What is Moussaka And Is It Good For You?

The Ottoman Empire was comprised of many cultures and it left behind an extremely rich and abundant cuisine heritage. One of the very popular dishes, especially in Turkey and the Balkans country is Moussaka. Moussaka is a layered casserole dish usually based on eggplant or potato foundation with minced meat added. Moussaka can often be covered with Béchamel sauce for taste and aesthetics.

The work Moussaka comes from Greek work mousakas which itself has Turkish and Arabic origins and in rough translation means chilled. Moussaka has spread like wildfire through all the countries that used to be a part of the Ottoman Empire, and while the ingredients used and the process of preparation may differ, the dish is served from Egypt to Albania and from Turkey and Greece to Serbia. As with many dishes, it can be difficult to determine who exactly invented moussaka or when it was first cooked. Thirteenth-century source of Baghdad cookery book contains a recipe very similar to the modern day moussaka, suggesting that moussaka may have Arabic origins.

What Country is Moussaka From?

The modern day moussaka, however, is known as a Greek dish. It was first cooked by the Greek cooks during the Ottoman occupation era and has remained a part of the everyday cuisine in Greece to this day, with some minor twerks.

What is Moussaka? A plate of Greek moussaka.

The first written records of moussaka come from 19th century Greece and Turkey when the dish was extremely popular and was made with eggplants and minced meat, long before the Béchamel sauce was added as a regular part of the dish.

What is Moussaka Made From?

Moussaka is a layered dish, consisting in its most basic form of a layer of eggplant or potato and a layer of minced meat. In 1920, a Greek cook by the name of Nikos Tselementes first added the Béchamel sauce layer to the dish and thus created the modern day Greek moussaka. The eggplant layer is made of eggplant sautéed in olive oil. The middle layer of minced meat uses minced lamb meat that can be cooked with tomatoes, garlic and onions as well as various spices.

Greece is of course not the only place you can eat moussaka on a regular basis. Other Balkans countries in particular, such as Bosnia, Serbia, Albania and Macedonia are also big consumers of moussaka. The recipe tends to differ somewhat in these countries to the Greek one. The middle layer uses potatoes instead of eggplant for the most part. The bottom layer contains minced pork or beef meat while the Béchamel sauce is usually replaced with a mix of eggs and yogurt.

What is Moussaka Made From? A bowl of cooked greek moussaka.

As most other dishes, modern times have seen the introduction of a vegetarian moussaka. Those who do not eat meat often simply replace the minced meat layer with a layer of mushrooms or sautéed onions and rice.

Other versions of the dish include a Romanian version that can include cabbage instead of eggplant and more vegetables mixed with some bread crumbs. Egyptian and Levant versions can often be served completely cold as mezze similar to caponata. 

Nutrition in Moussaka

What is moussaka when we break it down? What kind of nutritional implications does eating moussaka have? These are some of the questions that might pop in your mind if you are dieting or a professional athlete who wants to know what he is putting in his body. From a nutritional standpoint, moussaka is certainly not “healthy”. Much like lasagna, it contains lots of calories, carbohydrates and fats. Here is some breakdown to inform you on what a standard Greek moussaka will contain:

  • Calories: A single cup of well-prepared moussaka will contain over 500 calories, which is over a quarter of the recommended daily calorie intake. This is very high and you should be very careful eating moussaka if you are dieting or if you generally have problems with body weight. Still a little slice of delicious moussaka is allowed for anyone, as long as you remember to hit the gym and burn some of those calories off.
  • Protein: Not all about the nutrition in moussaka is negative. Minced mean contains lots of protein and a serving of the dish may provide as much as 30 grams of protein, an amount equal to 30% of the recommended daily intake even if you weigh 100 kilograms. The protein in moussaka will help build muscle so as long as you burn of the carbs and the fats, moussaka is fine to eat.
  • Carbohydrates: Carbs are one of the main things that fuel our every motion. Too many carbs, however, and we end up fat. Moussaka is very rich in carbs as eggplant, potatoes and Béchamel will all contain high amounts. There are about 30 grams of carbs in a serving of moussaka, so just make sure you know how you will spend them after eating moussaka. Tip: Sleeping after the meal will be less effective than running a few miles.
  • Fats: Moussaka will contain more fat than carbs or protein. A serving that has 30 grams of protein will at the same time have 40 grams of fat in it. A single serving will thus contain well over 50% of the recommended daily fat intake, which is of course not a good thing. Still, if you are willing to burn some of it off and take it easy on the other meals, there is nothing wrong with indulging in this tasty dish.

Conclusion

If you read this article you have learned what moussaka is. This layered casserole dish is served on a regular basis all across the Balkans and the Middle East and has been a crucial part of the Greek kitchen. The dish is super rich in fats and carbs, so needs to be eaten in moderation, but it is certainly one of the most delicious foods you will try in a while and missing on a slice of moussaka when visiting Greece will be like missing seeing the temples in Athens.

Nutrition in Moussaka, a plate of moussaka on a white plate.

Image Credits

Images used on creative commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Image One by Shadowgate – https://www.flickr.com/photos/shadowgate/3878801640/

Image Two by CTOZurich – https://www.flickr.com/photos/cyprustourismch/9669404809/

Image Three by the oponatix – https://www.flickr.com/photos/opoponax/6813471348/

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