If there was ever a dish proven to feed your soul – as well as your stomach – it would be moussaka. A colourful and uplifting aubergine-based Greek dish, moussaka transcends the seasons. It gives you that Mediterranean splash of summer sunshine that is usually reserved for fresh salads. Yet with just as much ease, the moussaka is also the ultimate in hearty comfort food, and you could smugly tuck into a plate of this winter warmer on a drizzly day.
It's an elusive creature. But you'll find it topping menus all over the world – including here in the Netherlands, with places like Olympia Greek Dining, Sirtaki, and Food & The City serving it up rain or shine.
People may play with proportions and give it their own personal twist from time to time, but you can rely on the moussaka to remain relatively unchanged. The principle ingredient is the aubergine, which forms the foundation of this delicious layering game.
Aubergines are also notorious for their sponge-like qualities, absorbing anything in about a 100-metre radius – which works wonders for the moussaka. This is exactly what you want here, so that the vegetable soaks up all of the rich tomatoes, the creamy béchamel sauce, the garlic and paprika – as well as all those rich meat juices, if you've included lamb or beef.
Moussaka's usually considered a Greek dish, but it actually has Arabic influences, as Arabs first brought the aubergine to Greece. In fact, though the word is certainly Greek-sounding today, 'moussaka' evolved from the Arabic word, meaning 'to moisten', referring to the aubergine itself.
But while some like it hot, others like to play it cool. In the Levant, the aubergine is stewed sweetly with tomatoes – much like an Italian caponata – and often includes chickpeas, before being served as a cold mezze dish. In Egypt, they're even more committed to the cold, letting the cooked moussaka chill for up to 48 hours to allow all the flavours soak in, serving it up as a chilled tasty treat.
However, we're fans of the bright and heart-warming temperament of a hot plate of moussaka. And this is exactly how you'll find it at Food & The City – they keep things traditional here, rustling up their classic version with beef, eggplant, potatoes, feta cheese and béchamel sauce.
They keep things classy at Olympia Greek Dining too, but vegetarians can get in on the fun here. Their Chortofago Mousaka has our adored layered eggplant, but subs in zucchini, potato and mushrooms before topping with béchamel and baking to golden perfection – making the most of the Mediterranean vegetables.
At Sirtaki, you get all of this and more. And while we thought the traditional moussaka is hard to beat, when you've got 12 extra topping options to choose from it's taken to a different level. Go for extra feta cheese or halloumi if you're not feeling too adventurous, but if you're in the mood to go all-out, pile on some chicken giros, more grilled vegetables or spicy Greek sausage.
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