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February 27, 2020

Greek butternut squash and sweet potato moussaka | The Mixing Bowl

This is one hearty, heavy and flavorful casserole with the wonderful, natural, sweet flavors of butternut squash and yams that is buttressed with savory sage, red onions and salty feta cheese. It is a twist on the typical Greek meat and eggplant moussaka, and still has a creamy bechamel sauce baked over vegetables. I added a layer of walnuts in the middle layer for texture and contrast. 

The core recipe is adapted from the cookbook, “My Greek Table” by Diane Kochilas. She owns a cooking school, Glorious Greek Cooking School on her native island, Ikaria, and is a celebrity TV chef on “My Greek Table.” 

Because of the density of this dish, I cut the recipe in half to fit an eight-inch square pan, and it was enough to feed six people. You can double the recipe below for a nine-by-thirteen-inch rectangular pan if you have to feed the army. 

The English name, moussaka, comes from Arabic and means “that which is fed liquid,” which I assume refers to the thick bechamel sauce. This recipe needs a nice green salad to balance it out. A typical authentic Greek salad has fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, whole Kalamata olives, slices of feta cheese, sliced red onions and oregano, sprinkled with an olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing. 

Butternut squash and sweet potato moussaka

Cheese Bechamel: 

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups, whole milk at room temperature

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup grated or crumbled Greek feta

1/4 cup Kefalotyri or pecorino cheese

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Salt and pepper

Vegetables: 

2 teaspoons butter

1/2 cup olive oil

2 large red onions, coarsely chopped

2 1/2 pounds of butternut squash or mix 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash with 3/4 pounds sweet potatoes or yams, peeled, seeded and cut into ¼ inch slices

2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh or dried sage

Salt and pepper

For assembly:

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

¾ cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup chopped parsley

To make the béchamel, prepare all your ingredients first. Melt the butter in a medium, heavy -bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When it has completely melted and stopped bubbling—but before it turns brown—add the flour and whisk. Keep whisking until the mixture becomes lightly colored in about five minutes. While continuing to whisk, pour in the room temperature milk a little at a time. Continue to whisk until mixture thickens in about 12-15 minutes. While whisking, add the eggs and continue beating until well mixed. Stir in the cheeses and when melted, add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside covered with a dish towel. 

To cook the vegetables, heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the butter and olive oil. When they start to bubble, add the onions. Reduce the heat and cook over low for 20 minutes until onions are lightly golden. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, toss the peeled and sliced squash and sweet potatoes with ½ cup olive oil and 2-3 tablespoons of chopped sage. Spread in a single layer on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 10-12 minutes until squash and sweet potatoes are softened but not thoroughly cooked. Remove from oven and set aside. Keep oven on. 

To assemble the moussaka, oil an 8-inch square baking pan. Layer the baked sweet potatoes on the bottom. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle 1/3 cup of parsley. Spread a thin layer of the onions and 1/3 of the béchamel over that. Smooth out the top. 

For the next layer, spread out half of the squash, salt, pepper, 1/3 cup parsley, chopped onions, chopped walnuts and a little more béchamel. 

For the final layer, add the rest of the squash, salt, pepper, parsley and onions and cover with all the béchamel sauce. Bake for 35-40 minutes until bechamel is puffed and golden. Remove from oven and let rest for 15-20 minutes then serve.