I love moussaka in the winter: it's a classic hearty dinner casserole from the Mediterranean region. My version is Greek. Classically, moussaka consists of a layer or two of sliced eggplant, a layer or two of spiced cooked ground meat (usually lamb in Greece), all topped with a béchamel sauce (white sauce). My recipe substantially conforms to that classic mold, with the exception of the topping; I use a mixture of yogurt and eggs instead of bechamel for a quick and tangy alternative.
I've also made vegetarian moussaka by substituting lentils for meat; just boil about 2 cups (480 ml) of lentils for about 15 minutes, while you're preparing the onions for the moussaka, then pour lentils, water and all, into the onion mixture where you'd be adding the meat, and continue on. Adding 1/2 cup (60 ml) chopped walnuts to the lentil mixture before you bake gives the mixture a nice toothsome texture.
What you'll need to make enough moussaka to feed 4 or 5 people
*A rasp makes quick work of these chores.
What to do
First, prepare the eggplant. Cut it into 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick slices, sprinkle it on both sides with salt, and set it on racks or in a colander, in a single layer, to drain off the bitter juices. Takes about an hour. Flip the slices over halfway through.
Meanwhile, heat a little oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook them till they're soft, then add the lamb and garlic and fry till the lamb loses its pink colour, breaking up the chunks with a wooden spoon.
When the meat is cooked through, drain off the fat if a lot has accumulated (don't bother if there's just a bit; it adds flavour), then add the tomato, tomato paste, spices, lemon zest, and wine. Simmer this mixture over low heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, till the mixture is quite dry, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
In the meantime, pat the eggplant dry with paper towels, then brush both sides lightly with olive oil and grill or broil till lightly browned on both sides, turning once. (Traditionally the eggplant is fried, which is a bad idea. Eggplant soaks up oil like a sponge. Broiling or grilling gives a much less greasy result.)
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Add the breadcrumbs to the meat mixture. This is just to soak up any extra moisture and bind the meat together.
Combine yogurt, eggs, and cheese.
Layer half the eggplant on the bottom of a square shallow baking pan (about 8 inches (20 cm) square). Spread the meat mixture over and top with another layer of eggplant. Squish it in to make it all fit if you have to. Then pour the yogurt mixture over and sprinkle the top with nutmeg.
Bake till golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.
My father, who taught me this recipe, swears that moussaka tastes better the second day, so you might want leftovers. Luckily, the recipe doubles well: just bake it in a rectangular pan, and increase the cooking time to 1 hour.
If you like, you can also make roasted potatoes to serve with moussaka, though that seems a bit piggy to me. Peel and cut potatoes into chunks, toss with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh or dried rosemary or thyme. Place in a single layer in a shallow baking pan and roast alongside the moussaka, stirring every 15 minutes or so to prevent sticking.