This Mediterranean inspired recipe for Turkey Moussaka is sponsored by the National Turkey Federation. All opinions are 100% my own.
How on earth is it September already? I’m pretty sure it was just May, like… yesterday. Summertime always has a way of creeping in slowly and then abruptly stopping without notice. Last week it was a sticky 85 degrees, and then this morning I absolutely froze when I took Phoebe outside to go potty. What happened??
Mother nature has a funny way of letting us know it’s time to settle down and get back into a routine. The days are getting shorter and the weather is getting cooler, but my garden is still overflowing with tons of gorgeous produce. The eggplant has been especially prolific this year, so I’ve been tinkering with it in lots of different recipes. This one has become a fast favorite, and it’s especially appropriate for this time of year.
As soon as September rolls around, I start losing interest in cold salads and start craving more hearty fare. That said, I’m not looking to eat stodgy, wintery foods just yet, so it’s all about finding the best of both worlds. My minestrone has the perfect balance of lightness and comfort, making it one of the first recipes I make each fall. This moussaka, however, might just steal it’s place in the rotation.
Moussaka has both Greek and Turkish origins (depending who you ask), and is traditionally made with ground lamb or beef spiced with onions, garlic, tomato, and cinnamon. That last addition might sound a bit odd to you, but I promise it works. The mixture gets layered in a casserole with thin strips of fried eggplant, and sometimes fried potatoes, too. The the whole thing gets topped with a thick, creamy béchamel sauce and then baked until golden brown and bubbling. It’s rich, it’s decadent, and it’s amazing, but it can also be a lot.
I’ve always considered moussaka to be more of a wintery dish, which is a conundrum considering eggplant is in season right now, not in January. That’s why I decided to take the traditional recipe and lighten it up considerably. It’s classic comfort food, using in-season produce, that won’t make you feel like there’s rocks in your stomach.
The fist thing I did was swap out the fatty red meat for lean ground turkey instead. It has 50 less calories per serving and half the saturated fat of ground beef, but absolutely zero sacrifice in favor. Next, I chose to bake the eggplant rather than fry it. It still gets a nice crisp exterior, but isn’t soaked in oil like the fried version. Eggplant is like a sponge, and it can absorb a lot more than you think.
Finally, I ease up on the béchamel and add a few eggs to make it light and airy. It puffs up in the oven and gets a little golden on top, forming a delicate crust that gives way to an aromatic, meaty center. You get the same look, same taste, and same mouth feel as traditional moussaka, but with considerably less fat and calories. I actually like this version better than the original.
This is one of those fabulous recipes that tastes even better the next day, making it perfect for both make-ahead meals and leftovers alike. We got six generous servings out of it, but with the addition of a few sides, it could easily be stretched to feed more.
Lightened up turkey moussaka is the perfect recipe for September. It makes a great back-to-school weeknight meal or relaxing Sunday supper, it’s an excellent way to use up a bumper crop of eggplant, and it’s the ultimate way to indulge in some cozy comfort food without the guilt.
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- 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing eggplant
- 3 large or 4 medium eggplant sliced lengthwise 1/2 inch thick
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 lb lean ground turkey
- 2/3 cup dry red wine
- 1/2 cup tomato puree (not paste)
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup pecorino Romano, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling over top
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- white pepper, to taste
- 2 large eggs
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Brush the eggplant slices lightly with olive oil on both sides, then lay them out in an even layer on the sheet pans. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes
- While the eggplant cooks, add 3 tablespoons olive oil to a large saute pan, then add the onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened and just starting to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, and cinnamon, then season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes more.
- Add the turkey and use a spatula to break it up into little bits. Cook until nicely browned, about 8-10 minutes, then add the red wine. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, then add the tomato puree and cook until thickened, about 20-25 minutes. Add the red wine vinegar, taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper as needed.
- While the meat sauce simmers, make the béchamel. Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until combined, then slowly pour in the milk while whisking vigorously. Add the bay leaf, then continue whisking until it comes up to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, then whisk in 1/4 cup of pecorino Romano, nutmeg, and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.
- Reduce the oven to 350 degrees and begin assembling the moussaka. Place one layer of eggplant on the bottom of an 9x13 inch casserole dish, being sure it's completely covered with no gaps. Add 1/2 of the turkey mixture and spread out into an even layer, then top with another layer of eggplant. Repeat with one more layer of turkey and one more layer of eggplant.
- Whisk the eggs vigorously into the cooled béchamel sauce, then pour over top of the casserole. Spread out into an even layer, then sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons pecorino Romano.
- Bake for about 30-45 minutes, or until it's bubbling and the top is golden brown. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving.