Lightened-Up Moussaka {Grain-free w/ Vegetarian Options}

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Lightened-Up Moussaka {Grain-free w/ Vegetarian Option}

After sharing the recipe for my dad’s famous Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Cheese Dip earlier this summer, I realized that I haven’t shared enough Greek recipes here on the site.

Growing up Greek is to grow up loving delicious, traditional, homemade food. I can still remember the smells of my Great Yia Yia’s house, the fragrant stews and sauces, like Fasolakia, simmering that you could smell as you walked up the driveway, fresh herbs drying in the kitchen, the smells of homemade chocolates wafting up the stairs from the basement, where she did her candy-making. It is amazing how I can still tell you exactly what that kitchen smelled like and that was over 20 years ago. When my great grandmother passed away, it was my dad’s parents that moved into the home, carrying on many of the same traditions, Avgolemeno soup, lamb meatballs, pastitsio, spanikopita, dolmades, plus of course, the Greek pastries and all of that good sweet stuff.

Lightened-Up Moussaka {Grain-free w/ Vegetarian Option}

Now that my parents have moved into this home, that was built for my Great Grandparents many years after they moved here from Greece and has been in family since long before I was born, they continue to make many of these amazing traditional foods in the very kitchen that my Yia Yia Faklaris and my Yia Yia Manos once did. My dad makes the best Greek salad dressing around (I will have to share my version of it soon) for the best souvlaki you will ever eat, he can grill up a leg of marinated lamb like it’s no one’s business and he makes a killer rice pudding that will literally have you on the verge of tears, it’s that good. My mom, though she doesn’t have a bit of Greek blood in her veins, she makes incredible pastitsio, amazing Avgolemeno soup and together she and my dad make the best baklava I have ever eaten.

Sadly, going gluten-free nearly 10 years ago now, has meant that I have had to say goodbye to a lot of the traditional foods I grew up on. I have yet to come up with a gluten-free equivalent to phyllo dough, something so integral to so many of my favorite Greek dishes. With that said,  it has taken me nearly 10 years and moving across the country away from my family to come to this – but lately I have been thinking that while I may never have many of those classic Greek dishes as I once knew them, there is no reason I can’t reimagine them. Keeping the classic flavors, but making them gluten-free and trying to generally just lighten them up a bit.

Moussaka, a classic layered eggplant casserole of sorts, was something I always liked, but oftentimes I always found it to be a bit too heavy. Of course, as the eggplant is usually breaded or floured in some way, it almost always contains gluten and it always contains a TON of dairy, too. After hearing from many of you on the Tasty Yummies Facebook page a few weeks back, that you wanted some fun and creative recipes for eggplant, I decided it was time I tackled recreating this classic Greek dish. Moussaka.

Lightened-Up Moussaka {Grain-free w/ Vegetarian Option}

Lightened-Up Moussaka {Grain-free w/ Vegetarian Option}

This Lightened-Up Moussaka is so incredible, it has so much flavor and it is hearty without being heavy or “too much”. To me, it’s comfort food at it’s finest. This Moussaka is totally grain-free, the eggplant is not breaded or floured and it’s grilled instead of fried, so it isn’t soaked in oil. I was even able to recreate a béchamel sauce with olive oil instead of butter and tapioca starch instead of flour. With the exception of a small amount of sheep’s milk Romano cheese, it is dairy-free, so if you have to avoid dairy, you can easily just leave it out. Plus, I even snuck some greens into the recipe, for good measure. Why not, right?

Please don’t let the long list of instructions sway you from making this, it really isn’t all that complicated and in the end when you take a bite of this, you will forget all about the steps it took to get you there. Promise.

Lightened-Up Moussaka {Grain-free w/ Vegetarian Option}
Traditionally Moussaka is made with ground beef and/or lamb. I had some of the grass-fed ground beef that our farmer delivers right to our door step, but ground turkey or chicken would also work. To make vegetarian, you could replace the ground meat with chopped portabello mushrooms and/or walnuts, or even just some cooked lentils, for a yummy “meaty” texture.

Lightened-Up Moussaka {Grain-free w/ Vegetarian Option}

I had the opportunity to serve this Lighten-Up Moussaka to my parents when they were visiting last week and they loved it, which made me so happy. I hope you enjoy this classic Greek dish as much as we do and be on the look out for even more recipes inspired by my family’s recipes. (why oh why have I waited so long to do this?)

Is there a classic Greek dish that you love?

Lightened-Up Moussaka {Grain-free w/ Vegetarian Option}

[print_this]Lightened-Up Moussaka (gluten/grain-free with dairy-free and vegetarian options, paleo-friendly)
serves 6-9


Grain-free Bechamel and Egg Topping:


Prep the eggplant. Peel the eggplants, either entirely or leave strips of peel, giving you a striped eggplant, which I find helps keep them together a bit, but still keeps the moussaka easy to cut into when serving. Slice the eggplant into 1/3-inch thick rounds. Place in a single layer on a paper towel lined baking pan. Sprinkle with sea salt and set aside to let some of the moisture get pulled out. About an hour.

Make the tomato sauce filling. Meanwhile heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over a medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic. Sauté for another minute or two. Add the ground meat (or vegetarian substitute) and cook until lightly browned, breaking it up with a fork. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, ground cinnamon, parsley and red wine. Give it all a good stir. Drop the heat to a medium and allow to simmer, covered, for about 35-40 minutes. At the end, add the baby spinach and salt and pepper, to taste, give it a good stir to incorporate and allow the spinach to wilt. Remove from the heat.

Grill or broil the eggplant. To prepare the eggplant, after it has sat salted for about an hour, take paper towels and blot off any excess moisture and salt. Heat your grill to a medium-high heat. Brush one side of the eggplant rounds with olive oil and place oiled side down on the grill and cook for 3-5 minutes. They should have nice grill marks. When they are done on one side, brush the other side with oil and flip over. When the eggplants are nicely grilled and tender, they are done. Remove from the heat and set aside. To broil, line a pan with aluminum foil. Brush both sides of the eggplant rounds with olive oil. Broil for 3-5 minutes until lightly browned on one side, then flip them over and broil for a few minutes more. They should be tender and slightly browned. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF and grease an 8″ x 8″ baking pan (or something similar in size). Set aside.

Make the béchamel sauce. Heat the non-dairy milk in a small saucepan, to a simmer. Set aside and keep warm. In a medium-sized sauce pan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Once the oil is hot and has a slight shimmer to it, add the tapioca (or arrowroot) starch and a little salt and pepper. Begin whisking together to avoid any lumps. Make sure you don’t burn the starch. After a minute or so, you will have a thick, creamy paste-like sauce. Slowly begin adding in the warmed non-dairy milk. Whisking constantly to blend well and remove any lumps. Increase the heat to a high and bring the mixture to a boil so it thickens. Once thick, add in half of the Pecorino Romano cheese and allow it to melt. Remove the sauce from the heat.

Give the béchamel sauce a minute or two to cool down. Very slowly add the beaten eggs to the mixture, whisking constantly while slowly pouring in. Add the remaining cheese. Set the mixture aside.

Assemble the moussaka.  Add a layer of the eggplant rounds to the bottom of the pan, making sure to layer so there are no holes where you can see the bottom of the greased pan. Next add the tomato sauce on top of the eggplant. Using a spatula flatten and even it out. Then add the remaining eggplant, layering as necessary. Finally, pour the béchamel sauce over the top. It’s totally OK if is starts seeping into the below layers, this actually helps hold it all together. Sprinkle a little ground cinnamon and just a wee little pinch of ground nutmeg over top.

Place the pan in the preheated oven and allow it to bake for 45 minutes, until the top is totally set and it is nice and golden brown. Allow to cool for 15 minutes before cutting into and serving. I serve this alongside a Greek salad, and I serve some up some cubes of high-quality sheep’s milk Greek feta and kalamata olives. Enjoy.

For an even lighter meat version try ground turkey or chicken
To make vegetarian you can use walnut meat, chopped portabello mushrooms, cooked lentils or any other meat substitute that you would like
I went with 1 cup unsweetened plain homemade almond milk and 1 cup full fat organic canned coconut milk
This can be made ahead and reheated, this really lets the flavors come together. Simply reheat in a 350º F oven for about 30 minutes, covering in foil if it begins to brown too much. [/print_this]


Greek Festival Long Beach

Oh and to top this all off, last night we went to the Long Beach Greek Festival, which was amazing. I ate so much amazing Greek food, and drooled over all of the delicious stuff that I couldn’t eat, which made me even more excited to recreate some of my favorite dishes. Such perfect timing.

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17 Responses

  1. The gluten free Greek goddess! That’s what you are! 🙂

  2. I just ate plain old, gluteny, heavy moussaka this weekend! I looooove it, but you are right, it is sooooo filling! I cannot wait to try this recipe!

  3. Beth this dish looks incredible, I’m not going to lie, I’m really not that familiar with Greek cuisine, or at least I don’t think I am. I love the idea of adding in lentils in place of ground meat, genius!!


  4. Beckie says:

    I so love and miss Greek food. My husband and I were in the US Air Force and stationed at Hellikon AB between Athens and Glyfada in the early to mid 80’s. Our oldest son was born in downtown Athens. Thank you so very much for sharing this recipe. My husband isn’t much for Greek food (he is super picky – so I will cut this in half and make it for myself.

  5. Carolyn says:

    Seriously Beth you are AH MAZING!! I have missed moussaka oh so much, I am so happy to finally eat it again!! <3 A lifesaver, you are!

  6. I love moussaka and its great you can make a dairy free bechamel! Yum!

  7. Gaby says:

    Looks delicious!! Love that it is grain free!

  8. Holly says:

    I’m so excited to make this! My grandmother on my father’s side was Greek, and I absolutely love eggplant. It’s my favorite vegetable. I’m definitely going to enjoy this one.

    I’m actually commenting because I saw you mentioned looking for a phyllo dough recipe here and on Instagram as well, and I’ve had this one tucked away for a while but I’m pretty nervous to try it (it is definitely not for beginners) but I was wondering if you had seen it and attempted it yet? I’d love your feedback if you have (or if you do!).

    Here’s the recipe:

  9. nadia says:

    hi there
    I am right in the middle of making this great looking dish.. the béchamel sauce is as watery,,as water I have now added 5 tbsp. of tapioca. I poured the 1st batch out in case it wa my mistake. It is the same.

  10. nadia says:

    ok– I will be more clear…..I thought it was supposed to get thick in the pot with the o.o. and tapioca. no,,it doesn’t –when you add the oil and tapioca to the milk–it gets thick. learning curve, lol I thought it thickened like flour and butter.

    • Beth @ Tasty Yummies says:

      Nadia, I am not sure I follow. You heated up the olive oil in a pan and added the tapioca starch, correct? Once it is whisked together it should be a paste-like thickness, very very thick. Then as you slowly ladle the warm milk into that mixture, it will thicken and come together, especially once it comes to a boil.

  11. Jo says:

    I made this yesterday and it turned out great but the same thing happened to me with the sauce. The oil and tapioca starch would not thicken no matter what I did. The mixture thickened once the warm milk was added. Are there different kinds of tapioca starch? Mine was kind of large granules, not a fine powder. I dont know if that’s the right kind as I’ve never cooked with tapioca before. Thanks for the recipe. We loved it.

    • Beth @ Tasty Yummies says:

      Jo, well the only tapioca starch I know of comes as a fine powder, looking just like corn starch. If you were using large granules, it could have been tapioca pearls or something similar. That would likely have a LOT to do with why the oil and tapioca didn’t thicken. As long as it thickened with the milk and it tasted good in the end, then it’s a win. Next time look for tapioca starch, as a fine grain powder. 😉

  12. Karen says:

    Just found this recipe in time for Greek Easter! For medical reasons our family is going gluten-free and dairy-free, and I’m thrilled to find moussaka on your blog. I’m going to use your béchamel sauce recipe to make dairy-free and gluten-free pastitsio as well. Thanks, and keep those Greek recipes coming!

  13. Kim says:

    This recipe is brilliant and delicious! With the grain/dairy free bechamel, it let me have my favorite Greek dish of all. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!! I fell in love with moussaka when a friend from Greece shared a piece with me. The aroma, just before entering my mouth, told me it would be the best thing I ever ate, but it was even beyond that. Pure bliss. I’ve tried many different recipes trying to capture that first moussaka but never found one close until now. This friend also shared with me many of the dishes you talk about and although I laughed when you said how one “will literally have you on the verge of tears,” it’s so true and I know EXACTLY what you mean. I’m looking forward to more Greek recipes for this wanna-be Greek!! Thanks so much!!

  14. Don't Worry Bout It says:

    I made this today and it is divine! I used regular spaghetti sauce, ‘cos we had so much of it (organic, no sugar added). I cooked it down a little bit til it got thick and found the tomato sauce portion finished in 15 minutes once I added it to the beef. I also misted the eggplant with olive oil spray rather than brushing. Oh and I added oregano to the tomato sauce portion, too. I also used a ton of pecorino romano, ‘cos I friggin’ love cheese.


  15. Lisette says:

    Wow. I stumbled upon this recipe via Pinterest and it was phenomenal! Never thought of the substitutes for this light moussaka recipe. I’m trying to eat as healthily as possible everyday and living with a husband who doesn’t partake in the same regimen, which can be incredibly challenging. I made this and he said that it was hands down one of the best recipes I’ve made – gluten free, paleo, healthy or otherwise. Thank you so much – this will be in our list of favorites!

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