Moussaka is a famous Turkish/Mediterranean dish with eggplants, minced meat, tomatoes, béchamel and an occasional potato. However, as the Turks gradually conquered more and more of the Balkan territories and traveled north towards Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania, most of the fancier ingredients were dropped and only potatoes remained with a scant sprinkle of minced meat, a testament to the life in these impoverished farming lands and their colder climates. And that is how the famous Potato Moussaka, one of the staple dishes of the Balkan cuisine, was born. Potato moussaka is a seemingly simple dish to make, but the essence of getting it right lies in the baking process. When executed properly, potato moussaka is a true masterpiece -- wonderfully crisp on top, soft and caramelized on bottom, creamy in the middle. It's filled with wonderful little caves of fragrant minced beef, and bursting with rich, cheesy taste, despite containing no cheese at all! —QueenSashy
Test Kitchen Notes
This dish defines a new level of comfort food. I followed the recipe exactly and served it as the main course to my family and a couple we had over for dinner (I know, brave!). Every plate was polished off. The only thing I would do differently would be to double the amount of herbs and spices, including the nutmeg. Just a pinch of nutmeg got lost in the amount of potatoes and cream sauce. And, because I like spicy, I sprinkled a few splurts of Sriracha to the top of my helping. Oh my, delicious! What little leftovers there were ended up on my breakfast plate the next morning. —anotherfoodieblogger
russet potatoes (to the extent possible, try to use potatoes of similar size and shape)
ground beef (preferably 80% lean)
small shallots (about 4 ounces)
generous teaspoon of dried summer savory (or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram)
fresh parsley, finely chopped
garlic cloves, finely minced
A pinch of nutmeg
sunflower oil, plus more for oiling/brushing
In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until translucent, for about a minute or two. Add the ground beef and cook until browned on the surface. Do not overcook. Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper, parsley, and summer savory. Divide the meat into three parts.
Peel the potatoes, rinse them, and pat them dry. Slice the potatoes 1/8-inch thick -- no more, no less. (You may want to discard the smallest pieces.)
Liberally oil the baking dish. Arrange the potato slices neatly in the baking dish in one layer, overlapping each one about the third of the way over the slice that came before, until the bottom of the dish is neatly paved. Sprinkle with salt and cover with the third of the meat. Repeat the process (potatoes + sprinkle of salt + ground beef) two more times. Finish with another neat layer of potatoes (for a total of four potato layers).
In a small bowl beat the eggs. Add the milk, cream, garlic, and a pinch of nutmeg. Mix well. Pour over the potatoes.
Cover the baking dish with foil and bake covered, until the liquid starts to bubble. Once the liquid starts to bubble, remove the cover, reduce heat to 365° F and bake for another hour or so (this will depend on your oven, dish, and many other factors, so start watching at about 45 minutes). The moussaka is done when the potatoes on top are golden brown, spotted with dark crispy areas, while the potatoes inside are very soft. (If you notice during baking that top layer is getting dry, sprinkle it with water and brush it with vegetable oil. If you notice that the entire dish is getting dry, add a bit more warm milk. If you think that the top is getting baked faster than the inside, cover with the foil again. If the inside is fully done and the top is not golden, finish the dish under the broiler for a minute or two.)
Remove the moussaka from the oven. Let it settle for about 15 to 20 minutes, then cut into square slices and eat immediately.
Aleksandra aka QueenSashy is a scientist by day, and cook, photographer and doodler by night. When she is not writing code and formulas, she blogs about food, life and everything in between on her blog, Three Little Halves. Three Little Halves was nominated for 2015 James Beard Awards and the finalist for 2014 Saveur Best Food Blog Awards. Aleksandra lives in New York City with her other two halves, Miss Pain and Dr. V.