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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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October 29 2011

Primal Moussaka

By Worker Bee
90 Comments

Inspired 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!


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.

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.

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.

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


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90 thoughts on “Primal Moussaka”

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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!

  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.

  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.

  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?

    1. 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.

    2. 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…

    3. would you mind giving me the eggplant parm recipe or direct me to the website? Thanks

  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!

  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…

  7. Haven’t had moussaka in ages — will be trying it soon. I really like the idea of yogurt topping.

  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!

    1. Honey-tree make sugar-free honey which might help. But you have to buy a case.

  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”…

    1. 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. 🙂

  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?

    1. 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.

      1. I also think eggplants have a bitter taste, but not when I do what Karen says. It DOES take the bitterness off the eggplant 🙂

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

  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.

  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.

  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. 🙂

  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.

  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!!!

      1. 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!

        1. I’d love to find out what you wind up doing. Chips are my major weakness!

  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.

  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!

  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.

  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!

  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…..

  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!

  22. LOVE Greek food. Can’t wait!!! I still have some grocery money left for this week….

  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!

    1. 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.

  24. I am making this today with a topping of pureed cauliflower, yogurt, eggs and goat cheese.

  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!

  26. Made this tonight, it was delicious!! Very yum, even got the picky boy to eat it. Thanks, Mark!

  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. K??? ????? (bon appetite) !!

  28. Made something very similar but used whole milk ricotta in place of the greek yogurt. Delicious

  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!

  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!

  31. Anybody have an idea for a tomato substitute in this recipe? I can’t eat them.

  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.

    1. That was my plan, too. I am not a big kale fan, but I with throw spinach in mostly anything.

  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.

  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.

  35. Made this two nights ago with double lamb. It is out of this world!
    Thanks Mark!

  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!

  37. I made this and it looks exactly like the recipe. A little work but really nice dish.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  41. I made this last night and it was delicious! Of course I’ve never had real moussaka so I can’t compare.

    The only thing I did different was to use a can of tomato paste because I only had one tomato. It was a heavy dish, but very satisfying.

    I’m about to have it again for lunch!

  42. My wife and I love fried eggplant. I like the idea of this recipe. Is there a way to replace dairy products to something else? She is allergic to dairy and tomatoe. Any suggestion?

  43. The yoghurt/egg topping is the standard recipe in Bulgaria. Actually there is no cheese needed at all (Bulgarians alomost exclusively use feta cheese anyway -> and that goes into the salad).

    But to get the real balkanese taste you need the mixed herbs “Tschubritza” 😉
    Words cannot describe them.

  44. Made this for dinner last night and it was amazing. Added a little extra cinnamon to bump up the flavor, but other than that followed the recipe to the letter.

    This morning we warmed up the leftovers and it was even better!!

  45. Made this with venison mince and it was fantastic. Much leaner than lamb and adds a lovely depth of flavour. YUM!

  46. I made this last night but used slabs of zucchini instead of eggplant because I *hate* eggplant. It was divine. And my non-veggie eaters didn’t even notice the snuck-in kale. WIN.

  47. i tried this on the weekend, it is divine. I didn’t have any kale so i used grated zuccini.

  48. Tried it… Didn’t particularly like it

    The sauteing of the eggplant was a real chore as well… I think I would broil them if I ever tried this again.

    1. Try cutting up smaller pieces of eggplant, that is what I did and it was easy to sauté them all together and it came out great.

  49. I can’t eat dairy, so I subbed the yogurt for equal amounts of canned coconut milk. Surprisingly, it didn’t give the dish a coconuty flavour and I still got that bechamel creamy good topping.

    My husband loved this… I owed him a yummy greek dish after we had to walk out of a greek restaurant when they couldn’t accommodate to gluten free. Thanks for this great recipe 🙂 One of my new favs.

  50. my mom used to make eggplant cassarole with saltine crackers, eggplant, milk plus other ingrediants. does anyone know the rest of the recipe? i don’t remember any meat or tomatoe.

  51. I love making primal moussaka — but in place of the olive oil that is called for in the recipe, I use ghee to brown the eggplant. Another change we made that is actually exceptional is using my homemade lemon-coconut mayonnaise in place of the eggs and cheese in the crust. YUMM

  52. Made this tonight minus the yogurt topping, and used swiss chard that we had in the garden instead of kale – yum!

  53. Anyone see my big fat greek wedding? “omg your eating moose kaka?!” and everyone laughs at her… lol!

  54. I stumbled upon this in the morning; and made it for dinner. This is a great recipe –although I subbed broccoli for kale. All the picky eaters at the table asked for seconds.

  55. A bunch of Kale is ALOT of Kale? Mine turned into green goop….

  56. just tried this and in simmer stage but its total liquid and looks nothing like the photo. was i supposed to drain the can of tomoatoes? Bummed as I have an hour into this already:-(

  57. This was truly delicious. Thanks so much! (Btw, I took your suggestion from another post and subbed red wine for the water.)

  58. I made this dish tonight and it was excellent. I made a few changes, but without having made the recipe as is, I can’t say that they are necessarily improvements, but I can certainly vouch for my version:
    For the topping I added 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, also added allspice in addition to the nutmeg and blended in the grated Parmesan. I whipped the eggs until foamy before adding the cheese and yogurt.
    For the eggplant, I fried in bacon grease instead of Olive Oil. And for the filling, I used 1/2 the called for tomatoes and triple the called for spices. I also used 1/2 lb ground beef and 1/2 lb ground pork.
    I served it with a salad of arugula, diced apple, pomegranate seeds and goat cheese w/ balsamic vinaigrette and a good Sangiovese. Heaven.

  59. This recipe was awesome!! I added spinach to the meat too! The best part is that the toddlers LOVED it!! SOOOOO good!!!

  60. Made the recipe tonight. Here are my modifications:
    1.25 lbs beef; only used just over 1/2 bunch of kale; used 25 oz jar of marinara sauce; added 1 shallot instead of onion/garlic.
    Filling tasted great (though didn’t look it) – I would up the spices next time. I would use drained diced tomatoes plus some tomato paste. My filling was watery so no water added to kale/tomato puree. I had some small local eggplants and they were barely enough for this recipe – I would use more next time. Topping tasted great but was pretty brown at 35 minutes so I stopped the baking there. Overall a great recipe!!

  61. I just want to say a big thanks for this recipie. I’m relatively new to Paleo but a keen cook. This is one of my favourite Paleo dishes. I have just popped one in the oven it’s for my wife to take to girls lunch. I bet they will not even know they are eating Paleo. We have made this several times and I love it, all the comments about being to wet yes that’s why cooking is a skill just reduce it more and do let the finished dish rest before serving. Thanks brilliant dish and One of May favourite bookmarks.

  62. Has anyone tried making this the night before and then baking it right before serving? I have made this a million times and I love it but I am frequently time crunched in the evenings. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated

  63. Hey Mark, I was looking for a primal version of bechamel, but not necessarily non-dairy. Eureka, your yogurt idea is brilliant. I used drained SCD 24 hour fermented yogurt instead of Greek. Perfect!!