Nia Vardalos' Family Recipe for Moussaka Is Comfort Food Perfection

It's the ideal dish to enjoy while watching the newest installment of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

<p>IFC Films/Adobe Stock</p>

IFC Films/Adobe Stock

One of the first lines in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is: “Nice Greek girls are supposed to do three things in life: Marry Greek boys, make Greek babies, and feed everyone...until the day we die.” And throughout the course of the iconic rom-com—the highest-grossing of all time, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2022—food is at the center. First at Dancing Zorbas, the bustling family-owned Chicago diner, and then through multiple weddings in the original film and its 2016 sequel.

In the third movie, out September 8, there’s bound to be a lot more abundant Greek spreads as the zany Portokalos family travels to Greece for a family reunion after the death of their patriarch, Gus (played by late actor Michael Constantine).

<p>Courtesy of Yannis Drakoulidis / Focus Features</p>

Courtesy of Yannis Drakoulidis / Focus Features

Even though I didn’t grow up in a Greek family, I’ve always had an affinity for the cuisine—and the people. For a few years, I lived in Astoria, Queens, which has a large Greek population and plenty of incredible diners and restaurants that reminded me of Dancing Zorbas. I was a regular at a few (mostly the walkable Taverna Kyclades and Neptune Diner) and when it was cold out, I’d order a big slice of moussaka, a Greek eggplant lasagna.

It would warm me from the inside out, especially when it was below zero and snowy. Paired with a bowl of Avgolemono, one of my favorite soups of all time, and conversation with friends or the Greek families gathered there, it made for some of my favorite memories during my near-decade living all around New York City.

In "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" we see a flashback of Toula (played by writer and eventual director of "MBFGW 3", Nia Vardalos) being teased by the popular blond girls at school about her “moose-kaka” leftovers for lunch. And it turns out that memory, like a lot of the film, has connections to Vardalos’ real life—including her mom making incredible moussaka.

Nia and her mom, Doreen, were kind enough to share the recipe with us so you can make it yourself and become an honorary Vardalos (and Portokalos) in the process. It makes a lot—mama Doreen says it “serves 6…or 2 Greeks”—so you can eat some on the couch while marathoning the first two movies and still have enough to sneak some into your viewing of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3" in theaters…your secret is safe with us.

Doreen Vardalos’ Moussaka Recipe




Meat Sauce and Moussaka:

  • 3 medium eggplants, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices

  • salt, to taste

  • 6 soft tomatoes

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 2 teaspoons sugar

  • olive oil, as needed

  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped finely

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 pounds ground beef (or 2 cups undercooked lentils for a vegetarian version)

  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

  • 1 teaspoon ground oregano

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • black pepper, to taste

  • 4 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

  • 4 medium Russet potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

Bechamel Sauce:

  • 3 egg yolks

  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons flour

  • 5 cups whole milk, cold

  • nutmeg, to taste

  • cinnamon, to taste

  • salt, to taste

  • black pepper, to taste

  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

  2. Salt both sides of the eggplant and lay in rows in a colander in the sink. Sweat out the bitterness for 1 hour or more.

  3. Make the meat sauce: Blend together tomatoes, tomato paste, and sugar in a blender. Set aside.

  4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat, and sauté onion and garlic. Add ground beef and cook until browned. (For a vegetarian version, substitute lentils here for the meat.) Add in thyme, oregano, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and a dash of salt and pepper.

  5. Add reserved tomato sauce and cook on low heat, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let the sauce cool. Strain excess fat off the top.

  6. Prepare the moussaka: Place parchment paper on two baking sheets. Brush zucchini and potato slices with olive oil, lay onto the lined sheets, and salt evenly.

  7. Bake in the preheated oven until the color turns, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

  8. Meanwhile, rinse the salt off the eggplant, pat dry, brush with olive oil on both sides, and bake, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven.

  9. Lower the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

  10. Brush a 9x13-inch baking dish with olive oil and lay cooked potatoes across the bottom, cutting some as needed to fit into the spaces. Pour 1/2 of the meat sauce over the potatoes. Add a layer of zucchini. Next, add layers of eggplant on top of that, and pour on the rest of the meat sauce.

  11. Make the bechamel sauce: Beat egg yolks in a bowl and set aside. Melt butter in a large saucepan over very low heat. Slowly whisk in flour. (Gluten-free flour can be substituted!) Slowly whisk cold milk and keep stirring the entire time. Increase the heat to high and add dashes of nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

  12. As soon as it comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and add egg yolks and grated Parmesan cheese. Whisk well.

  13. Pour bechamel all over the top of the meat sauce layer and sprinkle very lightly with cinnamon and nutmeg.

  14. Bake in the preheated oven until the top is golden, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes to allow it to set before slicing.

Recipe courtesy of Nia & Doreen Vardalos

Read the original article on All Recipes.