a lighter take on shepherds pie

shepherds pie

When the weather starts to turn colder I crave the foods I grew up on. One of my favourite comfort foods is Shepherds pie which my Mum used to make with lamb topped with creamy mashed potato and grated cheese on top which she’d put under the grill (broiler) until it bubbled. She’d serve it with peas and chopped carrot and swede (rutabaga) which she’d mash with butter and salt and pepper. I’d always garnish it with a big blob of ketchup. Something she still doesn’t approve of! I now teach that recipe in one of my classes and have loved introducing it to my American students.

In an attempt to keep the nurturing, comforting flavour and texture while lightening the dish up, I fiddled around with a few versions and settled on this. The base is me adapting a Jamie Oliver beef hash from his 30 minute meals book but using turkey instead. The cauliflower mash topping is my new obsession.

I love it (I still can’t replace the side of ketchup) and so do my family so I hope you will too. You can either serve it as a pie with the meat underneath the cauliflower mash or, as I did in the photo, straight into bowls with a pile of mash and the turkey on the side.

This is a Paleo, low carb and Weight Watchers friendly meal but there is no sacrifice of flavor so you won’t feel you’re missing anything. If you want an alternative to the cauli mash, use mashed potato or serve the meat alongside baked potatoes. The mashed cauliflower is also great served in place of mashed potato with any other dishes.

For the base
1lb/500g ground turkey (I used half thigh, half breast), beef or lamb
2 sprigs fresh thyme
A teaspoon of fennel seeds (optional)
A pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
A teaspoon olive oil
1 red onion
5 carrots
Around a tablespoon of rosemary leaves
4 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
A small bunch Italian (flat leaf) parsley
A splash (around a teaspoon) balsamic or red wine vinegar

For the cauliflower mash

1 large cauliflower

4 cloves garlic, peeled

4 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon butter, rendered organic bacon fat or olive oil (to cook with)

a further 1 teaspoon butter, rendered organic bacon fat or olive oil (to purée with)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To make
1. For the base – Heat a large frying pan and add a teaspoon of oil. Once the oil is hot, add the meat to the pan and press it down so it forms a large thin hamburger style patty. Leave the meat to cook for around 6 minutes over a medium flame without moving it. This will allow the underside to develop a brown crust which will give the flavor to the dish. Scatter the fennel seeds, thyme leaves, salt and pepper and chilli flakes on the top before flipping it over and cooking again for around 4 minutes on the other side. After 4 minutes, start breaking the meat up in the pan so it crumbles into small pieces.
2. For the base – While the meat is cooking on the first side, cut the 1 onion into half moon shapes (see video); peel but don’t chop the garlic and thinly slice the carrot into rounds.
3. For the topping – chop the bottom off your cauliflower then remove the tough outer leaves and discard. Put the paler inner leaves into a large saucepan then cut the florets into small pieces – around the size of a golf ball – before putting them in the pan too. Put the peeled garlic, left whole, in the pan along with the fat, butter or oil and 4 tablespoons water.
4. For the base – When the meat is broken up, stir in the carrot, onion, garlic along with the Worcestershire sauce and cook for around 10 minutes over a medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.

5. For the topping – While the onions and meat mixture are cooking, put the lid on the cauli pan and put it on a high heat for a couple of minutes before dropping to medium high heat. Don’t take the lid off the pan while it is cooking. The small amount of water will produce enough steam to cook the cauliflower and garlic. If you take the lid off you’ll lose that precious steam. Cook for around 8 minutes, then take the lid off and poke a bit of cauli with a sharp knife. You want it to feel soft but not squishy. If it isn’t yet soft enough and the water has evaporated, continue to cook with the lid on but add another teaspoon or two of water to stop the cauliflower and garlic catching on the bottom of the pan

6. For the base – When the onions are softened and the carrots are still a little crunchy but softened at the edges, add the chopped parsley along with the balsamic or red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and cook for a final 5 minutes before tasting, adjusting seasoning and setting aside.

7.  For the topping – Put the remaining butter, bacon fat or oil in the food processor. I usually add a couple of tablespoons soft goats cheese at this stage too. Scrape the cauliflower and garlic along with any juices into the food processor. Put a pinch each of salt and pepper in the processor then pulse for 2 minutes. Stop every now and then to take the lid off and push the sides down with a spatula. Once all the big chunks have gone, use the blend or purée button to give it a really good blitz and make it super creamy.  I usually do this for 2 minutes. Taste and add more salt or pepper as needed.
8. Serve the base mixture either alongside a large spoon of the cauliflower mash or transfer it to a large dish and spoon the cauliflower on top.


You can now buy the equipment I use in this recipe through my shop. I’ve spent years testing my favourite bits of equipment so rest-assured that whatever I recommend is the best tool for the job and will give you great results without cluttering your kitchen with unused tools.

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