Place of origin
|Middle East (cooked salad form), Turkey (saute form), Greece (3-layer form), Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Republic of Macedonia (3-layer form)|
|Eggplant or potatoes, meat|
The same name and recipe is found throughout the lands that were formerly part of the Ottoman Empire. In Greece, the dish is layered and typically enjoyed hot. In Turkey, it is sautéed and served in the style of a casserole, and is consumed warm or at room temperature. In Arabic countries, a variant of the same recipe is eaten cold.
Names and etymology
The English name for moussaka comes from modern Greek mousakás (μουσακάς), which entered Greek from the Turkish musakka, which itself came from Arabic musaqqa‘ah (مسقعة), via an Arabic root literally meaning "chilled".
The modern Greek version was probably formulated by chef Tselementes in the 1920s. It has three layers that are separately cooked before being combined for the final baking: a bottom layer of sliced eggplants sautéed in olive oil; a middle layer of ground lamb lightly cooked with chopped or puréed tomatoes, onion, garlic, and spices (cinnamon, allspice and black pepper); and a top layer of Béchamel sauce or savoury custard. The composed dish is then layered into a pan and baked until the top layer is browned. Moussaka is usually served warm, not piping hot; if cut hot out of the oven, moussaka squares tend to slide apart and consequently the dish needs some resting time to firm up before serving. Reheating, however, does not present the same problem.
There are variations on this basic recipe, sometimes with no top sauce, sometimes with other vegetables. In Greece such variants may include, in addition to the eggplant slices, sautéed zucchini (courgette) slices, part-fried potato slices, or sautéed mushrooms. There is even a fast-day or "vegan" version in the Greek cookbook by Tselementes, which includes neither meat nor dairy products, just vegetables (ground eggplant is used instead of ground meat), tomato sauce, and bread crumbs.
Turkish musakka is not layered. Instead, it is prepared with sautéed eggplants, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, and minced meat. It is eaten with cacık and pilaf. There are also variants with zucchini, carrots and potatoes.
Bulgarian, Croatian, Macedonian, Slovenian and Serbian (countries formerly part of the Ottoman Empire) versions use potatoes instead of eggplants, pork mince, and the top layer is usually yogurt mixed with raw eggs and a couple of spoons of flour. There is also a three-layer version: the bottom layer consists of ground pork and beef, the middle layer of potato slices, and the top layer is typically a custard. Each layer is cooked on its own and layered in a pan and baked until the top is browned.
The Romanian version is made usually with potatoes or eggplant or cabbage. The layers start with the vegetable, then the layer of meat (usually pork), then vegetables, until the pot is full. Sometimes bread crumbs are used for toppings, sometimes slices of tomatoes and crushed cheese. The pot is then filled with tomato sauce. There is also a pasta variant, with pasta being used instead of vegetables. The "fasting" variant, which is vegan, replaces meat with mushrooms or a mix of sautéed onions and rice.
In the rest of the Balkans, the top layer is often a custard: this is the version introduced in the UK by Elizabeth David's Mediterranean Cookery and where it remains as the "classic" presentation. Grated cheese or bread crumbs are often sprinkled on top.
In the Levant, moussaka is a cooked dish made up primarily of tomatoes and eggplant, similar to Italian caponata, and is usually served cold as a mezze dish. In Lebanon, it is based on eggplants, tomatoes and chickpeas, and is often eaten hot.
- Karnıyarık – recipe comparable to moussaka, popular in Turkey
- Tepsi Baytinijan – recipe comparable to moussaka, popular in Iraq
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