A typical sample of the rich Greek cuisine is undoubtedly moussaka. Aubergines, potatoes, mince, béchamel sauce and grated rusk are the ingredients which make up one of the nation’s most mouthwatering dishes. Although it is inextricably connected to moms and grandmas, there are restaurants in Athens which serve excellent moussaka. One of them is “Olympion” in Mets, which serves it in exactly the same way as it was made in the 50s. You will also find delicious moussaka in the “Klimataria” tavern, in Platia Theatrou, and you may actually get the chance to learn to cook it yourself, as the restauranteur gives cooking lessons to tourists. You will find a more playful version in Meliartos, a versatile food hall on the corner of Ermou and Aiolou streets, which serves moussaka in pita bread.
- 2 aubergines, cut into 1cm/½in slices
- 1 tbsp fine sea salt
- 750g/1lb 10½oz lamb mince
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1½ tsp dried mint
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- ½ tsp flaked sea salt, plus extra for seasoning
- 200ml/7fl oz red wine
- 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato purée
- 100ml/3½fl oz olive oil
- 500g/1lb 2oz Maris Piper potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm/½in slices
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the white sauce
- 50g/2oz butter
- 50g/2oz plain flour
- 400ml/14fl oz milk
- 1 tsp finely grated nutmeg
- 25g/1oz Parmesan, finely grated
- 1 free-range egg, beaten
Put the lamb, onions, garlic, oregano, mint, bay and cinnamon in a large heavy-based frying pan and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up the meat.
Stir in the flour, salt and plenty of pepper. Add the wine, tomatoes, tomato purée and bring to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is tender and the sauce has thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Meanwhile, place the aubergine pieces in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Rinse the aubergine pieces under cold running water and pat dry in a clean tea towel. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy-based frying pan and fry the aubergines for 2–3 minutes on each side, adding more oil when necessary. Remove from the pan and set aside to drain on kitchen paper.
Cook the potatoes in boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain in a colander under running water until cold.
Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4.
For the white sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook for a few seconds, then gradually stir in the milk. Add half the Parmesan and the grated nutmeg. Simmer the sauce gently for 4–5 minutes, stirring regularly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the sauce to cool. When cooled, stir in the beaten egg.
Spoon one third of the meat sauce into a deep ovenproof dish (approximately). Cover loosely with a layer of potatoes. Repeat the layers twice more, finishing with the aubergines. Pour over the white sauce, making sure it covers in a thick, even layer. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Bake for 45 minutes, or until deep golden-brown and bubbling.