When I was sixteen I had the best job ever. I worked at a Chinese restaurant delivering food while the radio blasted in my car (okay, Dad’s car), for a few hours a day on the weekends. The tips were the clincher. The people of Glendale (Queens, New York) were very generous tippers (shout out to the wonderful folks of Glendale), making my job that much sweeter; happy to deliver Chinese food with the usual abundance of fortune cookies and duck sauce tucked into their shopping bags.
Glendale was predominately an Irish-American and Italian-American neighborhood back then (really back then, could still be, I don’t know). My coworker, Benny, who wasn’t much older than me, told me about an Irish pub nearby where they’ll serve beers without ID. Intrigued, my friends and I went over with him and his friends to see if it was really true. It was.
Me not being much of a beer drinker, and usually hungry, I explored the menu instead. I decided to go with the waitress’ recommendation and try the Shepherd’s pie. It was Connie who taught me all there is to know. That it’s always made with lamb whereas cottage pie is always made with beef, and if I ever was served one with beef it was a phony, much like one with just vegetables. Geez, what would she say about this one? Hope she would approve.
She also said a good Shepherd’s pie ‘fillin’ is thick and must have the same amount of potato topping as it does meat filling.
Certainly not your traditional Irish pie, far from it, but it’s homey and comforting in its’ own simplistic way. I’m going to tell myself that she would approve.
I admired her passion and secretly wondered what my boss would say about me coming over here so often instead of regularly eating at the Chinese restaurant. We talked food while my friends slurped and burped beers. Everyone was happy.
I will say that the Shepherd’s pie at Connie’s place (can’t remember the name) was comforting and flat-out delicious no matter the heavy feeling after a big bowlful. It had me come back for that pie often and have eager enough to make at home over the years with lamb stew meat. But this all vegetable version is something special. It has a combination of flavors that welcomes spring, yet hearty enough to bear the remainings of winter … lighter comfort food that’s cozy enough without the need for meat.
I topped mine with Hannah gold sweet potato. Not as sweet or starchy as the orange yam variety (think: a slightly sweeter version of a russet potato) with a similar texture to potatoes to present us with a beautiful crisp crust under the creamy potato topping. You can certainly use russet potatoes, I limit our intake to potatoes, and other nightshades, to try to keep alkaloids intake to a minimum. That’s the stuff that affects the joints and can cause arthritis. Sweet potatoes do not.
I went ahead and used the carrot tops and celeriac root tops for their protein, potassium, and fiber kick. Because the produce is organic I use them for extra nutrition, if you cannot find organic leave the leaves/tops out since non-organic is heavily sprayed with pesticides.
I love that the sweet potato compensates for any lack-of meat and the carrots, celeriac (also known as celery root), peas (commonly planted in the Northeast to celebrate St Patricks Day!), and onions are all fiber powerhouses leaving everyone full and content. My kind of everyone. 🙂
Thanks to Connie, at the Irish pub I can’t remember the name to, and my dear Irish friends in Glendale for the memorable Shepherd’s Pie that inspired me to make a hearty all vegetable version. Hope you love it as much as we did.
Happy St Paddy’s Day!
- You will need a 10-inch X 14-inch oval oven-safe casserole dish at least 2-inches deep
- 4 hannah gold sweet potatoes (about 3 pounds), or russet potatoes, peeled and cut
- 2 medium onions, peeled and diced
- 1 bunch carrots with tops, peeled (about 7 medium sized) and chopped with tops removed
- 3 celeriac (celery root), peeled and chopped with celery tops removed
- 1-2 bags (8-oz) frozen peas (I used 1½ bags)
- 1 large bunch fresh basil, stems trimmed, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, stems removed or dried thyme
- ¾ - 1 cup unflavored coconut milk (not canned)
- 2-3 tablespoons non-dairy butter or palm shortening
- 6 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon crushed black pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground garlic
- 3-4 tablespoons high heat oil (
grape seed, or avocado oil)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (218 C)
- In a medium saucepan, set water on high heat for boiling potatoes. When boiling, slowly add 3 teaspoons of kosher salt (if you add it too quick the water will violently boil over) then the chopped sweet potato. Cook until fork tender, about 25 minutes then drain. Meanwhile, prepare all the vegetables for the filling.
- Note: chop the root vegetables in similar sizes, about ½ inch thick or so
- Carrot tops and celeriac root tops washed then chopped and set aside to be used later. In a large skillet set
onmedium-high heat, add oil. When oil appears thin and the pan is hot, add onions, chopped carrots, and celeriac, stir to combine well. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, or until they appear soft before adding chopped carrot top leaves, chopped celeriac leaves, frozen peas, basil, and thyme. Season with remaining kosher salt and black pepper, stir to combine. Cook for another minute then transfer to a casserole dish. In a small saucepan, set over medium highheat warm the coconut milk and non-dairy butter until it just begins to simmer.
- Note: It may seem like too much coconut milk before mashing, but once incorporated it will make the potatoes light and creamy. Depending on the amount of potato you use, you may need a little more coconut milk if it appears dry. The oven baking will evaporate some of the liquid in the potato so it being more on the wet side than dry is best.
- Add warmed milk mixture to the potatoes and mash. Taste to see if additional salt is needed at this point. Transfer onto the filling and spread evenly over the vegetable filling. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until edges
are browned. Serve hot.
- To made ahead and freeze: Prepare up until just before baking. Press plastic wrap directly onto the potato topping to prevent freezer-burn (when thawed, smooth over the topping once more before baking) then wrap well with four layers of plastic wrap, then a layer of aluminum foil. Plastic wrap is much thinner than it used to be, allowing air in which could affect the taste, so I wrap it several times to ensure the flavor is not affected.
- Variation Notes:
- Sub Hannah gold potatoes for Russets or Yukon gold
- Any mixture of vegetables will do, so long that they are cut similarly
- Coconut oil imparted a flavor to the sweet potato that I thought was too distinct so I use Earth Balance soy free spread
- If adding in meat, be sure the cook it prior to adding in the vegetables
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