Oh man, you guys are gonna love this one! But first let me confess how I’ve been spelling Shepherd’s Pie as “Shepard’s Pie” for a while now and no one ever corrected me! As I got started typing up this food blog entry I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to double check the spelling. Glad I did! I’m kinda hoping I’m not alone in this LOL! Okay, so seriously I’m not exaggerating. You-guys-will-LOVE-this! This makes a big batch and depending on the size of your family, you could have the best tasting leftovers for DAYS.
This is truly a Shepherd’s Pie because I use ground lamb. Trust me, I tried ground beef the first time and it’s not the same as the best Shepherd’s Pie you’ve ever had wherever that may be. It must be lamb. Not half lamb, ALL ground lamb. If you’re hesitant to try lamb because you think it’s funky, let me reassure you that if you’re going to try ground lamb for the first time or give it another chance, this is the absolute way to go. I’m not just saying that, promise. Now that has been established, if you insist using ground beef or any other red meat by all means go for it… I do believe that changes it to a Cottage Pie though. This is important to know in case you do some traveling.
If you’re looking to make this meal low-carb, you just simply replace the mashed potatoes with your favorite cauliflower mashed potatoes recipe. There are tons of different recipes out there you can choose from but personally, I would just make my cauliflower mash the same way I would as my usual Red Skin Mashed Potatoes recipe. Just keep your eye on the amount of liquid when making them to get the right texture you want your cauliflower mash to be. As for using real potatoes, I keep the skin for extra fiber, vitamins, minerals, and all that jazz but feel free to peel them. Keeping the skin saves on time too!
You’ll see that I use quite a bit of Worcestershire sauce than your typical recipe. I have reasons! Any time I’ve used a few dashes or a few teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce to a recipe, I can’t taste it! It does nothing! Hardly at least. I want a big punch of flavor because that’s what comfort food is about. So just a heads up, start off not using salt at all. Maybe use half the amount of Worcestershire sauce to start, do a taste test. You can add more towards the end and also add salt to taste. It’s the only way you’re gonna master what you believe is the best Shepherd’s Pie!
One last thing, you can make this a day ahead. Just put the meat at the bottom of the baking pan, top with the mashed potatoes. When you’re ready to bake it, just pull it out of the fridge, top it with the cheese and bake. Some times I’ve made the meat filling ahead so that all I need to do was make the mashed potatoes or vice versa. It works in all ways.
Saute the carrots and onion with the olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Once the onions start to become softened after a few minutes, add the garlic. If the pan is starting to get dry, add a little more olive oil.
Add the ground lamb, rosemary, thyme, onion powder, garlic powder, and black pepper. Using a wooden spoon break up the ground lamb into small pieces letting it brown through.
Once the lamb is nearly cooked through add the Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, flour, and half of the vegetable stock. Stir every thing really well. Let the stock cook down most of the way and add the rest. Stir frequently, reduce the heat and let everything simmer for about 5-7 minutes.
Add the peas and salt to taste if needed. Turn off heat and set aside.
Place the cubed potatoes in a large pot, fill with water until it's about an inch above the potatoes. Bring to a boil and stir every so often.
Strain the potatoes once they're softened. Turn off the heat. Place the pot back on the stove and add the butter. Pour the strained potatoes on top of the butter, add the pepper, milk, and half of the vegetable stock. Mash the potatoes to your desired consistency.
Add more milk and/or stock as needed to avoid the potatoes from drying. Stir. Add more salt and pepper to taste as well.
Place the meat filling evenly in a 9" x 11" (or 9" x 13") baking dish.
Then, top it with an even layer of the mashed potatoes.
Top the mashed potatoes with an even layer of the shredded sharp white cheddar cheese.
Bake at 400 F degrees for about 15 minutes or until everything is bubbling and the top is golden.
If you love stuffed cabbage rolls, then you’ll love this recipe! It takes the whole dish to a whole new level. I know some people are purists but you’ll be surprised to find there are many cultures including the Middle East that have their own variation of stuffed cabbage or some other kind of leaf. So I took the concept of the traditional Polish stuffed cabbage and used a more flavorful meat like ground lamb and complimenting it using the proper spices for it. Yet another fusion dish perhaps that is worth the prep work, I swear!
I’ll say though, it may sound like a lot of work but it really isn’t. You can make the lamb mixture the day before which is super fast. Then take care of the rest later. One major word of advice though is make sure you have a big, tall pot one you’d use to cook spaghetti in. Also, a hand held strainer that would fit a cabbage head in. This will make removing a piping hot cabbage head so much easier preventing burnt hands.
One last thing, the very end of the leaf can have a very thick spine which makes it difficult sometimes to roll the cabbage leaf. In the picture above you can see I cut an upside-down “V” to remove most of it off. It does make a big difference. Don’t worry about ruining the leaf! If you are confused and have any questions don’t hesitate to ask!
LAMB STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS
In a pan over medium-high heat drizzle the olive oil and sauté the onions, garlic, black pepper, cumin, and cinnamon together until the onions are softened, about 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Mix the ground lamb, rice, cooled onion mixture, fresh cilantro and salt thoroughly in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to boil. Place the cabbage head carefully into the boiling hot water using a large strainer with a handle for about 5 minutes. You want the leaves to appear bright green.
Remove the cabbage head into a large bowl. Peel off some of the softened leaves and place onto a plate covered with paper towels. Place the cabbage back into the boiling water for a few minutes until the next layer of leaves are ready to be peeled. Do this a few times until you peel most of the leaves off the head. Save the damaged and/or outer leaves to cover the bottom and top of the baking dish.
Using a knife cut an upside-down “V” to remove the toughest part of the spine at the bottom of each leaf. This will make rolling the leaves easier. Place each cabbage leaf sideways, spoon about ¼ cup give or take of the lamb mixture onto the bottom part of the leaf. Roll it up and tuck in the sides before completely rolling it up.
Line a 9” x 13” baking dish with imperfect cabbage leaves, place the stuffed cabbage rolls into the baking dish and sprinkle the top with garlic powder, sea salt and pepper. Add the bay leaves and vegetable broth. Top the rolls with tomato puree, the remaining fresh chopped onion and feta crumbles.
Cover everything with remaining leftover cabbage leaves and aluminum foil. Bake at 350 F for about an 1h 15min to 1hr 30min. Everything should be boiling hot.
Having grown up eating the foods you did on a regular basis would typically leave people thinking that with options you may choose a different type of food to eat. Which for me can sometimes be the case only when I’m craving a particular type of food. Otherwise, Mediterranean cuisine certainly remains as one of my favorite types of food I never get tired of. When food is super clean, fresh and naturally full of flavor I find myself never wanting the deep fried, greasy stuff over it.
When I was growing up one of my favorite dishes was stuffed zucchini flowers. It wasn’t around often because the flowers were seasonal but I remember how excited I was when they were around and they never lasted long! I’ve also had my fair share of stuffed grape leaves from friends, restaurants and even at Whole Foods food counter and fell in love with them because they reminded me so much of the stuffed zucchini flowers I loved so much as a kid.
THEN, I had a fantastic opportunity to spend some time around Greece. I ventured into restaurants that you would find locals dining at and even had the time to learn how to cook some authentic Greek and Cretan dishes. It wasn’t until we spent this time in the Mediterranean that I found myself in an abundance of dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and some of the best tasting ones to date. I’m convinced that I’ll never find any better than the ones in Greece until of course I decided to take into account all the flavors I’ve experienced from various sources and allow my time in Greece become my biggest influence to make some of the best dolmas EVER!
So this recipe really encompasses all the flavors that I love in a stuffed grape leaf. A hint of cinnamon to compliment the tiny bits of ground lamb mixed with rice, herbs and fresh lemon juice make for the perfect bite. They’re simply addicting with my home made tzatziki that we learned how to make during our time on the island of Crete. This may appear labor intensive but honestly this recipe breaks it down so easily that preparation won’t take long at all so you can get down to stuffing your grape leaves. It’s well worth it! Unless you have a family member or friend that knows how to make these you’ll probably never want to order these from a restaurant again!
STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES
Using a potato peeler, peel the cucumber into strands up until you get to the seeds. Throw the seedy center part away. Place the strands of cucumber on a plate, sprinkle the salt on top, mix, and let sit for about 15 minutes to draw out the water.
In the mean time, mix the Greek yogurt, crushed garlic, and = olive oil in a medium bowl.
Grab the cucumber and squeeze the remaining excess of water out of it and chop the cucumber strands. Combine the cucumber in with everything else, add salt to taste and let it chill in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.
STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES
Gently remove the grape leaves out of the jar, rinse them with cold water and set them aside on a large plate.
In a large bowl mix together the rice, onion, dill, cinnamon, mint, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then mix in the ground lamb using a spoon to break it apart in bits within the rice mixture.
Using one grape leaf at a time use about a teaspoon or so of the mixture slightly at the base of the leaf, fold the ends over and roll it up kind of like you would for a burrito. Make sure it's not super tight so that when the rice expands the grape leaves don't break apart.
Line the bottom of a large pot with the broken grape leaves that you were unable to use. Place the prepared dolmas lined up on the bottom and stack them evenly.
Place 4-5 slices of lemon on top of that and squeeze the rest of the lemon juice over everything. Pour the water into the pot and top everything with a heavy plate. If the stuffed grape leaves aren't completely submerged under water then add more water until they are.
Over medium-high heat bring the pot to a boil then reduce the temperature to simmer for about 40 minutes. When done, drain any excess water and serve with tzatziki sauce.
THIS! Is one of my absolute favorite dishes EVER! It’s truly a fusion of concepts in many ways but what I love most about it, is the combination of spices in both the lamb koftas and this really easy biryani rice. I’ve had some bad first experiences with lamb until I had ground lamb. There’s something about lamb that requires a certain attention with the right spices to make everything marry in ways you’ll want to keep eating it. Which is totally an okay thing to do versus red meat from cow. Lamb is a much healthier alternative (in addition to bison).
Kofta is basically another name for meatball in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, although the main difference between a kofta and the usual meatball you’re more familiar with is the spices. The compilation of flavors are a little more complex BUT that doesn’t mean it’s complex to make. It’s literally just as easy as making any other meatball. These of course being lamb have some fresh mint among warm spices like cumin, coriander, garam masala and even chili powder. But they’re not spicy just VERY flavorful. I would definitely recommend this recipe for someone who has never had lamb before and are worried about any gamey-ness. In this case there is none!
And of course what better way to pair a perfect lamb kofta than with a very basic biryani. The name biryani sounds intimidating enough to make someone not want to attempt to make it. Although it’s again not that different from making any other rice dish that has lots of yummy flavor. This also is a South Asian dish where you’ll find is popular in various ways throughout the region depending on the country. What I did here is I took some basic elements of Indian cuisine, mixed it with some Persian flavors and concepts and even married it together with a few clean Latin flavors of jalapeno and coriander.
I have always had a fascination and a strong love for Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern food. Maybe I was from both regions in past lives or maybe it’s part of me in some way genetically LOL but whatever it is, when you can get several spices together and make them work so well with little effort (maybe if anything, more prep time than anything), to me that makes some incredible food. You really don’t have to go fancy with technique to prove yourself or anyone that you can cook. 🙂
LAMB KOFTAS & BIRYANI
In a large glass bowl mix the one onion chopped VERY fine, crushed garlic, ground cumin, garam masala, ground coriander, chili powder, fresh mint, and salt.
Add the ground lamb and gently fold everything together without over mixing to prevent the koftas becoming tough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for at least 20 minutes or up to a few hours.
Take the large bowl of ground lamb out of the fridge to make the meatballs about an inch in diameter and place on a plate.
Place about two tablespoons of olive in a large skillet over medium-high heat to sauté the cauliflower florets, bell peppers, jalapenos, the other chopped onion, garlic powder, and onion powder together for 5 minutes.
Then, squeeze the juice of one lime over the mix and stir. Reduce the heat to low and let it cook for another ten minutes until onions are very translucent and everything else seems to have absorbed all of the lime juice. Remove from heat and set aside for later.
In a large skillet over medium/high heat pour enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the skillet generously and cook the meatballs, moving them around until evenly brown all around. Each one should have a firm feel to your finger tip without feeling too mushy before you place them on a large plate covered with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
When finished cooking all the meatballs, drain the excess oil from the skillet and toss both the meatballs with the vegetable mixture that you set aside earlier on medium heat for a couple minutes before serving.
In a medium saucepan pour the olive oil and butter over medium/high heat. Sauté the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, and whole cloves for about 3-5 minutes. An obvious sign is when you start to smell the strong aroma of all three together for a good minute.
Add the onion, garlic, and saffron threads for a couple more minutes, stirring. Throw in the basmati rice, curry powder, and ground turmeric. Stir until the rice is completely coated yellow.
Add the stock, stir and leave uncovered until it starts to boil. Once it comes to a boil reduce the temperature to a simmer, cover and let the rice absorb all its liquid for about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and keep covered until ready to serve.
To make this a diabetic friendly meal, avoid the rice and serve in large romaine lettuce as tacos. Slice the koftas in half with the veggies and enjoy.