When I think of my favorite Egyptian foods, I think of 2 things – moussaka and béchamel. Putting them both together makes my heart sing. I know, I sound lame, but seriously, I get excited when I combine my favorite flavors and they work together. Most of you may know moussaka as a traditional Greek dish, although its origins are Middle Eastern. A 13th century cookbook from Baghdad makes reference to a dish that sounds familiar to the modern day version, just without béchamel. The word itself is an Arabic word – musaq’aa, means chilled and my mother always used to serve her moussaka cold. Also, my mom never puts béchamel sauce on top, but my sister’s Iraqi mother-in-law always does. So many variations, but all so goooood.
Most recipes of moussaka use lamb – ACK! I am not a fan of lamb, and in fact, I pretty much avoid it like the plague. Shockingly, here in the UAE, hoards of people stand in line at the butcher to buy their coveted lamb. Thankfully, this just leaves more BEEF for me 🙂 Travelling around the Middle East also proves to me just how much people prefer lamb over beef. I think it is because there are no green pastures out here for the cows to roam free and fatten up.
I made this for a recent Ramadan iftaar and I had successfully converted 2 eggplant-haters into moussaka-lovers! This version of moussaka not only adds béchamel sauce, but also potatoes. My sister always sneaks them in, and I think it adds a nice contrast to the roasted eggplants. Further, I had read a Bobby Flay recipe for béchamel where he added lemon zest. It is an awesome addition, and I definitely will never make béchamel again without it! If you time this recipe right, you can make it fairly quickly, although the first time, I fumbled around the kitchen quite a bit. But once I got the hang of things and got more efficient, i.e. roasting eggplants while making sauce, it went by really quickly the second time around. The best part about serving a moussaka is cutting into it and hearing the “ooh’s and aah’s” as you cut into it, which is why I never got a picture of the final dish plated up!
Roasted Eggplant and Potatoes with Bechamel Sauce
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Keywords: roast bake entree gluten-free nut-free soy-free sugar-free eggplant potatoes ground beef peppers
Ingredients (6 servings)
- 1 medium-sized eggplant, sliced (or 6 small eggplants)
- 1 potato
- Olive Oil
- 1 lb of ground beef
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 tsp 7 spice
- 1 tsp salt
- Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 Hungarian pepper (or fry pepper), chopped
- 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
- 1 12-oz can of tomato sauce (or 500 gram package – I use Pomi)
- 4 cups milk, warmed
- 1 stick of butter
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- Bay leaf
- Pinch salt
- Lemon zest
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F. In a large bowl, combine sliced eggplant with 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add 1 tsp of salt and toss well. Arrange on a baking tray and roast for 20 minutes.
2. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add half of chopped onion and sauté. Once translucent, add ground beef, 1/2 tsp salt and seven spice. Brown meat well. Set aside.
3. In a medium size pot, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the remaining chopped onion, red bell pepper, and Hungarian pepper. Saute.
4. Once the peppers are no longer firm, add the browned ground beef and mix well. Add the tomato sauce and parsley. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 10 minutes.
5. While the eggplants are roasting, and the sauce simmering, prepare the béchamel sauce. In a medium-size pot, melt the stick of butter over medium-high heat. Once the butter is completely melted, slowly add the flour while whisking the two together. Once you have added all of the flour, you should have a light brown mixture in the pot.
6. For the béchamel, slowly add the warmed milk to the butter/flour mixture. The key is that the milk must be warm, otherwise you will get too many clumps. (I put it in the microwave for 2 minutes in a microwave-safe cup.) Keep whisking the milk into the flour mixture. The mixture should seem relatively thin. Add the nutmeg, salt and bay leaf. Once it starts to bubble, reduce to low heat. Dont leave it alone for too long, as it will thicken quickly. If you want to add some grated parmesan cheese, now would be the time.
7. At this point, the eggplant should be done, and the sauce should be finished. Peel the potato, and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices. Don’t do this too early, or the potatoes will brown.
8. In a casserole dish, place the roasted eggplant at the bottom. Top with the sliced potatoes. Pour the meat sauce on top. If you have more eggplant or potatoes, then you can add another layer. Top it off with the béchamel sauce.
9. Bake in a 200C/400F oven for approximately 35 minutes. I usually broil the top of the moussaka for the last 10 minutes so that the béchamel gets a nice golden layer on the top.
10. Serve warm – Enjoy!!