I have a memory. A cold winter evening in a small town in Bihar, North India in the early 1980s, Mom, Dad and me sitting around our sunmica-topped dining table eating shepherd’s pie. This old English favourite was new to us but we loved it. A rustic dish, it was my mother’s attempt at ‘Continental’ cuisine. Meat and potatoes, yes, but with dollops of butter, a hint of Worcestershire, lashings of melted cheese, and the happy hum of Indian chilli powder. And soon this dish from rural England became a regular feature on our winter dinner table.
When I started making it, I had no measurements and no written recipe. I cooked purely by instinct and my memory of watching Mom cook it. And it turned out fine. Instinct, I think is the biggest asset a cook can have. Anyway, this humble pie was a big hit with my friends and I slowly began to write down measurements as requests for the recipe began popping up. And then I also reached a stage when I took a break from it for a few months….actually maybe a year and then some.
But old favourites die hard and I was tempted to cook itagain. This time I made a few changes, instead of the classic butter-laden mashed potatoes, I went for the olive oil and rosemary infused version….delicious! And sharing it with my husband and son on our cosy kitchen table revived the scene of that cold winter evening warmed by my mother’s beautiful shepherd’s pie and I realised how much love that memory holds for me even after so many years. I hope I can create many such moments of sharing beautiful food and each other’s company, for our son.
- 800 g lamb mince
- 4 large, floury potatoes
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 medium carrots, diced small
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cube of chicken stock
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 300 ml whole milk, at room temperature
- 200 ml+ 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsps fresh rosemary, minced or 1 tsp dried rosemary
- 200 g cheddar, grated
- 1/2 tbsp butter
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and lightly spray a medium-sized square or rectangular baking dish with cooking spray.
- Boil a large pot of water and cook potatoes till they are tender to a fork.
- While the potatoes boil, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and gently saute the onions on medium heat till translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more.
- Add the thyme, carrots and the meat and brown quickly on high heat for a few seconds. Reduce the heat, add the tomato paste, Worcestershire, stock cube and a quarter cup of water and simmer covered till the carrots are soft, and the meat is cooked but not completely dry. Add pepper, check the salt and set aside.
- Prepare the potatoes by mashing together the warm, boiled potatoes, olive oil amd milk till the mixture is creamy and without lumps. Add the minced rosemary and half the cheese, and season generously with black pepper and salt.
- Spoon the lamb into the dish and top with the mashed potatoes. Smoothen the edges, score the top gently with a fork, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and dot with butter. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes till the sides are bubbling and the top is golden brown. Serve with crusty bread or a fresh green salad.