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How to make Egyptian moussaka: A healthier recipe

It is still possible to enjoy the same great taste of this classic dish without compromising your health, says Amira Ibrahim
The Egyptian version of the classic Greek dish includes layers of deep-fried aubergine covered with a minced beef and tomato sauce (Amira Ibrahim)

I grew up in a family of "everythingtarians", which means we eat everything. My late father was a foodaholic. Not only did he eat, but he was also a great cook. Many of the great recipes he created are shared on my blog, including some of my favourites, like his special shawarma sauce and the Egyptian cookies recipe I developed from his cooking notes.

But, admittedly, most of his favourite dishes were either high in fat, sugar, starch, or all of the above. He appreciated his food and refused to compromise on flavour.

We still joke about how my dad used to add three teaspoons of sugar to his tea. Considering he used to drink five or six cups of tea every day, that's a lot of sugar. When I argued with him, he would usually say: "I’m not diabetic. When I’m diagnosed with diabetes, I’m going to cut down on sugars."

Then in September 2014, my father passed away suddenly. He had been diagnosed with heart issues that eventually led to a heart attack and doctors couldn't save him. It was after this that I started to look at some of our favourite family recipes, to see if it was possible to still enjoy the same great taste without compromising on health.

Like my dad, I also had my own food issues. Some recent blood tests revealed high cholesterol, alarming protein levels that indicated inflammation or autoimmune diseases and that I was at high risk of diabetes. Doctors red-lighted my serious sugar addiction and eating behaviour in general. Carbs were my main enemy; more vegetables and leafy greens were needed.

The fear the medics planted in me forced me to find substitutions that would make this new lifestyle choice sustainable. But I needed a complete change of mindset. Did I need to wait until I was diagnosed with diabetes to cut out sugar? Why make myself suffer? I chose to make the changes that, rather than just adding years to my life, would add life to the years I had left.

Egyptian mousakka
Egyptian moussaka has layers of aubergine, minced beef and tomato sauce (Amira Ibrahim)

In these past months I have made a good start and now with Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, it is important that I resist some of the temptations that have become associated with this festive period.

Many people actually lose weight quite easily during Ramadan because there’s simply less time to eat, as long as they don’t gorge as soon as the gong sounds. And it’s a myth that you will feel hungrier the next day if you don’t stuff the same amount of food you would otherwise have eaten in the compressed hours between sunset and dawn.

But for some of us whose life revolves around creating and savouring the most salivating dishes, resisting the urge to “treat yourself” can be the hardest task.

Moussaka for my late father

My late father was obsessed with aubergine and his favourite dish was the Egyptian version of the classic Greek dish, moussaka. Egyptian moussaka also includes layers of deep-fried aubergine and sometimes fried potato as well, covered with a minced beef tomato sauce. Adding the bechamel layer is optional and not commonly added in the Egyptian version.

Unfortunately, even with his heart condition, my father always insisted the aubergines be deep-fried, and he had moussaka every week.

To honour him after his passing, I created a modified version with reduced fat and calories, as part of my bid to lead a healthier lifestyle.

The new recipe retains the delicious flavours, but is much easier to digest. It’s become one of my firm favourites, and, of course, dear to my heart for personal reasons, but it is definitely on my Ramadan mealtime list this year.


Recipe

Servings: 8

Preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes

eggplants
Sprinkling cheese on top just before it's ready is optional, but will add a golden brown layer to bite into (Lino Lombardi/Pixabay)

In this recipe, I decided not to fry the aubergines and to display them in boat shapes instead, filled it with ground meat browned with onions. I left out the bechamel sauce and potatoes, keeping just the tomato sauce topping. Another step I know my father would not have approved of was to use as little salt as possible. 

I’ve used low-fat mozzarella cheese to top the aubergine boats, but you can use any of your favourite cheeses or skip this step altogether.

1. Ingredients

  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 medium-sized onion, diced
  • 0.5kg (1lb) ground beef - you can use any ground meat you like or a combination
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 or more aubergines
  • 500ml (2 cups) tomato sauce - you can also make this with shop bought or homemade marinara sauce
  • 200g (2 cups) of shredded mozzarella cheese - I used low-fat mozzarella
Mousakka recipe
There are simple substitutes and ingredients to skip to make Egyptian moussaka a healthier dish (Amira Ibrahim)

2. Method

  1. In a skillet over medium heat, add oil then saute onion for a couple of minutes
  2. Add the ground beef, breaking it apart to brown
  3. Add spices, salt, tomato paste and half the tomato sauce
  4. Mix everything well and leave it to cook for 5 minutes
  5. While the meat is cooking, cut each aubergine lengthwise in half
  6. Scoop the flesh with a spoon, core the aubergine halves to the desired thickness (preferably 1/2 inches flesh left on the skin)
  7. With the scooped out flesh I usually broil them in the oven and make baba ganoush or you can add them back to the meat mixture
  8. Sprinkle each aubergine half with salt and pepper
  9. Stuff the aubergines with the meat mixture and place in your baking dish
  10. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over your stuffed aubergines
  11. Bake in a 180°C/350°F preheated oven for 15 minutes or until almost done
  12. Remove it from the oven and sprinkle with the cheese, then slide it back into the oven again until the cheese is melted and golden brown

Serve with pitta bread, rice or with a side of salad.

Egyptian mousakka
A healthy twist to the classic recipe can be achieved through a few simple changes (Amira Ibrahim)

You can follow Amira's recipes on her blog and watch a video of this recipe here.