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This gluten-free lamb moussaka is a delicious oven-baked dish with a combination of seasoned minced lamb, lentils & onions, followed by layers of sliced eggplants and potatoes, and topped with plenty of gooey feta cheese sauce.
Think of lasagne, but without the pasta sheets, instead, it is packed with layers of low-carb ingredients and nutritious vegetables.
Moussaka is a popular Middle Eastern dish, particularly in Greece where there are many ways of assembling and seasoning Moussaka. I am sharing with you my family’s favourite version of gluten-free Moussaka with the addition of brown lentils and feta cheese sauce. It may not be a traditional Moussaka recipe, but it is a good take on this classic and will not disappoint in flavour!
Who could forget that iconic movie scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when a young Toula is teased in her school canteen for eating homemade Moussaka (or as those mean girls called Mousse Caca!!) for lunch while her peers were eating boring sandwiches? I’m sure many of us would have joined Toula for a taste of her family’s moussaka!
ABOUT EACH LAYER
There are several steps in this recipe, but worth all the hard work to make this comforting dish, plus it’s a great make-ahead meal with potentially plenty of leftovers!
Potato layer (first layer)
Either waxy or floury potatoes can be used, as long as they don’t overcook and become too soft and mushy. Bear in mind that the potatoes will cook further in the oven when added to the Moussaka.
Lamb mince mixture (second layer)
Lamb is the most traditional meat to use in Moussaka. I believe its strong flavour powers through the eggplant, potatoes and cheese sauce, giving that authentic richness associated with Moussaka.
However, not every country has lamb mince readily available. I was lucky to find a mini lamb roast on sale which I sent through my mincer to give me a decent lamb mince mixture.
Substituting with a good-quality beef mince would be my next choice to use in Moussaka.
The meat is seasoned with a homemade Moussaka seasoning that is easy to whip up using regular dried herbs and spices.
The lamb mince mixture can be made ahead of time, covered and chilled for a maximum of 2 days before assembling and baking the moussaka.
Eggplant layer (third layer)
Eggplant or aubergine has a knack for absorbing lots of flavours, but that includes oil. Which is why I would refrain from frying the eggplant slices. Oven-baking or grilling them under a grill/broiler or on a skillet pan are healthier cooking options. The eggplants may seem dry after cooking, but as they are layered over the lamb mince in the casserole dish, they will soften up, absorbing the meat sauce.
Feta cheese sauce (Top layer)
This is basically a Bechamel sauce – a white Roux (butter, flour & milk) mixed with cheese, but in this dish, Feta cheese is added to give the sauce some extra Greek flavour. Eggs are added towards the end of cooking to give it stability and hold its shape, plus add some richness to the sauce.
Crumbling some extra feta and sprinkling breadcrumbs completes this dish with some extra flavour and crunch.
How to get those perfect slices
How many times have you excitedly shown off your baked lasagne, cottage pie or any layered casserole in its baking dish to your diners, to be then disappointed with serving up each portion as mush?
Unfortunately, there is no way of getting around this if you want to serve Moussaka straight from the oven to the table. You need to wait! From 30 minutes minimum (for semi-intact portions) to ideally, overnight.
By chilling overnight, you are guaranteed perfect slices that you see in cookbooks or restaurants. As a bonus, the flavours will improve overnight, so making this the day before is not such a bad idea after all!
Moussaka derived its name from the Arab word, musakhkhan, which means heated. It is believed that the eggplant was introduced to the Greeks who turned out so many eggplant dishes such as the infamous Moussaka.
Prepare the eggplant and potato layer while the lamb mince is slow cooking.
Make the feta cheese sauce just before assembling the moussaka so that the sauce is warm and easy to spread as the top layer.
Gluten-Free Lamb Moussaka
- 1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves or halve the amount if using dried oregano
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- a pinch of ground cloves
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Lamb mince mixture
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped finely
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 450 g lamb mince, use beef if you prefer
- 150 ml red wine
- 350-500 ml store-bought or or homemade beef or vegetable stock
- 100 g tinned brown lentils, drained
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp cornflour Known as cornflour in the UK and corn or maize starch in the USA
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley leaves, chopped finely
- 1 large eggplant, sliced in half and cut lengthways,1 cm thick
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 large potatoes, peeled and sliced lengthways 1 cm thick
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp white pepper
- a pinch of salt
Feta cheese sauce
- 2 tbsp butter
- 3 tbsp store-bought or homemade gluten-free plain flour
- 300 ml milk, warm
- a pinch of nutmeg
- a pinch of white pepper
- 200 g Feta cheese, crumbled
- 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tbsp Feta cheese, crumbled
- 2 tbsp store-bought or homemade gluten-free breadcrumbs
- Olive oil, to drizzle
- Fresh oregano or parsley leaves, to garnish
- Measure and mix all the ingredients for the moussaka seasoning. Set aside.
- Heat a large cast iron or regular pan on medium heat and add the olive oil.
- Add the chopped onion and minced garlic, stirring often for 5 mins.
- Increase the heat slightly and add the minced lamb, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon. Fry and stir for 5 mins, or until the mince no longer appears pink.
- Sprinkle the homemade moussaka seasoning mix over the minced lamb, fry and stir for 2 mins.
- Pour in the red wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to release any residue from the meat or onions.
- Add the lentils, tomato paste, bay leaf and cornflour. Mix in well.
- Pour in the beef or vegetable stock, lower the heat to medium-low and cook slowly for 40 mins. Add more stock if the mixture appears too dry during the slow cooking. *Tip: This is a good time to start preparing the eggplant and potatoes.
- The lamb mince mixture should have some liquid, as indicated in the photo. Sprinkle some fresh chopped parsley at the end of cooking. Set aside on the lowest setting or if making ahead of time, cover and chill to assemble later or the next day.
Eggplant layer *
- Cut the eggplants into 1 cm slices and place them next to each other on a large plate or tray.
- Sprinkle some salt over the sliced eggplants and leave them for 30 mins.
- With a paper kitchen towel, wipe the excess water and salt that has seeped out of the eggplant. This removes any bitterness and dries them out slightly after removing their excess liquid.
- Heat a large griddle pan to medium heat. Brush some olive oil and place the slices on the pan or tray to grill for a few minutes on each side.
- Alternatively, lay them out flat on a baking tray, brush them with some oil and roast them for 15 mins, flipping them over halfway.
- Remove the eggplant to a kitchen paper-lined plate to absorb any excess oil and set aside.
Potato layer *
- Slice the potatoes lengthways 1 cm thick and them to salted cold water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and continue cooking the potatoes for 15 mins or until slightly soft when poked with a knife. Try not to over-cook the potatoes, as the idea is to keep their shape when assembling the Moussaka, plus the potatoes will cook further absorbing the Moussaka flavours.
- Drain and pat dry with some kitchen paper or a tea towel.
- Sprinkle the ground nutmeg, white pepper & salt over the potato slices. Set aside.
Feta cheese sauce
- Melt and stir the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan.
- Add the flour and stir for 2 mins.
- Gradually pour the warm milk and stir until it becomes a smooth, thick sauce. It should easily coat the back of a spoon.
- Season with nutmeg and white pepper.
- Turn off the heat, remove the saucepan from the heat and add the Feta and Parmesan cheese. Stir well.
- Add the egg yolk/s to the sauce and whisk or mix well.
Assembling the Moussaka
- Grease your chosen casserole dish, either round or rectangular shape.
- Lay the potato slices snugly at the bottom of the dish.
- Pour the lamb mince mixture on top.
- Arrange the eggplant slices snugly over the lamb, overlapping if necessary.
- Cover the eggplant layer with the feta cheese sauce.
- Crumble the feta cheese and sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top of the feta cheese sauce.
- Drizzle some olive oil over the top.
Baking the Moussaka
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
- Bake the moussaka on the middle shelf for 30 mins. If the top begins to brown too quickly, cover the dish with some foil to prevent it from over-browning.
- Allow the baked moussaka to cool down for a minimum of 30 mins before serving. This allows the moussaka to remain semi-intact when served.
- To get precise square or rectangular portions that are not collapsing or oozing meat juices etc, you will need to be patient and wait for the moussaka to cool down completely and then reheat each portion either in the oven or microwave. I often make the moussaka the day before to make serving easier & attractive.
- Garnish with some fresh oregano or parsley leaves.
- Keeps chilled for 3 days (2 days if the lamb mince was made the day before).
- Suitable to freeze in portions. Needs to be defrosted before reheating.
- Reheat in a moderate oven (covered with foil) or in the microwave.