With a well-recognized name outside of the country, mousakas, along with tzatziki, souvlaki and xoriatiki salad, is a famous representative of Greek cuisine in the eyes of the rest of the world. Still, all this popularity raises the question. How Greek is mousakas and how many different recipes are hidden under its bechamel? In the end what mousakas even mean??
The word mousakas is Arabic and is originated from the word musaqqa whick means «wet» and «notismenos». In free translation this means a juicy food with its sauce. Mousasa is a know food in Middle East, Egypt, Turkey and all the Balkan area. Turkish and Libanese musaka are cooked in pot with vegetables, either with lamb meat chopped like minced meat and either without meat at all. Egyptians cook mousaka with slices of eggplant and tomato without minced meat. Closer to Greek recipe of mousaka is the Persian “magourma” which is a dish with slices of eggplant, onnion and chopped lamb meat.
Greek modern mousaka is a creation of 20 century and is a child of the Sifnian Nikolaou Tselemente. His target was to get rid of the eastern elements from the Greek cuisine and so he add the French mpesamel. His recipe offer another finesse to mousaka that made him famous and loved by the rest of the world.
The first recipes of mousaka in Crete are found in hand-written notebooks that was written in the end of nineteen century. These first recipes received a fast spreading in the urban centers since the recipes were found more and more in the start of 1920 decade. In suburban areas, the mousaka started to be known from the start of twenty century, but it was not still spread in rural areas. This happened mainly because mousakas needed many ingredients and it was not easy for the rural families to gather them and prepare the food. It needed a lot of time too.
They say that mousakas is a combination of low-class and high-class cuisine.
The editions of classic mousaka
Trouble maker but irresistible, mousaka is consists of three chapters: vegetables, minced meat and mpesamel. Its success is hidden on the balance of these three ingredients. The three layers have to be equal without too much mpesamel.
The vegetables can make many combinations in mousaka. Eggplant alone, eggplant with potato, potato alone, eggplant with zucchini and potatos, with or without peppers. Which combination you choose is up to you and your taste.
The secret of eggplant
The ideal cut of eggplant is moderate thickness slices. The cleaning are at striped strips or with the peel, something that makes the mousaka more beautiful and helps the eggplant to stay in one piece when cooked.
My grandma, which was from Constantinople and was elite shef, thought that the eggplant has to be alone without potato. This can result in a more light and gourme mousaka.
Mousaka should not absorb much olive oil. In order to succeed this, you have to let the eggplants for one hour at least in cold salty water. Then dry them and fry them in olive oil, always covered in order to be protected from the splashes that comes out all the time. Then, place them in strainer and let them dry a whole night. The amount of olive oil which gone, makes the mousaka lighter. For an even better result, you cut the slices a bit more thick, brush them with olive oil and cook them for 30 minutes in 180 C.
My secret of taste: Along with the eggplant, i cook or fry 3-4 peppers which i cut in the middle.
The minced meat
*In the classic recipe, the minced meat is from lamb, which fits perfectrly with the eggplant, or a mixture of pork and veal. Nevertheless, it is better to avoid the fat free minced meat. The fat makes the difference.
*According to your taste, you can also add some cinnamon, some allspice or just 1 full spoon from a mixture of spices for pork or chicken.
*Dropping the temperature with white wine gives some more taste.