Recipe: Katina’s Moussaka



When Daniel and Luke Mancuso lost their beloved mother Teresa to domestic violence, the Greek granny next door, Yiayia, started looking after them, passing Greek home cooked-meals over the fence. This wonderful act of kindness helped the two boys through their grief, and they went on to capture the hearts of Australians when they began sharing the meals and their special relationship with the ‘Yiayia next door‘ on social media.



Now we can all enjoy these delicious traditional Greek recipes from her kitchen and other households around Australia. Daniel and Luke have worked with Yiayia and other contributors to produce a wonderful book of recipes, Yiayia Next Door (Plum). The told their stories and supplied delicious Greek dishes. From spanakopita and moussaka to baklava and galaktoboureko, these dishes are comfort food at their best. This delicious Moussaka recipe from the cookbook comes from contributor Katina:


Katina’s Moussaka

My dear mother, Katina, who is a grandmother to two grandchildren, two fur children and a mother of three proud kids, used to cook such amazing, inviting dishes that brought anabundance of happy times to our family, friends and neighbourhood.

I have fond memories of baking and cooking with my niece, sister and mum in our family home. We prepared Greek dishes, such as spanakopita, tiropita, fasolakia, ke edes, yemista, pastitsio, xorta, moussaka, koulourakia, melomakarona, kourabiethes, to name a few. Koulourakia was always a special recipe – Mum would encourage us to ‘make extra’ so we could share some with our neighbours. She taught me to respect the elderly and people living alone around us. Avgolemono soup is a dish Mum also prepared when anyone was unwell or needed something comforting and warming to eat.

When I was younger, my mum, dad and I used to go foraging around Melbourne for wild mushrooms and earthy greens to cook and bake with – something that used to embarrass me. I also remember my primary-school years, when Mum used to make morning, lunch and, sometimes, a ernoon meals for me and walk them down to the school to share with the other kids and teachers. Again, embarrassing at the time, but so very special to think back on those memories now.

My mum was diagnosed with early onset vascular dementia 18 months ago, and she is now in the wonderful care of a Greek nursing home. She still gets around to cooking with support, and helps staff and volunteers around her, including making koulourakia for the homeless. She is and forever will be my biggest inspiration and drive in life; she has opened her heart to so many, and brings so much joy to all who meet her.

Every time I cook, I think of her. Every time I help someone in my day, I think of her. Seeing the Yiayia Next Door Instagram posts and community spirit, I also think of her. I have shown her some of these posts and she says, ‘what a great Yiayia to look after the boys’.


3 eggplants, cut lengthways into 5 mm thick slices

 4 zucchini, cut lengthways into 5 mm thick slices

 4 potatoes, peeled and cut into  5mm thick slices

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing

salt and black pepper

 1 onion, finely chopped

 1 carrot, finely chopped

 1 celery stalk, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

 1 kg beef mince

400 g can crushed tomatoes

 1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon sugar

 4 dried bay leaves

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling

 1 tablespoon vegetable

stock powder

120 g (1 cup) grated kefalograviera cheese, plus extra for sprinkling

salad, to serve

Traditional bechamel

500 ml (2 cups) full-cream milk

60 g  unsalted butter

 55 g (1/2 cup) fine semolina

120 g (1 cup) grated kefalograviera cheese

salt and black pepper


Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan-forced).

Place the eggplant, zucchini and potato slices on separate large baking trays in single layers. Brush both sides of the vegetable slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to the oven and cook, turning the vegetables over halfway through the cooking time, for 20–25 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook for about 10 minutes, until soft and lightly golden. Increase the heat to medium–high, add the mince and cook, breaking up any lumps with the back of a wooden spoon, for 7–8 minutes, until browned.

Add the tomatoes, then half-fill the can with water, give it a swirl and add the liquid to the pan. Stir through the tomato paste, sugar, bay leaves, cinnamon and stock powder and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 30 minutes, until reduced and thick. Remove and discard the bay leaves.

To make the bechamel, heat the mil and butter in a saucepan over medium–low heat. Once the butter has melted, slowly add the semolina in a steady stream, whisking constantly, for 2–3 minutes, until the mixture boils and thickens. Remove from the heat and stir through the kefalograviera cheese until melted and the bechamel is thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To assemble the moussaaka, spoon a thin layer of bechamel into the base of a 33 cm x 26 cm baking dish. Add the baked eggplant slices followed by the baked potato slices, then sprinkle over half the kefalograviera cheese. Add all the mince mixture, followed by the remaining kefalograviera cheese, then top with the baked zucchini slices. Finish with the remaining bechamel, spreading it out in an even layer. Sprinkle with extra kefalograviera cheese and a little ground cinnamon, then transfer to the oven and cook for 25–30 minutes, until bubbling and the top is golden brown. If you would like to brown the bechamel even more, flash it under a hot grill for about 8 minutes.

Set aside to rest for 40 minutes before slicing and serving with your choice of salad.

Note: Mum always saved the bechamel pan and spoon for those who helped her prepare. Scraping the leover sauce was the best part.



Yiayia Next Door by Daniel & Luke Mancuso (with Yiayia), published by Plum, RRP $36.99.

Photography by Mark Roper.