Winner of the James Beard/ KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year 2000 and Winner of the Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food 2000.
 
 
November 19, 2017
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Mangia Bene

    Moussaka (the stress is on the last syllable) is a baked lamb and eggplant casserole covered with a thick layer of bechamel sauce that becomes golden and crusty. It can be made with other ingredients besides lamb and eggplant, using beef, or vegetables such as zucchini or potatoes. Moussaka is the best known of all Greek foods. Greeks believe that moussaka was introduced when the Arabs brought the eggplant, although Arabs, especially in Lebanon, think of it dish as a Greek dish. Moussaka is also found in Turkey.

    No one knows what the origin of moussaka is but the following recipe from the thirteenth- century Arabic cookbook known as the Baghdad cookery book was proposed by one food historian as the ancestor of moussaka.

    Maghmuma or Muqatta'a

Cut fat meat small. Slice the tail thin and chop up small. Take onions and eggplant, peel, half-boil, and also cut up small: these may, however, be peeled and cut up into the meat- pot, and not be boiled separately. Make a layer of the tail at the bottom of the pan, then put on top of it a layer of meat: drop in fine-ground seasonings, dry coriander, cumin, caraway, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. On top of the meat put a layer of eggplant and onion: repeat, until only about four or five fingers' space remain in the pot. Sprinkle over each layer the ground seasonings as required. Mix best vinegar with a little water and a trifle of saffron, and add to the pan so as to lie to a depth of two or three fingers on top of the meat and other ingredients. Leave to settle over the fire: then remove.

   It seems likely that the Greek moussaka has Arab origins and is related to the Levantine musakhkhan, with the word moussaka perhaps derived from this Arab word.