January is always a hard month for me. After the gluttony of the holiday season, my head tells me I should eat greens and grains and healthful things. But it’s coooooold out, and my heart craves large bowls of carbohydrates, preferably coated in melted cheese. There’s not a lot of in-between there, at least not in-betweens that leave me satisfied. (Get your cauliflower out of my mac and cheese please!) So I yo-yo back and forth, crushing a rainbow-colored salad one day and a buttery pastry-topped pot pie the next.
This sweet potato shepherd’s pie manages to straddle the line between “healthy” and “indulgent,” proving that comfort food doesn’t always have to be a diet-killer. Shephard’s pie is a British classic, dating back to the late 18th century. Technically, what I made was cottage pie, since it’s made with beef and traditional shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb or mutton, but they’re basically the same thing: ground meat cooked with aromatics and topped with mashed potatoes.
To keep my version on the healthy side, I upped the vegetable-to-meat ratio in the filling, adding extra celery. carrots and peas. (I also swapped in sweet potatoes instead of regular Idaho potatoes, though that was more of a “what’s on sale” decision than anything else.)
The recipe takes a fair amount of work, as you really want to build flavors while making the filling. With time, the gravy becomes intensely savory and full of meaty, umami flavor, and honestly, I could eat that with a spoon all day long. The sweet potatoes balance the savoriness nicely, and the final product is so delicious I almost ate the entire skillet in one sitting. And the beauty of this dish is, that wouldn’t have left me with an aching belly or a guilty conscience.*
*Regardless, you probably shouldn’t eat an entire shepherd’s pie …