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When Rick Martinez set out to develop this moussaka recipe, he opted to use eggplant, lamb, and tomatoes. His then fellow senior food editor Chris Morocco wasn’t convinced. Chris’s platonic ideal of the dish is tomato-free, relying on layers of potato, eggplant, and ground beef. So it goes with comfort food in every culture, says Rick; everyone has their own version. In Turkish kitchens, zucchini can stand in for eggplant slices. Other versions feature toasted breadcrumbs or creamy lentils.

Greek moussaka, like this one, with its pillowy top of creamy béchamel sauce, is the best-known version in the US. Like lasagna Bolognese, this is a project recipe best reserved for a weekend, but none of the techniques are complicated. Instead of frying the ½-inch thick slices of eggplant in tedious batches, Rick saves you time (and paper towels) by baking them. If you’d like to break the prep up over a few days, the ground meat and tomato sauce can be cooled and refrigerated for up to three days, and the white sauce or béchamel (technically a mornay since there’s cheese) for up to two. Once assembled and baked, the golden brown moussaka is a stunner, so choose a baking dish you won’t mind bringing straight to the table for everyone to see.

While it’s cooling, make this Greek salad. Its crunchy green pepper and cucumbers are just the things to balance out the meal.


8 servings

Eggplant and Lamb


garlic cloves, finely grated, divided


cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil


Tbsp. chopped mint, divided


Tbsp. chopped oregano, divided


medium eggplants (about 3½ lb. total), sliced crosswise into ½”-thick rounds

tsp. kosher salt, plus more


tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more


lb. ground lamb


medium onions, chopped


3″ cinnamon stick


Fresno chiles, finely chopped


Tbsp. paprika


Tbsp. tomato paste


cup dry white wine


28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes

Béchamel and Assembly


Tbsp. unsalted butter


cup all-purpose flour

cups whole milk, warmed


tsp. kosher salt


oz. farmer cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)


oz. Pecorino or Parmesan, finely grated (about 1¾ cups), divided


large egg yolks, beaten to blend


  1. Eggplant and Lamb

    Step 1

    Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 475°. Whisk half of the garlic, ½ cup oil, 1 Tbsp. mint, and 1 Tbsp. oregano in a small bowl. Brush both sides of eggplant rounds with herb oil, making sure to get all the herbs and garlic onto eggplant; season with salt and pepper. Transfer eggplant to a rimmed baking sheet (it’s okay to pile the rounds on top of each other) and roast until tender and browned, 35–45 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400°.

    Step 2

    Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a large wide pot over high. Cook lamb, breaking up with a spoon, until browned on all sides and cooked through and liquid from meat is evaporated (there will be a lot of rendered fat), 12–16 minutes. Strain fat through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean small bowl and transfer lamb to a medium bowl. Reserve 3 Tbsp. lamb fat; discard remaining fat.

    Step 3

    Heat 2 Tbsp. lamb fat in same pot over medium-high (reserve remaining 1 Tbsp. lamb fat for assembling the moussaka). Add onion, cinnamon, 2½ tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and translucent, 8–10 minutes. Add chiles and remaining garlic and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot, until onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add paprika and tomato paste and cook until brick red in color, about 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced and no longer smells of alcohol, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and break up with a wooden spoon into small pieces (the seeds will shoot out at you if you’re too aggressive, so start slowly—puncture the tomato, then get your smash and break on!). Add lamb and remaining 1 Tbsp. mint and 1 Tbsp. oregano and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is evaporated and mixture looks like a thick meat sauce, 5–7 minutes. Pluck out and discard cinnamon stick.

  2. Béchamel and Assembly

    Step 4

    Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium until foaming. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until combined, about 1 minute. Whisk in warm milk and bring sauce to a boil. Cook béchamel, whisking often, until very thick (it should have the consistency of pudding), about 5 minutes; stir in salt. Remove from heat and whisk in farmer cheese and half of the Pecorino. Let sit 10 minutes for cheese to melt, then add egg yolks and vigorously whisk until combined and béchamel is golden yellow.

    Step 5

    Brush a 13×9″ baking pan with remaining 1 Tbsp. lamb fat. Layer half of eggplant in pan, covering the bottom entirely. Spread half of lamb mixture over eggplant in an even layer. Repeat with remaining eggplant and lamb to make another layer of each. Top with béchamel and smooth surface; sprinkle with remaining Pecorino.

    Step 6

    Bake moussaka until bubbling vigorously and béchamel is browned in spots, 30–45 minutes. Let cool 30 minutes before serving.

    Do Ahead: Moussaka can be baked 1 day ahead. Let cool, then cover and chill, or freeze up to 3 months. Thaw before reheating in a 250° oven until warmed through, about 1 hour.

    Editor’s note: This recipe was originally published in September 2017. Head this way for more of our favorite casserole dishes →