If you’re not familiar with moussaka, you’re in for a real treat.
It’s a Greek classic… a layered comfort dish packed with eggplant, meat, usually some potatoes, and some creamy bechamel. While there are many versions out there, it’s one of those dishes that isn’t strayed from all too often. The meat almost always has some blend of nutmeg, allspice, and/or cinnamon in it, which makes it extra cozy and comforting. Sometimes the eggplant and potatoes are breaded and fried, sometimes they’re kept light and baked. But other than that, people tend to leave this guy pretty straight-forward and traditional… ’cause it’s good just as is.
When it comes to cooking, I usually do things as my yiayia and mom did, so like them, I keep this super simple and light. Roasted veggies and a simple meat mixture.
But, this time I broke the rules with the bechamel.
I have a moussaka recipe on my blog I made years ago- they same one I’ve always made and loved. It’s HERE for those who want to see. I adore it. But then, about a year and a half ago, I created THIS dish- a roasted butternut squash, beef, and cauliflower bechamel layer that I’m in love with. Since creating that dish, I’ve been cauli-bechamel hooked. I put in on everything. For about a year now, I’ve been dying to make a moussaka with it- a twist that is not only delicious, but makes it so this classic comfort dish can be enjoyed by those with dairy allergies too. Oh, and those with gluten allergies also. Yep, this dish is totally dairy-free, grain-free, and sugar-free… BUT you seriously would never even know it. (Note: I get asked about ghee a lot- ghee is often considered dairy-free because the milk solids are removed… read more here if you’d like. Of course if you’d rather use something else, by all means please do.)
Even my mister, who is a grain and dairy-lover loves this dish. And while I try to minimize inflammatory foods in my cooking, I don’t need to have this dairy-free: I just love this new version so much I figure, hey, why not?! I don’t feel like there is any flavor or texture sacrificed here. None. I honestly can’t even tell a difference between this and the classic. And, I don’t feel heavy or weighed down enjoying mass amounts of it. (Yes, masses, I can’t resist.) And for those you cannot tolerate dairy or gluten, it’s a winner for them too. Triple bonus.
(Psst, if you’re not able to have eggs, you can omit the egg in the bechamel… egg helps makes it a little lighter and fluffier, but it is not absolutely necessary.)
I’m not usually one to freeze meals- I never seem to have enough leftovers to do so! But this time, I decided this was a great time to start- I knew I’d want more if this stuff later. So rather than making one large dish, I made two half batches. What would we do with ten pieces of moussaka anyway!? (Ergh, we’d totally eat it all in one sitting is what we’d do. :/ ) But, there are just two of us here, so I made a smaller portion to bake, and made another to keep in the freezer for a lazy night down the road. It worked beautifully. Well except, we ate the entire batch within the first 24 hours. I thought it would last us days, but nope- we had moussaka for dinner that night, and for breakfast the next day. And the last piece for lunch too. And then, we went right to the frozen batch just two days later. Eek. Moussaka monsters over here. :0
Besides the flavor, one thing I love about this dish is that it makes people who don’t traditionally love veggies like eggplant, love veggies like eggplant. It’s a nutrient-packed mess. Eggplant, protein, cauliflower… kiddos will be happily eating more vegetables than they ever thought possible! 😉
Awesome sidenote: Recently, this ranch out in Montana sent me a ton of grassfed cuts to try out. Lucky me, I know! Not only am I stoked to have a pile of high-quality grassfed beef on hand, but it’s from Montana, my old stomping grounds no less!! Pretty pumped to go see the ranch when I’m back in MT this coming summer. The company is called Yellowstone Grassfed Beef– I highly recommend you go HERE and check them out. 🙂
Ohhhhh, AND, it’s not just me who’s lucky. ‘Cause you know what this sweet company has done? They’ve decided to gift you too! Yep. You! If you want to order anything from then between now and May, you’ll get 20% your entire order. Yes, 20% off!! Christmas has continued folks.
Like lasagna, moussaka can be a labor of love. It’s all about timing. While one thing is cooking, prep another. If you do it right, it shouldn’t feel too cumbersome. Regardless, it’s totally worth every ounce of effort put in. Trust me.
Kay kay, enough babble, let’s get to the feastin’!
for veggie layers…
2 eggplant, medium-large in size
3 russet potatoes
drizzle olive oil
salt and pepper
1 lb ground beef (turkey, lamb, or bison work too)
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 cups diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)
2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
drizzle olive oil, 1-2 tbsp
for the cauliflower ‘bechamel’…
1 head of cauliflower (approx 6 cups chopped)
1 cup chicken broth (homemade or good-quality store-bought)
1/4 cup coconut milk (not the light stuff)
1 tbsp ghee (or butter)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper, plus more to taste
1 egg (see note above for egg-free version)
sprinkle of paprika
Preheat oven to 450 degrees
To prep the veggie layers…
Chop ends and discard
Slice eggplant approx 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, as evenly as possible
Lay eggplant slices in a colander and sprinkle generously with salt
Salt helps the eggplant ‘sweat’, which releases excess moisture
Toss ’em around a bit, then let them sit for approx 30 minutes
Meanwhile, prep the taters
Peel each potato, then slice it approx 1/4 inch thick…
try to get them as even as you can for even cooking
(no need to be freakish about it… it’s okay if a few are different here and there) 😉
Lay the potatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer
Brush lightly with olive oil, then sprinkle salt and pepper over the tops
(Alternatively, you can pan-fry them on the stove with a little olive oil)
Bake for approx 15 minutes, until potatoes are cooked
Set aside for now
By now, the eggplant should be good to go…
you’ll likely even be able to see some moisture pulled out over the tops
Rinse the eggplant under cool water- you want to get all that salty moisture outta there
Using a towel, press lightly on the slices to pat them dry
(I usually do this right on the baking sheet)
Layer the eggplant along the baking sheet (I use the same one I had the taters on),
then brush them with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper
Bake for approx 15 minutes, until soft and lightly golden
(Again, alternatively you could pan-fry them on the stove)
When the eggplant is done, lower the oven temp to 350 degrees
While the eggplant is baking, begin the cauliflower bechamel…
Remove the stem and any leaves, then chop (or pull apart) the cauliflower florets
Place the cauliflower in a large pot along with the chicken broth
Cover the pot, then cook over medium heat to steam the cauliflower
This should take approx 15-20 minutes, depending on how large the florets are…
you want them totally soft and cooked through- test by poking with a fork 🙂
Add the cauliflower, along with any remaining broth in the pot, to a blender or food processor
Add coconut milk, nutmeg, ghee, salt, and pepper
Blend until smooth
Taste and adjust seasonings as desired… I typically find I need to nearly
double the salt, pepper, and nutmeg (the more flavor the better in my little opinion!),
but it’s best to start light then add from there
Adding in is a lot easier than taking out 😉
Once you have the flavors how you like, add the egg
Blend until smooth and creamy
To make the meat sauce…
Add oil to a large pot or pan over medium-high heat
Add the onion, parsley and garlic
Cook for a couple of minutes, 1 or 2, just to get the flavors going
Add all of the remaining ingredients (meat, tomatoes, and seasonings)
Cook for approx 10 minutes, stirring every so often, until meat is no longer pink
Once cooked, taste and adjust flavors as desired
Grease a baking dish with ghee or oil
You can either use one large 9×13 lasagna-type dish, or two smaller guys instead
Begin by layering potatoes along the bottom
Overlapping is okay, just try to evenly spread them all out
Top with half the eggplant slices
I usually sift through and save the better-looking half for the top 😉
Top with the meat mixture
Spread it out so it’s covering the whole area evenly
Top with the remaining eggplant slices
Last layer here…
Pour that bechamel over the top, then spread it out, creating an even smooth layer
Totally optional, but I always sprinkle some paprika over the top for color…
A trick my mom taught me way back when 🙂
Remember earlier when I said to lower the oven temp to 350? In case you missed that, do it now 😉
Bake the moussaka, uncovered, for approx 45 minutes, until the top is golden
(If you want it browner, raise the heat right at the end)
Top with some oregano if you’d like, for presentation…
Tip: Let it cool a bit to set before cutting into it,
otherwise you’ll have a sloppy slice instead of a nicely layered square
Devour & enjoy!!
Thanks so much for the Bechamel sauce recipe! Today was my 10th day of whole 30, and was in desperate need of some comfort food…I didn’t have the energy to make the yummy moussaka, but made an oven caserole with sweet potato mash, spinach eand tomato with your Bechamel sauce…Just what I needed! And I’ll definitely give that moussaka a try!
Hi Katrien! Yay, so happy to enjoyed it!! I find it so perfect when I’m craving classic comfort food. 🙂
saved for my Day 29 Whole30 ?????
Hope you enjoy it!!
It took us two hours to make but it was comfort food at its finest!!!! The best 10:30 at night dinner I’ve ever eaten!!! (lol)
Who knew that a whole cauliflower could amount to some awesome beschamel sauce???.
Was funny, we were driving to the Supermarket wonderin’ how to cook eggplant and so I just started googling recipes with egg plant that are whole30 compliant…found your recipe and it look really delicious.
I described it to my girl who was driving and she got more and more interested in it as I read aloud the cooking instructions that we literally tailored our grocery shopping to ensure we had all the ingredients.
She did one minor tweek which was use pumpkin spice instead of all spice and nutmeg.
Your step by step instructions and pics were extremely helpful.
I posted a pic of it on Twitter and referenced your recipe. 5 star healthy food!
Hi!! Ha, yes, it’s a long labor of love indeed! I’m so glad it was worth it though… or at least I hope haha! I am obsessed with cauli-bechamel… it’s seriously so good, annnnnd it’s cauliflower. Who woulda thunk!? Would love to see your version!!
Thanks for trying and posting, I appreciate it!
WOW! You really would never know that the bechamel was made from cauliflower! We LOVE it – this is going to be my go to moussaka recipe from today (which is Whole30 #4 day 21). Thank you.
Thank you so much for the comment- happy you liked it!! 🙂
You write in the beginning of this post that the recipe is dairy free. I scrolled down and saw that you add ghee (or butter) to the cauliflower bechamel. Ghee/butter is dairy as far as I know and will contain lactose, which is what many people have an intolerance to in dairy. I have a friend with lactose intolerance, whom I thought might be interested in the bechamel, but she won’t be able to eat it as you make it. Could you please clarify in the post that the bechamel is not dairy free and if possible, what to use in place of ghee/butter?
Thank you 🙂
Good Morning! This is a great question!! Ghee is considered by nearly all in the Paleo, Whole30, and health communities to be safe for those eating dairy-free, and for about 99% of the lactose-free community. The milk solids are removed, which makes it different than butter in that what remains technically contains no milk. Please see more on the Whole30 site here: https://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/ or on this site here: https://lifehealthhq.com/whole30-ghee/. Hope that helps! 🙂
I agree. Ghee is considered a dairy item to the majority of people (vegans, Orthodox Jews, etc.) and any commercially packaged food item that had ghee couldn’t be labeled “dairy free.” I don’t know anything about Whole30, or why they would consider it dairy-free, but there are people that eat eggs that still call themselves vegan, so it is what it is. Just sub it out with coconut oil or vegan butter and then it would be dairy-free for real.
That aside, There are vegan ice cream recipes with cauliflower as a base. So if you love cauliflower, maybe it’s something worth checking out. I make a lot of cheese sauces with veggies. It’s amazing how it tastes the same without all the negative health issues from actual dairy products.
Thanks for your post. I’m looking forward to trying it out with vegan substitutes of course.
Hi Naomi! Thanks for your thoughtful reply. 🙂
Properly made ghee contains no lactose or casein, so it’s sometimes- in the paleo world anyways- considered a “dairy-free” fat because many folks who cannot tolerate dairy can eat it… it is not however technically dairy-free because as you stated, it is actually made from dairy. Thanks for correcting me there!
Have you ever done the cauliflower bechamel sauce with frozen cauliflower? I haven’t found anything on my quick google search but it seems like it shouldn’t make too much of a difference since you blend it anyways.
This was such an AMAZING dish! It was worth every minute and while it was time consuming, the end result is a symphony of flavors in a bowl. Can’t wait leftovers!
YAY, thanks for letting me know!! 🙂
This meal was fantastic! I followed the recipe to the letter except I doubled the spices in the bechemal. My wife and I are a week into the whole 30 thing and she thought this was the best dish yet. Will definitely make this again!
Wonderful to hear! I too love extra spices. 😉
Wow this tastes incredible! So different from other dishes I have made. Love everything about it. A must have while on Whole30! Thanks for sharing
I have used this bechamel sauce for multiple recipes. The most recent was for a mushroom soup- based on a recipe from Julia Childs’ “Mastering the Art of French Cooking..”
So happy to hear this!! Thanks for sharing!
This was delicious! While I eat some, ideally grass-fed, dairy, I prefer a clean non dairy option. I will not eat vegan cheese with a bunch of garbage and or fillers. I was searching for a lighter moussaka recipe, since I had defrosted ground beef and had eggplants on the counter. I didn’t want something that was loaded with a crazy amount of calories, but was hoping for something delicious that my family would enjoy. It takes just as much work to make something nobody likes as something they do! That being said, this was a really great recipe. Lots of steps, but all quite simple. I used 6 cups of defrosted cauliflower rice and microwaved for 5 minutes with the chicken stock. I am eating for the 2nd time, as I write this and it is even better than it was last night for dinner. The sauce is really remarkable. Delicious. and absolutely NO CAULIFLOWER TASTE!!! While plenty of people make all sorts of things out of versitle cauliflower, much of it tastes like an omlette. Not looking for cauliflower pizza omlette haha. This is a great sauce! I think it could also work really well as an alternative to ricotta cheese in a lasagna with either Zucchini noodles, eggplant noodles or if you eat grain… plain old standard lasagna, but dairy free. THANK YOU FOR SUCH A GREAT RECIPE. Super impressed and that is a huge compliment coming from a really particular person! 5 Stars
I am SO happy to hear this, thank you for the kind compliment! I too love it and find it’s tasty on so many dishes. Thank you for taking the time to let me know your feedback!! Natalie