Have you ever tried moussaka before?
The first time I had moussaka was actually at a friend’s house when my husband and I were there for a dinner party.
I had no idea what they were making for the meal, so when a slice of the beef and potato casserole was put in front of me, I was mystified wondering what it was.
There were layers of potato, layers of flavorful meat, and a lovely topping of cheesy bechamel sauce (aka mornay sauce) on top. It was a warm, comforting slice of goodness that I absolutely adored.
I thought that of course, since it was a recipe made for a dinner party, it must be something special that’s not easy to make.
But that’s what we all tend to think, right? On the other hand, I know that a good host always has a few tricks up her sleeve…
This recipe for beef and potato casserole couldn’t be easier to pull together.
This dish is not complicated to make in the slightest. It isn’t very time consuming to pull together, but it does take a bit of time to bake. However, that just means you get a little extra time to do something for yourself! You know, instead of spending that time actively cooking.
I know that the idea of making a bechamel or mornay sauce from scratch may seem intimidating, but it’s not so bad. You start by making a roux, and the rest of the process is as simple as cooking the cream sauce over medium heat and whisking in some cheese and egg yolks.
If you haven’t tried moussaka before, think of it as the Greek version of lasagna or a baked ziti casserole. Instead of pasta, thinly sliced potatoes create deliciously carby the layers in between the meat.
It’s truly a treat because you can make it for a special occasion, or for your family on a regular weeknight, and you’ll probably end up with some leftovers to eat throughout the week.
Here are my tips and tricks for making this recipe:
- To slice the potatoes as thinly as possible, use a mandoline. You could also use a sharp knife, but the process will go much faster with this tool, and you’ll get more uniform slices.
- You can use beef or lamb to make this dish, or lighten it up with chicken or turkey. With the less fatty meats, you don’t have to worry about draining the fat out of the pan after cooking.
- If you love paprika, go ahead and use the full 3 teaspoons that the recipe calls for. I started with 2 1/2, but the full amount will give an extra boost of flavor to the dish.
Honestly, this casserole is one that’s so easy to pull together because you might actually have all of the ingredients hanging out in your kitchen already. The spices are simple, and the rest of the ingredients are likely very familiar.
There are no surprises here, and no need to hunt anything down at a specialty market. This recipe has already become a family favorite at my house for when I’m cooking in bulk, and it’s a new favorite of mine for cooking when I have company over as well.Print
This straightforward beef and potato casserole is also known as moussaka. The layered dish is to the Greeks what lasagna is to the Italians. Get the recipe.
For the Casserole:
- 1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more for baking dish
- 1 medium mild onion, diced (about 1 cup)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground beef (or ground lamb)
- 2–3 teaspoons paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 2 large potatoes, thinly sliced into rounds (about 1 lb total weight, 2 1/2 cups)
For the Mornay Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cups whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 ounces farmer’s cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese (about 3/4 cup), divided
- 2 large egg yolks, beaten
- Preheat oven to 375˚F. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with canola oil.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally for 4-5 minutes, or until slightly translucent and soft. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring occasionally until fragrant.
- Add ground beef and paprika to taste. Continue cooking until beef is no longer pink, breaking up large pieces with a wooden spoon. Drain away excess fat. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk for the sauce until it is just bubbling on the edges, about 3-4 minutes. Keep warm over low heat.
- Heat butter for the sauce in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted and foaming. Add flour and whisk constantly for about 1 minute, until the roux is golden brown in color.
- Gradually whisk in the warm milk. Bring to a boil, whisking until smooth and there are no more lumps, and then reduce to a simmer.
- Continue to cook for about 5 minutes, whisking frequently, until mixture thickens and attains a pudding-like consistency. Stir in salt and remove from heat.
- Whisk in farmer’s cheese and half of the Parmesan cheese.
- Set aside for 10 minutes to let the cheese melt. Vigorously whisk in egg yolks until combined and mixture takes on a golden yellow color. Set aside.
- Cover the bottom of the prepared dish with a single layer of potatoes so they are overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
- Spoon beef mixture evenly over the potatoes.
- Cover with the rest of the potatoes and sprinkle with the remaining salt and pepper.
- Top with sauce and smooth surface with a spoon. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan.
- Cover the baking dish with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove the cover and continue cooking for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown on top.
- Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting into pieces and serving.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
- Category: Casserole
- Method: Stovetop/Baking
- Cuisine: Greek
Keywords: Greek, moussaka, beef, potato, casserole
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep and Measure Ingredients
Peel and mince two cloves of garlic. A garlic press can come in handy for this.
Scrub two large potatoes well. Pat them dry with paper towels and slice them into thin rounds. A mandoline is the perfect tool for this, just be sure to protect your fingers.
You could peel the potatoes first, but I prefer to leave the skins on. There are healthy nutrients in there!
Beat two egg yolks together in a small bowl.
Measure out all of the remaining ingredients as listed on the ingredients list.
Preheat your oven to 375˚F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with canola oil.
Step 2 – Cook Meat
Once it’s hot, saute the onion until it’s translucent and soft, stirring occasionally. This will take about 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and saute for 30 seconds, or until fragrant.
Add your choice of ground meat – beef, lamb, chicken, or turkey – and the paprika. The spice will be easy to grab, as long as you have a well-organized spice rack!
Cook until the meat is no longer pink, breaking it up into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon as it cooks.
If you’re using beef or lamb, drain the excess fat. Set aside.
Step 3 – Make Mornay Sauce
Add the milk for the sauce to a small saucepan and warm it over medium heat until the milk has bubbles just around the edges. This will take about 3 to 4 minutes.
Keep an eye on it – you don’t want the milk to boil, scald, or develop a skin on top.
Turn the heat down, and keep the milk warm over low heat.
Add the unsalted butter for the sauce to a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s melted and foaming, whisk in the flour, and continue whisking constantly for about 1 minute. The roux should take on a golden brown color.
Slowly whisk in the warm milk, whisking constantly to remove any lumps.
Bring the mixture to a low boil while you continue to whisk. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, whisking frequently. The mixture should be thick with a pudding-like consistency. At this point, you have a bechamel.
Stir in the salt and remove the pan from the heat. Whisk in the farmer’s cheese and half of the Parmesan cheese. At this point, you have a mornay sauce. This type of sauce is sometimes fortified with egg yolk, as we’ll do here.
Set the pan aside for 10 minutes to let the cheese melt. Whisk in the egg yolks until combined. The sauce should be smooth and golden in color. Set aside.
Step 4 – Assemble
Add potato slices in a single layer to the bottom of the prepared dish so they are slightly overlapping. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.
Spoon the meat mixture evenly over the potatoes.
Top the meat with another layer of potatoes, and then sprinkle with the remaining salt and pepper.
Top with the sauce and smooth with a spoon. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.
Step 5 – Bake
Cover with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Bake for 45 minutes.
Remove the foil or paper, return the pan to the oven, and cook for another 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.
Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
What’s the Best Way to Prep? Double the Recipe
Since you’re already doing all of the prep to make one pan of moussaka, why not double it so you can save the extra one for later?
Make one to eat tonight, and let the other pan cool completely on the counter until it comes to room temperature.
Once it’s cooled, wrap the pan tightly in plastic wrap, and then aluminum foil. Freeze until you are ready to eat it.
To reheat, thaw the casserole overnight in the refrigerator, then bake uncovered at 350˚F until warmed through, for about 20 to 25 minutes.
Want to try some more Greek and Mediterranean recipes? Check out these specialties from Foodal next:
Have you ever eaten moussaka before? Share the story of your first experience with the dish below. And once you try this version, be sure to come back and rate the recipe!
Photos by Meghan Yager, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on January 27, 2013. Last updated February 4, 2020.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Meghan Yager
Meghan Yager is a food addict turned food and travel writer with a love for creating uncomplicated, gourmet recipes and devouring anything the world serves up. As the author of the food and travel blog Cake 'n Knife, Meghan focuses on unique foodie experiences from around the world to right at home in your own kitchen.