Finally! This is a recipe I have been wanting to share since I first made it six months ago. I made up this variation of lamb moussaka after going to a new Middle Eastern grocery store in town and finding pomegranate concentrate.* This pomegranate and lamb moussaka with cardamon instantly became a “keeper,” a regular go-to meal in my rotation. I have since made it about ten times and my family loves it.
Traditional Greek Moussaka layers sautéed or fried eggplant, a meat and tomato sauce, and is topped with Béchamel or white sauce (butter, flour and milk.) Some say it is analogous to lasagna for Americans, but I say it is more like a Shepard’s pie. My take on the classic Greek dish highlights tart pomegranate instead of tomato paste or sauce and flavors the meat with fragrant cardamon. I also lighten it up by making a quick egg and milk custard with Greek yogurt instead of Béchamel, and by roasting the eggplant slices instead of frying. Both changes also make the recipe a little faster. I was inspired by two of my favorite Middle Eastern restaurants, a Persian restaurant, Soltan Banoo, that serves an amazing pomegranate soup, and a Lebanese joint, Mama’s Bakery, where I love the beef shwarma, heavily scented with cardamon.
*About pomegranate molasses vs. pomegranate concentrate: Pomegranate molasses is a sweet and sour syrup used in Middle Eastern cuisine. As a “secret ingredient” in stews and sauces, it gives an amazing flavor that can be hard to place. Pomegranate concentrate tastes similar, but is made solely of reduced pomegranate juice, without the added sugar, preservatives and flavor enhancers molasses often has. If you don’t have either, substitute pomegranate juice, ideally reduced a little to make it more concentrated in flavor. Or just use the more traditional tomato paste!
Pomegranate and Lamb Moussaka Recipe
For the meat layer:
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- onion, carrot, celery, garlic
- 1 pound ground lamb and/or beef
- 2 teaspoons cardamon
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/3 cup pomegranate concentrate, molasses or juice (find at middle Eastern stores like North Park Produce and if you can’t find it, substitute tomato paste)
For the custard layer:
- 6-8 eggs
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Pistachios, chopped kalamata olives, crumbled feta cheese
Peel, slice and salt the eggplant. Let sit for 30 minutes to draw out excess moisture and bitterness. Then pat dry and roast in a 425°F oven with a little oil until soft, flipping the slices once. (Notes: Lately I like spraying both sides of the eggplant with a little sprayable coconut oil. It distributes a nice, fine layer. Otherwise eggplant can soak up a lot of oil. Olive oil is classic, however, I try to not to use it over 325°F. Both coconut and avocado oil have higher smoking points.)
Sautée the onion, carrots, etc. in a large pan. Add the meat and spices until the meat is just browned. Add the pomegranate concentrate or tomato and turn down to a simmer until cooked through.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in the yogurt, milk and seasonings.
To assemble, put the meat layer down first in a 9″ by 13″ pan. Top with the eggplant slices, then pour the custard batter into the pan. Sprinkle on the toppings then bake 25-30 minutes at 350°F until the egg is set.
Click on any photo in the gallery below to expand and see the steps.
Enjoy! This dish freezes well. I made a double batch in preparation for new baby. After baking, I froze it whole. To reheat it, I let it defrost in the fridge for a day and then warmed it in the oven until the center was hot.