When the weather gets cooler, we want to tuck into comfort food in our home. Doing a recipe makeover on a tasty-but-less-than-healthy dish is one of my favorite challenges.
Today, I’m taking on a wintertime classic with my Lightened Shepherd’s Pie. Typically, shepherd’s pie is made from fatty-and-filling lamb, which is turned into a flavorful slow-cooked heady stew and topped with creamy, cheesy mashed potatoes made lush by a nice-sized helpings of butter and heavy cream. The resulting marriage is divine. How close could I get to the original while making some healthier ingredient swaps? Pretty close.
The changes were actually fairly simple, and the resulting recipe stayed quick enough to make this easily a weeknight meal. I cooked the filling in a large oven-safe skillet, so rather than bother with transferring the filling to a new baking dish, I just topped it and baked it right there in the saute pan, saving on cleanup time, too. Frozen veggies also saved both prep time and money.
The biggest recipe change: I swapped out potatoes and used cauliflower puree instead. I simmered frozen cauliflower and fresh garlic in broth, for flavor, until tender, and then blended it up into a puree with just a touch of cream cheese instead of butter and cream. The cream cheese added a marvelous silky texture and a hint of pleasantly tangy cheesiness to the topping, so just a little bit of shredded cheese melted on top of the pie felt cheesier than it actually was.
I also tweaked the filling, relying on a bunch of vegetables more than meat for heft and flavor. Onions, finely chopped mushrooms, peas, carrots and spinach all added enough complexity and texture so that 1 pound of ground meat easily stretched to eight servings. Instead of traditional lamb, I used lean ground beef, but given how little meat each serving has, I might be persuaded occasionally to use lamb, and why not — a dark ale for extra wintery comfort, since the recipe manages to have a ton of flavor even with only one cup of beer in it.
The Lightened Shepherd’s Pie is comforting, but not overly filling. It’s a perfect weeknight meal to get us through winter.
Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook "Supermarket Healthy."