Moussaka is a type of casserole native to the Mediterranean. Although this dish is closely associated with Greece, where it may have originated, it is also widely eaten in Egypt, the Middle East, and the rest of the Balkans. It also comes in a range of styles and flavors, making it a very diverse and versatile dish. Some Mediterranean restaurants offer moussaka, especially if they specialize in Greek food, and it can also be purchased from some markets, or made at home.
There are three fundamental ingredients in moussaka: a vegetable, a meat mixture, and some sort of sauce. The ingredients are layered and then baked to make a moussaka, which may be eaten hot or cold, depending on regional tastes. For variation, some cooks add a white sauce and cheese to the top, making the moussaka much richer and more intense. Vegetarian cooks use a meat substitute in their moussaka, with seitan being particularly suitable, since it has a dense, chewy texture which pairs well with the other ingredients.
Classically, moussaka is made with eggplant slices, lamb, tomato sauce, and a white sauce. The eggplant slices are usually fried first, sometimes in breading, and the lamb is seasoned and cooked before being layered onto the eggplant slices with the tomato slice. This eggplant/lamb/tomato moussaka is the version people tend to think of when they hear the word “moussaka,” assuming they think of anything at all.
However, vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and zucchinis can be used instead of eggplant slices, while meats such as beef, pork, or even chicken may stand in for the lamb. The tomato sauce may be replaced with whole tomatoes, or a white sauce, and a variety of cheeses and sauces may be used to top the moussaka. This versatility makes moussaka easy to make at home, as cooks can use ingredients they like, rather than needing to adhere to a strict recipe. The important thing is to precook the ingredients so that they will cook all the way through when the moussaka is baked.
When moussaka is prepared well, it has a surprisingly light flavor with lots of layers of flavor and texture. Unfortunately, many moussakas are very greasy, thanks to cooks who do not drain the eggplant enough after frying, and to the use of heavy oils in the lamb mixture and sauce. It's important to go light on the oil when assembling a moussaka, as a little goes a long way.