I wanted to take a classic Irish dish and give it an interesting new twist, in honor of St. Patrick’s day this week. Shepherd’s pie has been done in every form you can think of: loaded baked potato versions and mini versions and hand-pie versions are plentiful. I thought about doing a breakfast concept, which led me to want to cross Shepherd’s Pie with the wildly different Shakshuka. Shakshuka has been fairly trendy in the last couple of years, but in case you just think it just sounds like a sneeze, it’s a dish of cooked, seasoned tomatoes/tomato sauce, with fried eggs on top, sometimes involving cheese and/or meat.
Experimenting with Shakshuka Shepherd’s Pie, or “Shak-shepherd,” as I’ve been referring to it, led to what I’ve decided to call my Nomad Shepherd’s Pie. It’s got inspiration and flavors from all over the place. The filling starts like a normal Shepherd’s Pie filling does, with ground beef, carrots, onions, garlic, and peas, but it takes a turn for the exciting when you combine it with diced tomatoes, cumin, paprika and jalapenos. Nomad Shepherd’s Pie is topped with creamy feta-infused mashed potatoes, a recipe I developed based on Pioneer Woman’s Creamy Mashed Potatoes. With the addition of feta, the potatoes take on a slight sharpness that works with the smooth, rich flavor of the buttery potatoes. The filling ingredients are all simmered together on the stove, before being baked in the oven with the potatoes. This lets the beef soak up all the different spices and flavors as it cooks, so every bite is consistent. There’s no digging around to make sure you got the right balance of flavors on your fork. Unless that’s just me? Do other people try to make sure every bite of their meal is just right?
I gathered my inspiration from a ton of Shakshuka recipes, cherry (tomato)-picking ingredients that I thought would work with Alton Brown’s Shepherd’s Pie, which I used as a base. He uses lamb; I used beef, because it’s less expensive and people (myself included) are more familiar with cooking it. I kept his seasonings and added a few of my own. I tested the recipe with Hungarian Sweet Paprika, which smells absolutely divine, but regular paprika would be fine to use. Whatever you put in it, it’s important to make sure all of your ingredients make it into the dish. Otherwise, you’ll set your beautiful Nomad Shepherd’s Pie in the oven, only to turn around and see the peas that were supposed to go into it… Sitting on the counter top. Sad that you’ve forgotten them.
I’ll just say I decided not to use them after all. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Putting together this dish is fairly straightforward, since it’s only two layers. You pour the filling into a glass 9×13 pan and smooth it out to an even layer. The mashed potatoes present a slight challenge, as they don’t spread very well on top of the wet filling. You can pipe the mashed potatoes on top to get a really nice layer. I wanted a little of my filling to run onto the top of my potatoes to give them some extra color when they baked. I piped about 6 thick lines of potatoes along the top of my dish, and then smoothed them into a single layer. The liquid from the filling seeps up over the edges of the potato while you’re smoothing it out. I think the added color on the top of the mashed potatoes actually makes the whole dish look more inviting, and the added moisture kept the top from drying out in the oven.
I tried a version of this dish with the mashed potatoes on the bottom, and the beef filling on top, and a few eggs cracked into the saucy filling on top and before baking. I found that the eggs didn’t add enough to the dish to bother with the careful timing they require. You could absolutely fry eggs and place them on top of an already-baked Nomad Shepherd’s Pie if you like the idea of taking it to full Shakshuka territory. If you do achieve a full Shakshuka Shepherd’s Pie, let me know how you did it, because I’d love to try it out!
Nomad Shepherd's Pie
Feta Mashed Potatoes are adapted from Pioneer Woman's Creamy Mashed Potatoes
Shepherd's Pie base is adapted from Alton Brown's Shepherd's Pie recipe
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 carrots
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- tomato paste
- 1 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes
- 1 14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped small
- 3 oz frozen peas
- 2 tsps worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsps dried rosemary, crushed
- 2 tsps dried leaf thyme
- 1/8 tsp cayenne
- 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp paprika (I used Hungarian sweet paprika)
- 2 tsps cumin
- 1 lb raw ground beef
- 3/4 tsp salt
Feta Mashed Potatoes
- 2.5 lbs peeled russet potatoes
- 1/2 cup half and half
- 6 Tbsps butter
- 4 oz crumbled feta cheese
- 4 oz cream cheese
- 1/8 tsp onion powder
- 1/8 tsp garlic powder
- salt to taste
Start by making the mashed potatoes. Peel potatoes, slice into quarters, and place in a large pot. Add water to cover the potatoes, and cook with the lid on, over high heat. When the pot reaches a boil, lower the temperature to medium, and cook for 17-20 minutes, until potatoes are fork tender.
2. While potatoes are cooking, soften cream cheese in the microwave. When potatoes are done, drain them in a collander. Put cream cheese, butter, and feta into the warm pot. Return potatoes to the pot, on top of the cheeses and butter. Mash using a potato masher - You can also put the potatoes through a ricer before returning them to the pot, if you prefer a smoother texture. Add onion and garlic powder, and salt. Stir and mash until all ingredients are well combined.
3. Add salt and half and half to the potatoes and stir until combined. Set aside.
4. Dice carrots and add to a hot skillet with olive oil. Let cook about 12 minutes. Dice onions and add to the skillet until they start to get tender, about 5 minutes. Mince garlic and add to the skillet. Let cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add tomato paste, cans of tomatoes, jalapeno, peas, worcestershire, and spices and stir. Add raw ground beef and allow to cook through, stirring occasionally. Add salt - add more than the 3/4 tsp if needed.
5. When the ground beef has cooked, and pour the mixture into a 9x13 dish. Top with the mashed potatoes. You can spread them with a spoon or pipe them on. Piping looks neater, and makes it easier to get an even layer.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika over the top of the dish.