These Papoutsakia (Greek Stuffed Eggplant) are a classic Greek comfort dish made by stuffing eggplant with a seasoned ground beef mixture and topping it with a smooth béchamel before baking them to perfection.
Papoutsakia (pronounced pah-pou-tsa-kya) means ‘little shoes’ in Greek, receiving that name since their shape resembles just that. This traditional Greek comfort food is made using similar ingredients to other popular Greek dishes like moussaka and pastitsio. It is comfort food at its best and features a favorite Mediterranean vegetable – eggplants.
Essentially, papoutsakia are baked eggplant that have been sliced in half and stuffed with seasoned ground beef and topped with a lusciously smooth béchamel sauce. Once baked up together, they are incredibly flavorful and tasty.
Growing up in a Greek home, I have definitely enjoyed plenty of delicious traditional dishes which share many similarities to this papoutsakia recipe. Pastitsio (a Greek lasagna type dish) is a dish that consists of noodles topped with a layer of meat sauce and a layer of béchamel. It is absolute heaven and one of my favorite indulgent meals! Papoutsakia, to me, is incredibly similar except that the noodles are replaced with little eggplant boats. So basically, this is a slightly healthier version of a pastitsio.
While I have enjoyed all of these flavors my whole life, I had never actually eaten papoutsakia until my mother in law made them for lunch one Sunday. Needless to say, I instantly loved them and had to make them myself!
How to make Papoutsakia
This recipe for stuffed eggplant with ground beef and béchamel is pretty easy to do. There are three main components to this dish- the eggplant, the ground beef filling and the béchamel sauce. Although this recipe includes a good number of ingredients, it is actually pretty simple to put together. And definitely worth every step!
The recipe includes all the full details, but the simplified steps go as follows:
- Prepare the eggplant: slice the eggplant in half lengthwise, score the flesh, bake it until soft and then indent the center using the back of the spoon to make a well for the filling.
- Prepare the ground beef filling: sauté the onions and then add the ground beef, cooking to brown it. Then add the remaining filling ingredients and scoop the mixture into the eggplant “boats”.
- Prepare the béchamel: make a roux using butter and flour and then slowly add in warm milk until thick and smooth. Remove it from the heat and then whisk in egg yolks, mizithra (or parmesan), salt and nutmeg. Then spoon it on top of the ground beef filling.
- Bake it all together and enjoy!
Can you prep papoutsakia ahead of time?
Papoutsakia are best when served fresh out of the oven. The béchamel sauce is at its creamiest and they are downright delicious. The good news is you can prep papoutsakia ahead of time!
You can follow the recipe to prepare the eggplant, meat sauce and béchamel and even assemble them in advance. I do recommend waiting to do the final bake if possible. Instead, assemble the papoutsakia, then store them in an airtight container in the fridge or simply place them in a baking dish and cover it with plastic wrap. Then, when you are ready, transfer the assembled papoutsakia to the baking dish and bake them in the oven for that final bake. You may need to add a few minutes to the baking time as they will be colder from the fridge.
I hope you enjoy this recipe!
You may also like these traditional Greek recipes:
If you try and enjoy this recipe, I would love to hear about it! Leave a rating and/or comment below to let me know what you think!
Papoutsakia (Greek Stuffed Eggplant)
For the eggplant:
- 4 medium eggplants
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- salt and pepper
For the ground beef mixture:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 onion chopped
- 1/2 lb ground beef
- 1 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tablespoon parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/8 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- salt and pepper to taste
For the bechamel:
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 cups milk warmed
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon mizithra or parmesan cheese, grated
- salt to taste
- pinch nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon parsley chopped
For the eggplants:
- Preheat the oven to 400F and line 1 or 2 baking sheets with parchment paper (depending on the size of your baking pans, you may need to use 2 to fit the eggplants).
- Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise and remove the stems. Score the cut sides of the eggplants with a knife using a crisscross pattern, leaving a 1 cm border around the edges (as pictured in the blog post) and being careful not to cut all the way through.
- Brush the cut sides of the eggplants with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the eggplant slices with the cut side down on the baking sheet(s) and bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes or until softened. Remove the eggplants and flip them over. Gently press down the inside of the eggplant (where you had scored it in a crisscross pattern) to make an indentation where the filling will go.
For the ground beef mixture:
- While the eggplant is baking, prepare the ground beef filling. Heat the olive oil into a skillet and add the chopped onion. Sauté, stirring frequently until they begin to turn translucent and then add the ground beef, stirring often and breaking up bigger clumps. Once the ground beef is browned, add the tomato paste, water, parsley, oregano, sugar, salt, pepper and cinnamon stick. Cook, stirring frequently for about 8-10 minutes or until the water evaporates.
- Spoon the ground beef mixture into the eggplant indentations.
For the béchamel sauce:
- Next, prepare the béchamel sauce. In a saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour, stirring until it makes a thick paste or roux. Add the milk slowly, whisking continuously as you do so. Whisk until the béchamel sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, then remove it from the heat. Whisk in the egg yolks, mizithra, salt and nutmeg.
- Spoon the béchamel sauce on top of the ground beef filling and bake the papoutsakia in the oven for approximately 20 minutes or until golden. If you wish to get more color, you can place under the broiler for a few minutes, keeping a close eye to ensure they do not burn. [Note: if you are using the broiler option, be sure to remove the parchment paper as it may burn under the high heat.]
- Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve.