Moussaka (/mˈsɑːkə/, UK also /ˌmsəˈkɑː/, US also /ˌmsɑːˈkɑː/) is an eggplant- or potato-based dish, often including ground meat, which is common in the Balkans and the Middle East, with many local and regional variations.

A dish of Egyptian Greek moussaka
CourseMain course
Place of originEgypt, Greece, Middle East (cooked salad form), Levant
Region or stateThe Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean
Serving temperatureHot or cold
Main ingredientsEggplant or potatoes, minced meat

The best-known version in Europe and the Americas is the Greek variant created in the 1920s by Nikolaos Tselementes. Many versions have a top layer made of milk-based sauce thickened with egg (custard) or flour (béchamel sauce). In Greece, the dish is layered and typically served hot. Tselementes also proposed a vegan variant for orthodox fast days. Romania also has a vegan version that replaces meat with mushrooms or a mix of sautéed onions and rice.

The versions in Egypt, Turkey and the rest of the Middle East are quite different. In Egypt, messa'aa can be made vegan or vegetarian as well as with meat; in all cases, the main ingredient is the fried eggplant. In Turkey, mussaka consists of thinly sliced and fried eggplant served in a tomato-based meat sauce, warm or at room temperature. In Saudi Arabia muṣagga‘a is eaten hot, but in other Arab countries, it is often eaten cold, but occasionally hot as well.

Names and etymology

The English name for moussaka was borrowed from Greek mousakás (μουσακάς) and from other Balkan languages, all borrowed from Ottoman Turkish, which in turn borrοwed it from Arabic muṣaqqa‘a (مصقعة, lit.'pounded' or 'cold'). The word is first attested in English in 1862, written mùzàkkà.[1]



Moussaka and Greek salad at a taverna in Greece

Most versions are based primarily on sautéed aubergine (eggplant) and tomato, usually with minced meat, mostly lamb. The Greek version includes layers of meat and eggplant topped with a béchamel ("white") sauce and baked.

The modern Greek version was created by the French-trained Greek chef Nikolaos Tselementes in the 1920s.[2][3] His recipe has three layers that are separately cooked before being combined for the final baking: a bottom layer of sliced eggplant sautéed in olive oil; a middle layer of ground lamb lightly cooked with chopped or puréed tomatoes, onion, garlic, and spices (cinnamon, allspice and black pepper); and a top layer of béchamel sauce or savoury custard.[4]

There are variations on this basic recipe, sometimes with no top sauce, sometimes with other vegetables. Such variants may include, in addition to the eggplant slices, sautéed zucchini (courgette) slices, part-fried potato slices, or sautéed mushrooms. There is a fast-day (vegan) version in Tselementes' cookbook, which includes neither meat nor dairy products, just vegetables (ground eggplant is used instead of ground meat), tomato sauce, and bread crumbs.[4]

Another variant is (melitzanes) papoutsakia (μελιτζάνες) παπουτσάκια (lit.'eggplant, little shoe style') which consists of whole small eggplants stuffed with ground meat and topped with béchamel and baked.

Other countries of Southeast Europe

Potato moussaka prepared in North Macedonia

In Albania,[5] Bulgaria,[6] the former Yugoslavia,[7][8][9] and Romania, potatoes are used instead of eggplant, pork or beef mince, and the top layer is usually milk or yogurt mixed with raw eggs, sometimes with a small amount of flour added. There is also a three-layer version: the bottom layer consists of ground pork and beef, the middle layer of potato slices, and the top layer is typically a custard. Each layer is cooked on its own and layered in a pan and baked until the top is browned.

Typically, the Romanian version is made with potatoes or eggplant or cabbage. The layers start with the vegetable, then the layer of meat (usually pork), then vegetables, until the pot is full. Sometimes bread crumbs are used as a topping, sometimes slices of tomatoes and crushed cheese. The pot is then filled with tomato sauce. There is also a pasta variant, with pasta being used instead of vegetables. The "fasting" variant, which is vegan, replaces meat with mushrooms or a mix of sautéed onions and rice.

In the rest of the Balkans, the top layer is often a custard: this is the version introduced in the UK by Elizabeth David's Mediterranean Cookery and where it remains the usual presentation. Grated cheese or bread crumbs are often sprinkled on top.


In the Levant, moussaka is a cooked dish made up primarily of tomatoes and eggplant, similar to Sicilian caponata, and may also include chickpeas. It may be served cold as a mezze dish, or hot.


The Egyptian version of moussaka is made from layers of fried eggplant immersed in tomato sauce and then baked. A layer of seasoned cooked ground beef is usually added between the eggplant before baking. The dish can be served hot but is usually chilled for a day or so to improve the taste.


Musakka and pilav in Turkey

Turkish musakka is not layered.[10] Instead, thinly sliced eggplant is fried and served in tomato-based meat sauce seasoned with green peppers, garlic and onions.[11] It is generally eaten with pilav and cacık. There are also variants with zucchini (courgettes, kabak musakka), carrots (havuç musakka) and potatoes (patates musakka).

See also

  • List of casserole dishes
  • Bobotie - recipe comparable to moussaka, popular in South Africa
  • Empadão - recipe comparable to moussaka, popular in Portugal
  • Karnıyarık – recipe comparable to moussaka, popular in Turkey
  • PastitsioGreek baked pasta dish
  • Parmigiana - sliced eggplant layered with cheese and tomato sauce and then baked, popular in Italy
  • Shepherd's pie – recipe comparable to moussaka, popular in the United Kingdom
  • Tepsi baytinijan – recipe comparable to moussaka, popular in Iraq


  1. Oxford English Dictionary 3rd ed., March 2003 s.v. (subscription)
  2. Aglaia Kremezi, "Nikolas Tselementes", Cooks and Other People, Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, p. 167: "before Tselementes there was no moussaka, as we know it today"
  3. Kremezi, Aglaia (13 July 2010). "'Classic' Greek Cuisine: Not So Classic". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 16 February 2012. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  4. Νικόλαος Τσελεμεντές, Οδηγός μαγειρικής και ζαχαροπλαστικής, 1930
  5. Mark Zanger (January 2001). The American Ethnic Cookbook for Students. ABC-CLIO. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-57356-345-1.
  6. Leslie Strnadel; Patrick Erdley (January 2012). Bulgaria (Other Places Travel Guide). Other Places Publishing. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-9822619-9-6.
  7. The Balkan Cookbook. Pelican Publishing Company. p. 121. ISBN 978-1-4556-0057-1.
  8. Liliana Pavicic; Gordana Pirker-Mosher (1 January 2007). Best of Croatian Cooking. Hippocrene Books. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-7818-1203-0.
  9. Avani Burdett. Delicatessen Cookbook – Burdett's Delicatessen Recipes: How to make and sell Continental & World Cuisine foods. Springwood emedia. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-4761-4462-7.
  10. Ken Albala (2011). Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 307–. ISBN 978-0-313-37626-9.
  11. "Patlıcan musakka tarifi (Musakka nasıl yapılır?)". MİLLİYET HABER – TÜRKİYE'NİN HABER SİTESİ. Retrieved 2018-04-24.
  • Media related to Musaka at Wikimedia Commons
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