a vibrant tanginess. Onions provide a sweet and aromatic base that enhances the overall flavour profile. 

Herbs and spices play a crucial role in elevating the taste of moussaka. Oregano, with its earthy and robust flavour, adds a Mediterranean touch. Cinnamon imparts a warm and subtle sweetness, while nutmeg offers a hint of complexity and warmth. 

The combination of these herbs and spices creates a harmonious symphony of flavours that add depth and richness to each layer of the dish, making moussaka an enticing and memorable Mediterranean delight. 

Variations and Regional Differences 

Moussaka, a Mediterranean classic, showcases intriguing variations across different countries in the region. In Greece, the traditional Greek moussaka features layers of eggplant, ground meat, and a creamy béchamel sauce. Turkish moussaka, known as İmam Bayıldı, replaces meat with a tomato and onion filling, while Egyptian moussaka incorporates flavours of cumin and coriander. 

Unique ingredients and cooking methods define each variation. Greek moussaka often includes potatoes and is baked to achieve a golden crust. Turkish İmam Bayıldı is typically slow-cooked, resulting in tender eggplant and a rich tomato-based filling. Egyptian moussaka may incorporate chickpeas and is sometimes served with a spicy tomato sauce. 

Moussaka Recipe 

Indulge in the classic flavours of the Mediterranean with this traditional moussaka recipe. Layered with tender eggplant, savoury ground meat, aromatic herbs, and a luscious béchamel sauce, this dish captures the essence of Mediterranean cuisine. Get ready to embark on a culinary journey and create a mouth-watering moussaka that will transport you to the sun-drenched shores of Greece. 


    2 large eggplants (aubergines) 

    450 g ground lamb or beef 

    1 large onion, finely chopped 

    3 cloves of garlic, minced 

    400 g canned diced tomatoes

    2 tablespoons of tomato paste 

    1 teaspoon dried oregano 

    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

    1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 

    Salt and black pepper to taste

    3 tablespoons of olive oil, divided 

    4 tablespoons unsalted butter 

    4 tablespoons of all-purpose flour 

    2 cups of milk 

    1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

    2 large eggs, lightly beaten 


    Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). 

    Start by preparing the eggplant. Trim the ends and slice them lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Sprinkle salt on both sides of the slices and let them sit for about 15 minutes to draw out any excess moisture. Rinse the slices and pat them dry with paper towels. 

    Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the eggplant slices in batches until they are lightly browned on both sides. Set it aside on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. 

    In the same skillet, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the chopped onion until it becomes translucent. Add the minced garlic and ground meat, and cook until the meat is browned and cooked through. 

    Stir in the canned diced tomatoes, tomato paste, dried oregano, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, salt, and black pepper. Simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes, allowing the flavours to meld together. Remove from heat. 

    In a separate saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk continuously for 2 minutes to create a roux. Slowly pour in the milk while whisking vigorously to avoid lumps. Cook the mixture until it thickens to a smooth consistency, stirring constantly. 

    Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in half of the grated Parmesan cheese and the beaten eggs. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

    In a greased 9x13-inch baking dish, arrange a layer of the cooked eggplant slices to cover the bottom. Spread half of the meat mixture evenly over the eggplant. 

    Repeat with another layer of eggplant slices and the remaining meat mixture. Finish with a final layer of eggplant slices. 

    Pour the béchamel sauce evenly over the top layer of eggplant. Sprinkle the remaining grated Parmesan cheese on top. 

    Bake the moussaka in the preheated oven for 40–45 minutes, or until the top turns golden brown and the sauce is bubbly. 

    Remove it from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes before serving. Moussaka is traditionally served warm, allowing the flavours to meld together even further. 

Enjoy the traditional moussaka alongside a fresh Greek salad or crusty bread. Embrace the enchanting flavours of the Mediterranean as you savour each delightful bite of this classic dish.