Friday, July 3, 2009


My mother was Greek, so I grew up eating and cooking Greek. My father’s food heritage—Irish and Swedish—got short shrift. The only thing we ever ate that might have come from his childhood was Zweibach, a nasty, tasteless bread with the texture of stale cardboard. It might have been Swedish, I can’t imagine why we ate it otherwise.

Shepherd’s Pie is sauteed chopped meat layered with green beans and topped with mashed potatoes. It was a staple of my mother’s menu and a childhood favorite. My kids love it too; it’s one of the dishes they request when they come briefly home.

The funny thing is, I never knew it was a Greek dish. I happened upon the recipe one day when leafing through my Greek cookbook. Discovering this gave me a wonderful feeling of continuity. This is how culture descends through the ages. I never saw my mother use a recipe for this dish, and when I started making it, I simply copied what I saw her doing, with an innovation or two of my own. But the basic dish has probably descended in my family from mother to daughter for generations.

Food can be a beautiful thing.

Shepherd’s Pie

3-5 medium russet potatoes
1/2-2/3 cup milk, half-and-half or cream
1 egg

1 pound of ground chuck for each two people eating
medium onion, diced
1-2 T flour
seasoning: thyme, parsley, oregano or mint (dried works best)
salt and pepper

Preheat over to 350

Peel, cut and boil the potatoes for mashing. When the potatoes come to a boil, start the meat layer. Saute the diced onions in water until all the liquid is gone, add the meat. When the meat is about halfway done, add the dried herb (only one of the ones suggested, but they all work with this dish), and salt-pepper to taste. Finish frying the meat until it is cooked through and dredge with flour. Spoon about 1/2 to 1 cup of the boiling water from the potatoes onto the meat and heat it, stirring constantly, until it forms a thick gravy (this will happen fairly quickly. Don’t walk away). Put the meat into a prepared casserole (buttered or cooking sprayed).

Drain the potatoes and leave them in the pot (no sense dirtying another pot). Add the milk and egg and mash (quickly before the egg can cook). The egg gives the potatoes a nice color and body. Add salt to taste and mash to your preferred consistency (if you like a very smooth mashed potato use a beater, otherwise a masher and fork are fine). The potatoes should be wetter than you might want for a side dish, since they’ll bake for 25 minutes and you don’t want them to get dry.

Layer the potatoes over the meat and bake uncover for 25 minutes.

Traditional shepherd’s pie as a layer of blanched green beans over the meat; however my kids never liked it that way, so I serve the vegetable as a side dish.

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