Turkish moussaka is an incredibly flavorful and delicious dish that is very popular in Turkey. It combines juicy ground beef with roasted eggplant and a slightly spicy red pepper sauce. It is one of my favorite Turkish dishes and an absolute must-make if you like Turkish food!
Recently, I’ve started sharing some of my favorite Turkish recipes on the blog. So far, I’ve mostly shared delicious side dishes like Turkish dill potato salad, cacik, Shepherd’s salad, or Turkish white bean salad.
So I figured that it was time to write down the recipe for one of my favorite main dishes: Turkish moussaka.
What is Turkish moussaka?
Turkish moussaka (in Turkish called musakka) is a delicious casserole dish that combines ground beef, lots of eggplants, tomatoes, Turkish green peppers, and a flavorful red pepper/tomato sauce. It is slightly spicy, super flavorful, and a delicious combination of eggplant and tomato/red pepper sauce.
Compared to Greek moussaka, the Turkish version leans more towards the flavor of garlic, red peppers, and chili flakes. It doesn’t use a béchamel sauce, red wine, bay leaves, and spices like oregano or cinnamon which lend Greek moussaka its unique flavor.
I personally love both versions of moussaka. And since they have different tastes, it’s actually great to be able to make both in case you want to switch things up.
So if you haven’t tried Turkish moussaka yet but you like the Green version, you should definitely consider trying this recipe!
To make Turkish moussaka, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- Ground beef: You can use the ground beef you’d usually buy. But for the best flavor, I’d recommend not using ground beef that’s too lean. The extra fat makes this dish taste really great. As always, just pick something you like.
- Eggplants: Use medium-sized eggplants for this recipe. If the eggplants you use are quite big, use less than the recipe states.
- Tomatoes: Make sure to use ripe medium-sized tomatoes.
- Turkish green peppers: There are two types of Turkish green peppers you can use for this recipe: sivri biber or çarliston biber (biber means pepper). I used a combination of both, but feel free to use whatever is available to you! Sivri peppers look like big cayenne peppers and can range from mild to very spicy. Çarliston peppers aren’t spicy at all and look like a combination of bell pepper and cayenne pepper.
- Onion and garlic: You’ll need yellow onion and garlic for making this Turkish eggplant dish. They are very important for the flavor, so don’t skip them!
- Oil: You can use vegetable oil, avocado oil, or olive oil when you make this dish. I used sunflower oil, but you can use another type of oil.
- Turkish red pepper paste: Turkish red pepper paste is one of the key ingredients in this recipe! There are two types, aci (spicy) and tatli (sweet). Use tatli Turkish red pepper paste (in Turkish called tatli biber salçasi) for this recipe. And please don’t use tomato paste as a substitute since they have different flavors. You can find Turkish red pepper paste at most Middle Eastern grocery stores.
- Turkish red chili flakes: You’ll also need Turkish red chili flakes (Aleppo pepper/ Turkish pul biber) for this recipe. They are available at most Middle Eastern grocery stores.
How to make Turkish Moussaka
Making Turkish moussaka is actually super easy! Just follow these steps:
- Roast the eggplants: Preheat the oven to 450 °F (230 °C). Then peel the eggplants in stripes, cut them in half, and then into thick slices. Place them in a baking dish. Then add the oil, salt, and pepper. Toss until combined and bake everything for around 20 minutes until the eggplant slices have browned.
- Prepare the meat sauce: In the meantime, preheat some oil in a large pan or pot over medium heat. Sauté the ground beef until it browns. Then add the garlic and onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes until the onion turns translucent. Next, add the red pepper paste and stir until combined. Add the tomatoes, Turkish green peppers, water, salt, pepper, and red chili flakes. Let the sauce simmer for 5 minutes.
- Combine and bake: Remove the baking dish from the oven. Pour the sauce over the roasted eggplant slices. Then bake everything at 400 °F (200 °C) for 20 minutes until the tomatoes start to brown.
- Serve: Serve with your side dishes of choice (rice is a common side dish) and enjoy!
Tips & Notes
Here are a few quick tips and notes to check out before you try this recipe.
- Make sure the Turkish green peppers aren’t too spicy. Sivri biber can range from mild to very hot, so be sure that they aren’t too spicy for you. If they are spicy, you can reduce the amount of Turkish green peppers or Turkish red chili flakes. If you love spicy foods, you can just follow the directions without worrying about the heat level of the dish.
- Don’t skip the Turkish red pepper paste. It really gives this dish a unique flavor that can’t be achieved with tomato paste. So if you want to make Turkish moussaka, I recommend not making it without red pepper paste.
- Use half Turkish red pepper paste and half tomato paste. You will find a lot of people who use equal parts of Turkish red pepper paste and tomato paste when making moussaka. Others will only use Turkish red pepper paste. Both versions taste great, so it’s really a matter of personal preferences. Tomato paste adds some sweetness and acidity. So if this sounds like something you’d like, feel free to substitute some of the Turkish red pepper paste with tomato paste.
- Chop the vegetables into large pieces. The eggplant should be cut into thick slices, the tomatoes into large cubes, and the Turkish green peppers into large pieces. Otherwise, the ingredients will overcook and be mushy.
- Add red chili flakes to taste. Everyone has different preferences, so I recommend adding the red chili flakes to taste. They definitely are spicy, so don’t add too many at once.
How to serve Turkish moussaka
Here is how you can serve Turkish moussaka to turn it into a satiating meal.
- Rice: Just like most Turkish dishes, moussaka is usually served with rice. So when you make it, be sure to cook some rice to serve alongside the moussaka.
- Bread: Bread is another option for serving moussaka. Turkish pide bread is always a great option for any Turkish meal!
- Cacik: Cacik is another classic side dish. Any yogurt-based side dish tastes really great with the red pepper sauce and ground beef.
- Salad: Another great option is making a Turkish shepherd’s salad. It is served with most meals and is great for adding extra vegetables!
- Soup: Before you enjoy the main dish, you can always serve a delicious soup. Turkish lentil soup is one of the soups that’s traditionally served before a meal. It’s really easy to make and tastes great!
Frequently Asked Questions
Not necessarily. If you don’t use spicy Turkish green peppers and only add a small amount of red chili flakes, it’s not really spicy. You could also use tomato paste and Turkish red pepper paste instead of only Turkish red pepper paste. In this case, the final dish will be very mild.
Yes, it is! The only adjustment I made is roasting the eggplant in the oven instead of frying it in the pan with oil. It’s just healthier and saves a lot of time while still tasting great! Many people in Turkey like to do the same. But if you wanted to make moussaka the traditional way, you’d usually fry the eggplant.
You can store leftovers in an airtight container in your refrigerator for up to 3 days. This dish reheats really well and tastes just as delicious the next day!
More quick and delicious Turkish recipes
If you want to try more Turkish recipes, I recommend checking out the following posts.
- 4 medium-sized eggplants peeled in stripes, halved, cut into thick slices
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil or avocado oil ¾ for eggplants, ¼ for sautéing
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 yellow onion finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- ¾ cup tatli Turkish red pepper paste or half tomato paste, half tatli Turkish red pepper paste
- 2 tomatoes
- 3 Turkish green peppers (sivri or çarliston)
- 2 ½ cups water more if needed
- Turkish red chili flakes to taste
- Preheat the oven to 450 °F (230 °C).
- Peel the eggplants in stripes, half them, cut them into thick slices, and place them in a baking dish. Add vegetable oil, salt, and pepper. Then toss until combined. Bake for around 20 minutes until the eggplants have browned.
- Next, preheat some vegetable oil in a large pan or pot over medium heat. Sauté the ground beef until it browns. Add the onion and garlic. Sauté until the onion turns translucent.
- Next, add the red pepper paste and stir until everything is combined. Add the tomatoes, Turkish green peppers, water, salt, pepper, and red chili flakes. Bring everything to a boil, then let the sauce simmer for 5 minutes.
- Remove the baking dish from the oven. Pour the ground beef sauce over the eggplant slices. Then bake everything at 400 °F (200 °C) for 20 minutes until the tomatoes and green peppers start to brown.
- Serve the moussaka with rice and enjoy!
I’ve made this before and I used poblano instead of the Turkish green peppers. Is that a suitable replacement question but I still use three though? Thank you.
Hi Jale, poblano peppers sound like a good replacement if you can't find Turkish green peppers. 😊