(once again, pardon my subpar photography skills!)

I apologize if it’s a bit hard to read this post over the sound of me patting myself on the back.  Yeah, I’m a little proud of this one – mainly because it rates pretty high on the tasty-deliciousness meter and it used up a hefty two pounds of mashed potatoes that I had leftover from a lefse party (lefse is a Norwegian potato flatbread that is really best made at a party, preferably with a beer in one hand!).  The temperature has finally gotten legitimately wintery here.  Of course, I grew up in northern Minnesota, so whenever the subject of the cold comes up I have to act all extra tough (I mean, because I am, of course), and say things like, “This isn’t cold!  It never even gets really cold in Boston.  Try a couple of weeks of minus 40 and then get back to me about cold.”  This generally gets a lot of looks of shock and horror at the idea of that kind of weather, and then everyone returns to complaining about how cold it is.  Because it is.  Certainly, it is at least cold enough to have me hovering near my oven every evening coming up with reasons to turn it on.  Even if I’m making something on the stovetop, I’ve been able to scheme up some way to end it in the oven.  Case in point, this spiced up rendition of something akin to shepherd’s pie.

I’m lucky enough to get my meat from a local farm, and one of the cuts I get from them is ground lamb.  It’s also pretty easily available from the grocery store and is especially lovely for Indian or Greek flavored dishes, like little cumin spiced meatballs in a curry sauce or spiced with lots of oregano, basil, garlic and a little cayenne on a pita with a cucumber dill sauce, or as lamb burgers topped with roasted red peppers and feta (not grilling in this weather though, yipes!).  One of my favorite things to make is a Greek flavored tomato lamb ragout with spinach, served over orzo (a pasta that looks like big grains of rice).  Which is what I decided I wanted to make.  Except, well, I didn’t have spinach…or orzo.  What I did have was a heckuva lot of mashed potatoes.  So, I thought to myself, ‘well if shepherds in Ireland could put mashed potatoes on top of lamb and bake it (because obviously shepherds invented shepherd’s pie), couldn’t shepherds in Greece?  And if they did so, wouldn’t they probably add some feta or goat cheese to the mashed potatoes first?’  Answer, who knows!  But they would have been wise to.  And so, channeling Zorba the Greek tending a flock, that is exactly what I did.

The recipe for the ground lamb is based off of one I saw in a magazine years ago – Eating Well, maybe.

Greek-spiced Shepherd’s Pie

  • 1-1.5 lb ground lamb
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano (or ½ tsp. crushed rosemary)
  • a dash of cayenne (ground red pepper)
  • 1 14 oz can of tomatoes (preferably no flavor, can be diced, crushed, or whole, it doesn’t really matter because you’ll smash them anyway)
  • about ¼ cup olives, pitted and chopped
  • If you have them, a couple of cups of fresh spinach or an eggplant, diced and sautéed in several Tbs. olive oil for 10 minutes or until soft
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/3-1/2 cup crumbled feta or chevre
  • 1-2 lbs. leftover mashed potatoes (or if you need to make some fresh, about 2 lbs. potatoes, 1-2 Tbs, butter, a bit less than ¼ cup cream, ½ Tbs. sugar, and 1-2 tsp. salt)
  1. To make the mashed potatoes if you have none:  peel the potatoes and cut them into somewhat regular ½ inch size chunks.  Put them in a pot and add water to just cover.  Bring them to a boil and then turn them to simmer.  Simmer for around 20 minutes, until they are soft through when speared with a fork.  Drain them and then add the butter, cream, salt, and sugar.  Wait for the butter to melt, then use a masher or handheld mixer to mash them up.  Stir in the crumbled cheese.  If you have leftover mashed potatoes, heat them up a bit in the microwave, the oven, or in a pot on the stove and then stir in the cheese.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375?F.
  3. For the lamb: chop the onion and mince the garlic.  Heat a dash of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high, add the onion and garlic, and sautee until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Then add the spices, stir, and allow to cook for a minute.  Add the ground lamb.  Cook, breaking up the chunks, until it is browned.  Use a spoon to drain some of the fat off the top, or if you’re daring you can lift the pan and try to pour some of the fat off (into a can, I’d suggest) while trying to keep the meat in the pan with a spatula. 
  4. Return the pan with the lamb to the heat, add the can of tomatoes and smash them up in the pan with your stirring spoon.  Bring to a simmer and turn heat down to low-medium.  Stir in the olives.  If you have spinach or fried eggplant, stir them in too.  Allow the whole thing to simmer for about 10 minutes.  Then pour it into a baking dish and carefully spread  the cheesy mashed potatoes into a layer over the top of the lamb.  Pop it into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until bubbling and the potatoes are turning golden.  Serve with something light and fresh, like a green salad.
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