Tomorrow is my birthday and I had hoped this week would be a little quieter than usual so that I could have some time to prepare myself for becoming a year older. In fact, the opposite happened and I have been busier than ever. Such is often the way. This also means that I have not had time to write up a shepherd’s pie that I cooked a couple of weeks ago that was more successful than I anticipated.
It started with us cooking a the lamb shawarma from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem for a family Sunday supper. I usually look to Ottolenghi for my vegetarian recipes, but could not resist this lamb. It has had a post-it marking the page for longer than I care to admit. If you have the book, it is worth making for an alternative Sunday roast: it is marinated in no less than 11 spices and slow roasted for about four and a half hours. We served ours with the usual array of kebab accompaniments – shredded iceberg, pickled chillies, hot sauce and a little hummus – and with a butternut squash, lentil and feta salad on the side.
Of course, we had some lamb left over, although not a great deal as we were all rather hungry. Once I had shredded it from the bone, there was about 250g of meat, which would make a very skimpy Shepherd’s pie indeed. I almost popped it in a tupperware to use for sandwich meat, and then remembered that I used to pad out vegetarian ‘shepherd’s’ pies with lentils and that it could also work well with the lamb. As it happens, it worked perfectly. Not only did it stretch the filling to make a pie for two people with a little leftover, but it added another dimension of texture to the shredded lamb. I was worried that the spices from the shawarma would overpower the dish a little, but in the end I could barely taste them, save for a bit of extra heat.
Food waste is one of my biggest bete noires, so the thrill of creating a new meal from old leftovers is pretty unrivalled as far as culinary thrills go. I have always found more satisfaction in creating something from the odds and ends of the fridge than having a whole supermarket full of ingredients at my disposal. This is partly why I shop daily rather than do a big ‘weekly shop’ – it is far easier to see what you already have, and then figure out something to do with it. A shepherd’s pie, or cottage pie, is a perfect way of using up leftovers: the meat, old bits you have lurking around the veg drawer, and the ends of bags of potatoes. As far as the filling goes, you can add in more or less anything you like. The idea of creating this as a completely new dish seems like an odd one. Some people do this with mince, which I prefer not to use if I can help it.
Lamb and Lentil Shepherd’s Pie
100g dried green lentils
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp dried thyme
100ml red wine
250g leftover roast lamb
100ml chicken stock
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp tomato puree
Salt and pepper
750g potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 tbsp salted butter
Grated cheese, for topping
Cook the lentils according to packet instructions and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200ºc. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, or chef’s pan, and cook the onion, carrots and celery over a medium heat until soft but not browned, approximately 10 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme in the last two minutes of cooking.
Pour in the wine and increase the heat a little to let it bubble. Cook for a couple of minutes until it has reduced a little. Add the lamb, stock, Worcestershire sauce, tomato ketchup, tomato puree, salt and pepper. Cook on a medium heat for around 15-20 minutes until the mixture has thickened and most of the liquid has been reduced. Stir in the lentils and transfer to a suitable pie dish.
Meanwhile, cook the potatoes until tender. Drain and mash with the butter and a little milk until smooth. Check the seasoning.
Pipe or spoon the mash over the lamb mixture and top with a layer of grated cheese. Bake in the oven for around 30 minutes until the top has browned and the edges are bubbling. Serve with green vegetables.