Earlier this year I was in Athens for the day. After an energetic morning spent climbing the Acropolis my husband and I stopped in the Plaka for something to eat. The Plaka is the heart of historic Athens, a fabulous place to while away some time and eat sensational Greek food. I ordered my all-time favourite Greek dish – Moussaka.

My take on this famous dish may not be the most authentic but it’s easy to put together and tastes delicious. I always find it such a satisfying meal. Aubergine is a firm favourite of mine and you can never go wrong with a flavour-filled meat sauce. As for the béchamel, I’ve been known to say that anything starting with a roux has great possibilities.

I’ve used beef mince in the meat sauce. Lamb mince is more traditional but my husband finds the taste of the lamb mince a little strong. But if you’d prefer lamb then go with that.

This dish is made in three parts, which I realise may seem like a lot of effort but they are all easy and straightforward. Once it’s in the oven you can forget about it for a bit and simply enjoy the aromas that fill your kitchen.

 

Moussaka

Serves 4-5

Meat Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

500g beef mince

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

¾ teaspoon cumin

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

¾ teaspoon allspice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

Salt and pepper

1 x heaped tablespoon tomato paste

1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes

 

Vegetables

3 large potatoes

2 aubergines

 

Béchamel

50g unsalted butter

50g plain flour

500 ml full-fat milk (plus a little extra)

Salt and pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg

2 egg yolks

 

Parmesan cheese for grating over the top

 

When making meat sauces I always brown the meat separately and generally do this first. It also means you can drain off a bit of the excess fat before adding the meat to your dish. So get a pan nice and hot (at this stage I also heat the pan I’m going to make the meat sauce in), add a dash of oil and then your mince. It should start sizzling straight away if your pan is hot enough. Stir it around, breaking up any large pieces until it is all browned. At this stage you can drain off the fat if you wish. Leave it to one side.

Add the olive oil to your pre-heated pan and then the onion. Sauté until soft and translucent and then add the garlic. This should only take a minute or so to sauté. Now add ½ teaspoon each of cumin, cinnamon and allspice. Stir this in for a minute or so and give the spices a chance to sizzle with the onions and garlic.

Next add the browned mince and stir through well. Add the last ¼ teaspoon of cumin, cinnamon and allspice, the fresh thyme and also season at this stage. You do need to be generous because meat sauces need robust seasoning (start with ½ teaspoon salt and a good grind of pepper and then correct once the sauce is cooked).

Stir through the tomato paste and finally the tin of chopped tomatoes.

Lower the heat, cover and let the sauce simmer for half an hour. Take the lid off and leave it to simmer for another five minutes or so to reduce any excess liquid.

While the meat sauce is cooking you can get on with the vegetables. Couldn’t be easier. Peel the potatoes and cut them into ½ cm slices lengthways. Trim each end of the aubergine and then cut into slices of approximately 1 cm, also lengthways.

Cook the potatoes first. In a hot frying pan add olive oil to create a thin layer and place the potatoes in a single layer on the base of the pan (you may need to do this in batches depending on the size of your pan). Sprinkle over some seasoning and let them sizzle for a few minutes on each side until cooked and softened (although don’t overcook them so they start falling apart).

Once cooked transfer them to a plate lined with kitchen paper. Repeat the process for the aubergines – you will need to do this in batches because the aubergine slices are larger. Remember that aubergines soak up oil very easily so you will need more olive oil than you did for the potatoes. Aubergines cook quite quickly so watch closely. Once cooked transfer them to plate lined with kitchen towel.

The final step to make this delicious dish is the béchamel.

On a medium heat add the butter. Once it’s melted and is just starting to sizzle add the flour. Stir the flour vigorously into the butter until it’s fully combined. Now you want to cook this, stirring continuously, for a good couple of minutes to cook off that flour taste.

Have the milk heated and ready to go (I pour it into a glass measuring jug and pop it in the microwave for a couple of minutes). Add the milk slowly at first, stirring the whole time. This is the key to a lump-free béchamel – stir, stir, stir! Once you’ve got a nice smooth paste going you can start adding the milk more freely.

Once all the milk is incorporated, season and then grate over some fresh nutmeg. Have a taste and correct the seasoning if you need to. Bring it just to a simmer and then remove from the heat.

You may have noticed that I’ve seasoned each component of this dish as I’ve made it. When you do this it ensures that your dish will be beautifully seasoned throughout.

At this stage I add a little extra milk if I think the sauce looks too thick – it doesn’t matter if the milk isn't warmed. It also helps to cool the sauce for adding the egg yolks, which you can do now. Give it a good stir until all the egg yolk is smoothly combined. The yolks turn the sauce a gorgeous colour and give it a silky texture.

Okay, it’s now time to construct your moussaka.

You’ll see below the oven dish I’ve used. If you want to use a larger dish and feed more people it’s easy enough to double the recipe.

Lightly oil the dish with olive oil. Layer the potatoes across the bottom of the dish and then layer the aubergine slices on top.

Pour the meat sauce over the vegetables and smooth it out.

Finally, pour over the béchamel and also smooth this out so it covers the meat sauce entirely. Grate over some fresh parmesan cheese.

Place the dish on an oven tray and then bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes. It should be hot and bubbling and golden on top.

Once out of the oven, it’s best to leave it to rest for 10-15 minutes before you start slicing and serving. Torture I know but it does make a difference.

It doesn’t matter how bad your day has been – this will make everything feel better.