There are many ways to make shepherd’s pie, most of them quite humble since this was originally a peasant dish, not an aristocratic one. Traditional recipes use lamb (which I am doing here) and a white potato mash for topping. Yep…meat and potatoes, that’s about it. But that is usually just the beginning for modern cooks. In blogs past, I have pushed the envelope on a Classic Shepherd’s Pie and turned this traditional dish on its head with a Middle Eastern-inspired Curried Lamb Pot Pie that features a flaky pie crust topper. But today, we are… ok…we are not doing anything too traditional here either—think sweet potatoes and goat cheese.
I find the greatest pleasure I get from cooking is giving someone I love a special dish, honoring their place in my life with a meal that is both nutritious and delicious and something unexpected. The gift I gave my husband this holiday season is a Very Special Shepherd’s Pie. Got somebody special in your life who needs to be reminded how much you love them? Let’s get cookin’!
- Two large sweet potatoes, scrubbed peeled and quartered
- Two tablespoons unsalted butter
- One tablespoon heavy cream
- One tablespoon pure maple syrup
- Sea salt to taste
- One pound ground lamb, with fairly even marbling, if you can get it
- One large shallot, minced (Onion works, too, but go for shallot, if you can.)
- One-half cup whole grain rolled oats, processed to fine crumbs
- One large egg, slightly beaten
- Two tablespoons tomato paste (organic, no-salt)
- One tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
- One tablespoon pure dark sesame oil
- One-half cup quality feta cheese (Don’t skimp here.)
- One teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or a mixture of cayenne and black pepper, if Aleppo isn’t available)
- One teaspoon each dried sage and rosemary
- Sea salt to taste (Less rather than more probably because the feta will be salty.)
- Olive oil to prep the casserole dish
- Begin with the topping because it can wait covered on the stove until it is needed in the oven. Cover the prepared sweet potatoes with cold water in a large Dutch oven. Partially cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a heavy simmer and cook until the sweet potato chunks are very tender but not falling completely apart. You can prepare the lamb filling and get it into the oven while your sweet potatoes cook.
- Once the potatoes are tender, drain completely and return to the pot. Add the butter and mash up until smashed mostly smooth. Using a big wooden spoon, beat in the cream, maple and salt. Cover and set aside until needed.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 X 8 casserole dish with olive oil.
- In a large mixing bowl, crumble the ground lamb and combine it with the processed oats. Your hands are your best tool here. I usually start with a spoon but switch over quickly. In a separate small bowl, beat the egg and then whisk in the tomato paste, tamari and sesame oil. Add to the lamb-oat mixture and combine well.
- Season the mixture with salt and pepper and the dried herbs. Crumble in the feta cheese and use your hands to get everything evenly combined.
- Place the mixture in the prepared casserole dish and spread in an even layer to fill the dish to the sides. Place in the oven and set the timer for one hour.
- At about 45 minutes, remove the casserole from the oven and allow it to calm down a couple of minutes. At this point it is time to top the lamb layer with the sweet potatoes, but first you will need to drain the grease off the meat mixture. This can be tricky, tipping the dish without dumping out the meat or burning your hands. Here is how I do it:
- Place a heatproof container in the sink well. I use a tiny pot that I know will not shatter when the hot grease makes contact.
- Use substantial oven mitts that afford a good grip to handle the hot dish.
- Gently tilt the casserole letting the grease dribble out into the little pan slowly and steadily. The sink will catch any leaks and misses. Cleanup is easier. See photos after the recipe.
- You don’t need to remove every drop, just do the best you can and take care placing the hot dish onto your counter in order to top with potatoes. An old towel or thick hot pad works well. Be brave.
- Once the grease has been drained, top the meat with the prepared mashed sweet potatoes. Add extra butter or maple, if you wish. Return to the oven and continue to bake for the remaining time or until everything is heated through and the potatoes have begun to brown slightly.
- Once the casserole is done, let it rest about 10 minutes before serving.
Reheats well. Just cover and store leftovers in the refrigerator. Use your oven on 350 degrees to reheat.
Draining the Grease
This is never a fun task, but if you are brave and careful, you’ll do fine. The photo on the left illustrates how much grease is in the dish before draining. The photo on the right illustrates the amount of grease drained away. This is just to give you an idea of what you are looking for in this critical step.
So this little casserole was my yuletide gift for my sweet husband. This is a great holiday dish to prepare if you don’t have a big crowd around your table (or an abundance of vegetarians vs meat eaters) but still want something “very special”.
If, on the other hand, you do have a big crowd this year for holiday dining, check out my traditional roast turkey or roast chicken. Crowd pleasers for sure.
Finally, there is someone very special to whom this post is dedicated. Steve Riddle is my friend and the husband of my friend Tracy, the owner of The Shepherd’s Wife—artisan textiles, hand spun and dyed yarns, and handcrafted soaps. Together they managed their family sheep farm and Steve trained his amazing herding dogs—his joy and passion. Sadly and suddenly, Steve left this world near the end of November this year. The blog I wrote about Steve and Tracy and their farm months and months ago stays fresh in my memory…perhaps it will remain so. I hope so. I still smile when I hear in my mind Steve’s funny comments and jokes delivered with a wry sense of humor on Saturday mornings at the Goshen Community Market. I still see and feel him so clearly, as if he never left. It is close to the Yule, after all, close to the point when light overtakes darkness, and we begin again.