Any time you ask Pete what he wants for tea (that's dinner to you posh non-English folks), he always says "Shepherds pie?" with a puppy-dog look in his eyes and every bit of him radiating quivering hope. It's really probably his most favourite traditional British dish (I say British, because apparently it's meant to be a Scottish dish and I didnt want to offend anybody's sensibilities by calling it an English dish!), one he's happy to eat any time I make it.
Usually shepherds pie is made with minced lamb (it becomes "cottage pie" if it's made with minced beef, I think), but this time Pete asked me to try making it with frozen vegetarian mince - soya mince or some such vegetarian protein. I've made shepherds pie for Pete plenty of times, but never tasted it myself because I dont like any kind of meat. He's always full of praise for my shepherds pie and he felt it was high time I tried it too.
Dont be misled by the term "pie" here, because this has no pastry of any kind. Actually it can be quite a healthy dish if you lay off the cream, butter and cheese that add to the richness - and calories, natch. If you ask me, it doesnt require those ingredients at all.
What I used to mash the potatoes was a tablespoon of margarine instead of butter, and some hot semi-skimmed milk instead of cream. (Hot milk, because if you use cold milk, the potatoes lump up and wont mash at all!). It worked just fine. I'm not much of a cheese person, plus I didnt have any on hand anyway, so that was out as well. The shepherds pie was filling and spicy (as I'd increased the heat content a bit), fragrant with herbs - and best of all, it didnt contain meat. Pete said he was perfectly happy to always forego the meat in the dish, as the soya mince provided the texture he likes. Three cheers for soya mince!
Recipe for: Vegetarian shepherds pie
1-1/2 cups frozen vegetarian mince
1 large carrot, halved length-wise and cut into 1/2cm thick semi-circles
1 cup frozen or fresh garden peas
1 large onion chopped
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (vegetarian if you can get it)
1 scant tsp hot chilli sauce (I used West Indian scotch bonnet pepper sauce)
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 cups vegetable stock (from stock cube or fresh)
1/2 cup red wine/Guinness (optional)
1 tsp browning (optional - it's just brown food colouring)
2 tbsp fresh herbs chopped (I used basil, rosemary, thyme and parsley)
2 tbsp olive oil
For the mash topping:
4 large potatoes, boiled and peeled
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup hot milk
1 tbsp butter or margarine
1/2 tsp 21-spice seasoning (available at Trader Joe's!) - optional
1. Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the chopped onions and fry on high for 2-3 minutes. Then add the carrots, peas, mince and herbs and stir well. Let it all cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Now add the 2 cups stock and bring to a boil.
3. Add the Guinness/red wine or browning (if using) and stir. Add the Worcestershire sauce and the chilli sauce and stir it in.
4. Let the mixture boil for about 5 minutes, or till the carrots are partly cooked. The gravy shouldnt be runny - if it is, thicken it with cornflour. Pour the mixture into a flat-bottom deep casserole dish. (There should be about 3 inches space to the rim of the dish after the mince mixture has been poured in. My casserole dish was a bit small, so the gravy simply bubbled and overflowed - hence the messy look!)
5. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes. Put them in a large bowl while they are still hot.
6. Mash them so as to break them up into small pieces, then add 1 tbsp margarine or butter and beat well with a wooden spoon.
7. Add the hot milk in two additions and beat till the mash is fairly smooth (a few small lumps dont matter). Add the seasoning at the end and mix in well.
8. Spoon the mash over the top of the mince mixture in the casserole dish, spreading gently with the back of the wooden spoon. If it's sticking, dip the spoon in water.
Be careful that the gravy doesnt come up over the top of the mash, or it will look messy. (It's ok if this happens after baking!)
9. When all the mash has been spread evenly over the gravy, dot the top of it with a little butter here and there.
10. Place in a pre-heated oven (180C) and bake for 30 minutes or till the top of the mashed potato turns golden brown.
Remove carefully from the oven and let the shepherds pie rest for 10 minutes. Serve hot with a selection of green vegetables.