Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
29 Oct

Primal Moussaka

moussaka2Inspired by Greek Moussaka, the flavors in this casserole of layered eggplant and ground meat might sound a little unusual, but it’s a mild dish that’s likely to appeal to everyone at the table. Plus, it’s one of those great meals that taste even better the next day. Overnight, the flavors meld together even more, the texture tastes richer and while the casserole is good hot, it’s not so bad cold, either. Primal Moussaka is the type of dish you’re going to want to eat a few forkfuls of right out of the fridge before warming the rest up.

The silky texture of the eggplant and the warm, savory flavors of cinnamon, allspice and fresh dill mixed in with the meat mimic the taste of the traditional Greek casserole. But there’s a lot that’s different, too. The cheese sauce thickened with flour that tops traditional Moussaka has been replaced with full-fat Greek yogurt that bakes into a surprisingly creamy and dense topping. The trick is mixing the yogurt with eggs and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. There’s a little bit of chopped kale thrown into the casserole (optional, but really tasty) and although the meat can be ground lamb, it doesn’t have to be. The result is a version of Moussaka that actually tastes a little like lasagna, minus the noodles.

Intrigued? Give the recipe a try tonight!

ingredients 24

4-6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 large eggplants, peeled (optional) and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 bunch of kale, chewy lower stems cut off
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed or chopped
  • 1 pound ground meat (lamb is traditional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • olive oil, for sautéing
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

Salting the eggplant is optional, but it will draw out moisture and prevent the eggplant slices from soaking up so much oil. After peeling (optional) and slicing the eggplant, place the slices in a colander. Sprinkle the slices liberally with kosher salt. Let the slices sit for 20-30 minutes until moisture appears on the surface. Rinse the eggplant thoroughly and blot dry.

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add several slices of eggplant to the hot oil at a time and sauté the eggplant slices, turning as necessary, until soft and just lightly browned. Continue heating oil and cooking the eggplant until all the slices are cooked. Set the eggplant aside.

frying eggplant

Boil the kale for 3 minutes. Puree the kale with the tomatoes and 1/2 cup of water in a food processor.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium heat and add onion and garlic. Saute a few minutes then add meat, cinnamon and allspice. Stir, so the meat browns evenly. After five minutes add the dill and the tomato mixture.

Simmer until the sauce thickens, about 30 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

simmering sauce

As the meat cooks, whisk together eggs, yogurt and nutmeg.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a lightly oiled 2-quart square baking dish, place a thin layer of eggplant then cover with the meat. Layer the remaining eggplant on top, then the yogurt. Top with additional grate cheese if desired.

layering ingredients

Bake 45 minutes, or until the top is set and golden brown. Let rest 20 minutes before cutting into the Moussaka.

Primal Moussaka1

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. Moussaka is one of my favorite things to eat, and I haven’t had it in a while. Thanks for this awesome Primal version, definitely going to be in my family’s recipe collection!

    George wrote on October 29th, 2011
  2. Coincidentally, I have been looking for just this recipe: no flour needed to make the traditional bechemel sauce and no potatoes. Thanks for making it easy.

    Debra wrote on October 29th, 2011
  3. This looks great. I actually make lasagna using eggplant slices instead of pasta. I brush them with olive oil and broil them instead of frying them though. The results are pretty similar.

    Michael C wrote on October 29th, 2011
  4. We made primal eggplant parm a few weeks ago and I’m not sure it agrees with me. Not to open up a can of worms, but how do people feel about nightshades and eggplant in particular?

    Abel James wrote on October 29th, 2011
    • I find nightshades don’t agree with me much: joint pain is my primary symptom of having had too much. I find I can tolerate small amounts, though. Not sure if this would qualify as a small enough amount for me.

      deb wrote on October 30th, 2011
    • Yea, definitely stay away from the nightshades as much as possible. I find they upset my stomach, making it feel “acidic”, so to say. For example, I use to love red peppers, but the last time I ate some (I did this over a full week so as to make sure it was the peppers and nothing else), I ended up with a stomach ache and fellings of a panic attack. Weird, I know…

      Hilary wrote on November 1st, 2011
    • would you mind giving me the eggplant parm recipe or direct me to the website? Thanks

      montgomerygirl wrote on December 28th, 2011
  5. My mom used to fry eggplant like in your picture. mmmm, good memories. Fried eggplant is amazing all by itself. I’m sure it’s great in a primal casserole too!

    Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on October 29th, 2011
  6. Sorry to be a party pooper but…YIKES!
    That doesn’t even look appetizing.
    Perhaps I should try it once before judging so quickly…but..dayum…

    Arty wrote on October 29th, 2011
    • OMG…this is sooo good. You have to try it.

      Jon Griffith wrote on January 1st, 2012
    • OMG it’s amazing, you have to try it.

      S. wrote on January 20th, 2013
  7. Haven’t had moussaka in ages — will be trying it soon. I really like the idea of yogurt topping.

    Diane wrote on October 29th, 2011
  8. Thank you so much for posting this! My boyfriend’s heritage is Greek and he loves when I cook any Greek foods (still trying to find a Primal version of Baklava! I think it might be impossible). This looks excellent – thanks!

    Kathleen wrote on October 29th, 2011
    • Let me know when you find primal baklava!

      Michael B wrote on May 3rd, 2012
    • Honey-tree make sugar-free honey which might help. But you have to buy a case.

      Missy wrote on July 24th, 2012
  9. I made something similar to this last week – but no yoghurt topping. I did a casserole with everything in my CSA box (kale, cabbage, onion, etc) & baked with ground veal. seasoned with various indian spices…

    As to Abel James nightshade query, I’m personally on the fence about them. I don’t go out & buy them on a regular basis – I just happen to get an eggplant or pepper in my CSA box periodically. I have some canned tomatoes I use for adding to dishes. I don’t buy fresh toms at the store anymore because they have no flavour. So short answer is “I don’t eat them much”…

    peggy wrote on October 29th, 2011
    • Interesting, thanks Peggy. I love tomatoes personally, but eggplant seems to be a different beast. If it’s an acquired taste, perhaps I shouldn’t make the effort to acquire it. :)

      Abel James wrote on October 29th, 2011
  10. I’d love to cook more with eggplant, but my husband says it always tastes bitter to him. He’s usually gracious about trying everything, and has a diverse and growing palate, but this is different. After trying it 8-10 times, he insists it’s too bitter for him to like. I’ve never noticed this taste and have no idea what he’s talking about. Any clues?

    Karen wrote on October 29th, 2011
    • Try salting the eggplant first. Older eggplants can be quite bitter (brown seeds are a sign of bitterness.) Salt liberally and allow to drain for at least a hour. This forces the bitter liquid from the eggplant and will improve taste significantly.

      Shari wrote on October 29th, 2011
      • I also think eggplants have a bitter taste, but not when I do what Karen says. It DOES take the bitterness off the eggplant :)

        Molaina wrote on January 25th, 2012
    • As per Shari’s comment, it is usually the older eggplants/aubergines that are bitter. Salting does help but in fact it is not the best solution as there will always be a bitter remnant. It is always best to by young eggplants. Our grocer often has baby eggplants which are fantastic when roasted. Get your husband to try some of the other middle eastern eggplant dishes – preferably those made from roasted eggplant eg Imam bayildi. I have found the biggest resistance to eggplant is to the classic fried option but resistance fails when tasting roasted young spicey fruit.

      craig wrote on October 30th, 2011
    • To get rid of light bitterness, shock the eggplant in boiling water and then transfer to ice cold water. However, try getting smaller eggplants. The bigger they are, the soapier and more bitter they taste.

      Milla wrote on October 30th, 2011
    • It’s the seeds thats making the eggplant bitter. Get a really nice grill on the whole eggplant. Like 40-50 mins until the burnt skin cracks off. then peel off the skin being careful not to burn yourself and pull out as many of the seeds as you can as if you were peeling them off tentacles of an octopus. then slice and heavily salt (can be rinsed later)the eggplant will then have a sweet and smokey flavor.

      Jeremy wrote on November 9th, 2011
  11. We’re having a snowstorm on the East Coast. I knew when I saw this recipe this morning I would make it today. Didn’t have lamb, so I subbed ground chicken and whole Muir Glen tomatoes instead of diced. Roasted, rather than friend the eggplant. Absolutely delicious. Can’t wait to try it with lamb next time.

    Julie wrote on October 29th, 2011
  12. This sounds awesome, I know I am going to make that this week. I have most of the minor ingredients, so I’m pretty good to go.

    Dan wrote on October 29th, 2011
  13. I’m Greek, and I have a Paleo/Primal recipe of moussaka too on my blog, based on the original Greek recipe. The flavor is 95% the same as with the moussaka my mother cooks in Greece, because I used (wheat-free) bechamel instead of yoghurt. Mark’s version looks good too though. :)

    Eugenia wrote on October 29th, 2011
  14. Gah! The béchamel sauce is the best part of moussaka!! I’d rather use a innocuous starch like tapioca or arrowroot to thicken instead of yogurt.

    J3nn wrote on October 29th, 2011
  15. you know, 90% of the time i’m in heaven eating primally. i’m pretty happy giving up boring “american” foods, but when i am reminded of middle eastern, asian, and mexican foods and i’m DONE. i went on a 4 day all-mexican spree last week (i actually had to force myself to shut that streak off, cos i woulda just kept going) and then went nuts at a greek restaurant. man, am i stoked to see some primal varieties of ethnic foods. keep ‘em coming!!!

    amy wrote on October 29th, 2011
    • I have yet to find a good primal replacement for tortilla chips or other adequate vehicle for salsa. :( Of course you can put it on meat, but when I’m craving salsa as a snack, I fall for these: http://www.gowaybetter.com/our-better-stuff/sweet-chili/. I know it’s bad!

      Michael B wrote on May 4th, 2012
      • The best I’ve found now is Terra chips. Sweet potato and salsa go surprisingly well together. It has that sweet taste and carby texture that you want with salsa. The exotic root vegetable mix is also good. The only problem is they’re cooked in “canola and/or sunflower and/or safflower oil”. The search continues! I may just have to make my own!

        Michael B wrote on June 13th, 2012
        • I’d love to find out what you wind up doing. Chips are my major weakness!

          Elizabeth wrote on June 13th, 2012
  16. Instead of the yoghurt you could use a 50:50 mix of sour cream and ricotta cheese. It thickens beautifully and my kids go nuts over it in a (zucchini) lasagne.

    alley cat wrote on October 29th, 2011
  17. Just finished a plate full of this. Made it just as it said. It was delicious. Thanks for the recipe. Keep more like this coming!

    Long live Grok!

    Lance wrote on October 29th, 2011
  18. We often make greek food, the favorite beeing papotsakia (meaning “little shoe”. It’s basically the same ingedients as in this recepie, only difference is that you cut the eggplant in half, long side and preboil it in salty water.

    Here in Sweden we are blessed with access to full fat (34%) sour cream making it easy do do a good Low Carb/Paleo style bechamel sauce. Just mix with grated cheese, some nutmeg and white pepper.

    Per Wikholm wrote on October 29th, 2011
  19. YUM! what a coincidence – I just came home yesterday with 10 kilos of organic grassfed beef, some of which is in ground beef form. I also have a batch of grilled sliced eggplant in the freezer … and a huge tub of greek yogurt in the fridge. Now I know what to do with all of it!

    Gydle wrote on October 30th, 2011
  20. I think I’ll have to try this with perhaps a zucchini /summer squash base instead of eggplant. Our nightshade tolerance here isn’t so good.

    Might be interesting to experiment with sweet potatoes as they’d probably work with the cinnamon and allspice. Wouldn’t be proper moussaka but at least another direction to experiment in.

    Another question: would the yogurt not separate? Any time I’ve used yogurt as a topping before baking, it always separates. Maybe as ricotta as someone else suggested…..

    deb wrote on October 30th, 2011
  21. I am, without a doubt, making this, this week! I want to make it today, but we are going out for dinner with the M-I-L tonight, and I have to travel for work Mon-Tues. But Weds or Thurs, YEAH. I love Moussaka (or as the little girl on My Big Fat Greek Wedding said, Moose Caca! lol) and this looks wonderful! Thanks so much!

    Suze wrote on October 30th, 2011
  22. LOVE Greek food. Can’t wait!!! I still have some grocery money left for this week….

    Emily Mekeel wrote on October 30th, 2011
  23. I made this last night – it was delish!! I used chard instead of kale as that what was available. It did turn out with a lot of liquid even after simmering the sauce for a long time. Do you have any suggestions for that? I will be making this again!

    Ann wrote on October 30th, 2011
    • Make sure your pan is shallow and wide to offer as much evaporation as possible. Perhaps don’t add any water during the puree part of the recipe.

      T Hut wrote on October 31st, 2011
  24. I am making this today with a topping of pureed cauliflower, yogurt, eggs and goat cheese.

    Heather wrote on October 30th, 2011
    • Ooh, sounds good – how did it turn out??

      Jamie wrote on November 3rd, 2011
  25. Oh my goodness! This looks so good. I think eggplant is gross + it’s a nightshade, so I will attempt this with zucchini instead. LOOKS DELICIOUS!

    Meagan wrote on October 30th, 2011
  26. Made this tonight, it was delicious!! Very yum, even got the picky boy to eat it. Thanks, Mark!

    Licia Harry wrote on October 30th, 2011
  27. Opa, being Greek this is my favourite dish. My fiancee made a primal version earlier this year using kefalotiri cheese as the topping and very little egg plant. Kαλη ορεξη (bon appetite) !!

    Sotiri wrote on October 31st, 2011
  28. Made something very similar but used whole milk ricotta in place of the greek yogurt. Delicious

    T Hut wrote on October 31st, 2011
  29. Oh, the joy of having an eggplant in the refrigerator that was just waiting for the right recipe. The only change I made was just chopping the kale finely, and adding it raw to the sauce, without the extra water. It cooked while the sauce simmered and thickened. We just finished eating this for dinner, and it was absolutely delicious! Thanks for such a good recipe!

    Stephanie wrote on October 31st, 2011
  30. If you’re already using a nightshade, potato starch with yoghurt, egg and cheese will give it a more bechamel-like structure. That’s how I do it anyways.
    I also don’t mind a few potatoes like in the original as well.
    Btw, where’s the oregano?
    If I learned one thing in greece it is no meal without oregano (except you’re from crete, then mint will do it).
    They even have oregano flavoured potato chips there!

    Franco wrote on October 31st, 2011
  31. Anybody have an idea for a tomato substitute in this recipe? I can’t eat them.

    Amyamm wrote on November 1st, 2011
  32. I made this last night to kick off the 21 day challenge. My only substitution was chopped frozen spinach for the kale. It was absolutely delicious, and my extremely picky boyfriend even ate seconds.

    Jillian wrote on November 1st, 2011
  33. Just made this, it was so great! I loaded it up with pitted olives that I bought at a fresh olive bar. It really made the difference!

    I also used a combination of Lamb and Veal for the meat. Gotta love two meats.

    Dan wrote on November 1st, 2011
  34. Looks tasty :-). I tried cooking the beef and pumpkin recipe last week and it was fantastic. Think I will give this a try at some point this week.

    Tom Parker wrote on November 2nd, 2011
  35. Made this two nights ago with double lamb. It is out of this world!
    Thanks Mark!

    John wrote on November 3rd, 2011
  36. Thank you so much for this recipe , I made it tonight for dinner and it turned out great, the rest of the tribe loved it too!

    Marc wrote on November 3rd, 2011
  37. I made this and it looks exactly like the recipe. A little work but really nice dish.

    Dave Lammon wrote on November 4th, 2011
  38. Moussaka is definitely one of my favorite dishes. We’ve been traditionally eating this dish throughout the years here in the Balkans. I’d only recommend slightly changing the ingredients, and instead of using eggplant, try leeks..it is amazingly delicious..at least that’s how we make moussaka here in the Balkans.

    Lirak wrote on November 5th, 2011
  39. Thank you! I tried making this once, but skipped the bechemel entirely, so it was just lamb and eggplant. It was good, but no substitute for the real thing. This looks alot more authentic.

    Kat wrote on November 7th, 2011
  40. I made this tonight. It was kinda bland, but still pretty good. Definitely drain as much liquid as you can from the tomato-beef mixture. Baking took 50 minutes at 350; I think the yogurt I used wasn’t fattening enough, so there was more liquid that needed to bake off so that the moussaka could set.
    I’d like to make this again, but it took way too long to make (1 hour and 40 minutes prep time, doesn’t include the 50 minutes in the oven). Part of the problem was the sauteeing of the eggplant. Has anyone tried just throwing the eggplant into the casserole without sauteeing? By the way, kosher salting the eggplant for 30 minutes was well worth it; There was at least a couple ounces of water that exuded from the eggplant as a result.

    Shilpa Nicodemus wrote on November 7th, 2011

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