Messa’aa : Egyptian moussaka

UPDATE – June 28th 2015
Made a few updated to this popular recipe. Updates will be shown in Italics.
Hello everyone, I hope you are having a wonderful week. Please excuse my MIA but as some of you might know I was busy moving and settling in the new place. Who knew moving would be so hectic!! I’m never moving again {of course I say that every time I move}!! Anyways, I’m drifting.

This fall I’ve been using every excuse to use my oven and keep the house warm! Whether it’s roasting veggies, making tajines, or hearty messa’aa {Egyptian moussaka, messa2a3a}. For those of you that don’t know, moussaka is a layered dish mainly composed of egglpant {aubergine}, tomato sauce, and minced meat. The dish varies from region to region and from one household to another. Some add potatoes and/or bell peppers {red, green, or whatever color you like}, others don’t call it moussaka unless it’s slathered with a thick layer of bechamel on top. There are tons of possibilities, you could make it completely vegetarian, just skip the meat!

When I do this as a main dish I usually use meat, but if I’m using it as a side I do the vegetarian option and everyone loves it! It’s such a versatile and delicious dish that can be altered however you please, and is a complete meal on its own.

Here is the recipe for the one my hubby and I normally make. This is by no means the traditional messa’aa but our take on it.


As with most arabic dishes, this one is composed of different elements so I’ll divide the recipe accordingly & to what I consider to be the most efficient: The sauce, preparing the vegetables, the meat,  the little things, and finally the assembly.
I know some of you might be disappointed because I missed the bechamel and didn’t fry the vegetables like teita used to do but, bear with me I’m ‘trying’ to be healthy here :)

The Sauce
This simple tomato sauce is super easy to make. I use it as the base for Egyptian dishes that have tomato sauce.
2 (6 oz) cans of tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tblsp olive oil
2 tsp crushed coriander seeds
salt & pepper
You can add a bit of thyme if you’d like!

In a medium pot, over medium heat, heat olive oil. Once it’s hot add the garlic cloves and let them release their flavor (about 30 sec-1min). Once garlic starts turning slightly golden, add the tomato paste and coriander. Let it cook until the paste changes color to a dark, burnt-red color (5 min). Slowly add two cups of water, mix well. Let simmer over medium low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once it’s done, check and rectify the seasoning.
{If you have left over sauce you can store it in the fridge its super convenient to have it. Weeknight meals ready in a second!}

The Vegetables

Normally, the vegetables for messa’aa are pan fried/sautéed, but I like the sweetness that comes out when you roast them. If its not too cold where you are, you could opt to grill them!

2 bell peppers {whatever color you like, in Egypt they normally use red and green}
2-3 large aubergines cut in thick 1.5-2 inch rounds {I know its seems very thick but they will decrease to about half the width after roasting}

Variation- try adding some cauliflower and potatoes!

Heat oven to 400°F. With a pairing knife, make a slit around the middle part (circumference) of the bell peppers, don’t apply to much pressure you just want to break the skin so that its easier to peel afterwards {helpful tip!}. Place aubergine on a baking sheet drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt, repeat on both sides of the rounds. Place all the vegetables in the oven. Rotate the bell peppers every now and then so that all the skin gets nicely charred. The bell peppers will take around 15-20 min while the aubergines will take longer.

Once the skin of the bell peppers is charred remove from the oven place in a bowl and cover {this will make it easier to peel}. Once they have cooled enough to handle, remove the charred skin.

Remove once the aubergine is nice and golden on both sides as shown below.

The Meat

While the vegetables are roasting away in the oven, and the sauce is simmering down, I prepare the meat!

1 LARGE onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1.25 kg minced meat {you can use a mixture of lamb and beef if you’d like}
3+ tbsp of olive oil
2+ tbsp of arabic spice
If you don’t have arabic spice you could add some:
crushed coriander
a dash of: cloves & cinnamon
salt & pepper

Remove meat from the fridge at least 20 min before. In a bowl, mix minced meat, spices, salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add about 1 tbsp of olive oil, sautee onion until golden brown, add garlic and sautee for 1-2 min. Remove from heat and place onion-garlic mixture in a bowl. Working in batches, brown meat. Working in batches will ensure the meat is nicely browned and not dry & gray, which we want to avoid! Once each batch is nicely browned add it to the onion-garlic mix and mix thoroughly. Add the meat mixture to the tomato sauce.

We are almost done I promise!!

The little things
On a pan or in the oven, toast a mixture of pine nuts and almonds {I normally use a 1:2 ratio}. When nuts are used in Arabic meals they are traditionally sautéed in a pan with clarified butter or oil.

Once the meat is cooked I like to add some raisins and mix it through

So now that we have all our elements here comes the easy part. In a large and deep pyrex pan, start building your layers! I like starting with a scoop of meat & tomato sauce, then some roasted bell pepper, some yummy aubergine, then topping it with meat and tomato sauce, toasted nuts, and repeat. I always like when the last layer is of aubergines. Place the pyrex in the oven at 375°F until reheated or as long as you want to let the flavors fuse.

At my house we all agree it taste even better the next day!

Remember you have many options here you can make it as decadent {adding bechamel} or as vegan {no meat, just yummy veggies} as you want! Have fun with it and most of all enjoy it!

Thanks for reading :)

* RECIPE UPDATED: Thanks for the observations megan & sabrina ;)

This post is dedicated to a few lovely women in my life, my wonderful mom {love you Toni!} and my aunts {Tia Tete y Tia Lulu} all of whom continue to be an inspiration to me! Hope you all had a lovely birthday!


26 Comments Add yours

  1. Ana says:

    Made it today for dinner, it was worth the effort. Everyone in my house loved it! Btw, in the pictures you have a white sauce on top; what is it?

    1. Kitchenani says:

      I am so happy you tried the recipe and loved it! Good for you! I normally serve this with two yogurt sauces. One is a yogurt-garlic base sauce with minced cucumber and olive oil and the other one is a yogurt-tahini sauce similar to the one seen in the fattah recipe. Hope this helps! Happy Holidays!

  2. Megan says:

    This looks wonderful! I had Egyptian moussaka at an akika hosted by my friend’s mother-in-law recently, and have been craving it ever since. One question, by ‘2 cans of tomatoes” do you mean big ones (28 oz) or small (14 oz)? Thank you!

    1. Kitchenani says:

      Hi Megan,
      I love Egyptian moussaka such a great and hearty dish! I meant two 14 oz, I’ll add the specification. Thanks for bringing it up. Alternatively you can also use two 6 oz cans of tomato paste and dilute it with 2 cups of water, this way you wont have to wait so long and the sauce will have a thicker consistency and hold everything in place! Let me know what you decide to do! Hope you like it :)

  3. Robie Hoffman says:

    Hi! You have a real winner. The taste is amazing and very different.
    Love the fact that it is healthy too. I agree, it is even better the second day.
    Thank you!!! Robie

    1. Kitchenani says:

      Thank you Robie! I am glad you liked it :) I love how versatile this dish is! Recently I’ve been adding cauliflower- it absorbs the juices and gets nice and caramelized in the oven- yum!

  4. Sabrina Skews says:

    hi there! couple of questions of you don’t mind…first, how many would this recipe serve? and would you indeed eat this cold as is suggested by other sites? and finally, you brown the meat in batches, and then cook the onion and spice mixture and then add the browned mince to it?

    1. Kitchenani says:

      Hi Sabrina, of course I don’t mind. This recipe serves 4-6 depending on how hungry you are! It tastes amazing both hot and cold but it holds its shape better when cold. Traditionally the left overs are served cold. Thank you for your question you made me realize I left out the word ‘meat’ in te first sentence (I corrected that already). I cook the meat and onion mix in batches. Let me know if you have anymore questions! Good luck :)

  5. Carrie says:

    Tried this out, it was absolutely delicious! Just enjoyed some leftovers for lunch (you’re right, even better the next day). Thanks so much for the recipe :)

    1. Kitchenani says:

      Hi Carrie! I am so happy you tried this out :) love the left overs!! Thanks for leaving a comment.

  6. Carrie says:

    Tried this out, it was absolutely delicious! Just enjoyed some leftovers for lunch (you’re right, even better the next day). Thanks so much for the recipe :)

  7. Stefanie Lamberto says:


    I am planning on doing this amazing meal for a family diner soon. I would like to know how to do the yogurt sauce? Do you have any recommendations?

    Thank you,


    1. Kitchenani says:

      Hi Stef,

      For sure! Here’s what you’ll need:
      2 medium garlic cloves, minced
      1 L yogurt
      2 Lebanese cucumbers, shredded
      olive oil to taste (abt 1-2 tblsp)

      Mix all the ingredients and dress with olive oil. You can add herbs if you like. I normally add mint, parsley or dill. Good luck with the recipe hope your family enjoys it!!

      1. Stefanie says:

        Thank you Nani :)

  8. A friend and I tried your recipe, made it in a vegan version with tofu instead of meat. VERY DELICIOUS!
    When we began eating we couldn’t believe that we cooked it ourselves. It was so good!

    1. Kitchenani says:

      So happy to hear that! I’m glad you liked it! We’ve also made a vegan version by swapping the meat for other veggies (like potatoes and cauliflower). If you want to try another vegan recipe you should check out the fava bean soup (sopa de habas) recipe.


  9. Alex says:

    I am planning on making this recipe soon but am unsure of which baking dish I will need. What size would you recommend? Glass or ceramic?

    Thank you!

    1. Kitchenani says:

      Hi Alex, you can use a 3 quart (9″ x 13″) dish or alternatively two square 8″ dishes. This recipe is very forgiving, you can use any type of dish I tend to use glass and metal because that’s what I have at home. Let me know how it comes out! Hope you like it!

  10. heather says:

    Thanks for the recipe, been looking for a traditional one and all of hem used white sauce and cheese, this is the only one i found without them. Now to make it 😊

  11. Kasia says:

    I enyojed my venturing onto the unfamiliar cusine teritory with your dish! Your detailed description how to cook the muossaka made it easier for me to follow the recepy. I am Polish and I love to try different kind of food and attempt to prepare new dishes. That was the first Arabian dish I have cooked and I loved it! The nuts and rasins and all the spices made the dish so delicious! Tomato sauce was fabulous!
    I served it with cucumber joghurt sauce and with mint tea ;) thank you for the recepy

  12. Yasmine says:


    I was just wondering what you mean by tomato paste? You mean cans of crushed tomatoes, or passata or actual paste?

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