A massive casserole of meat and vegetables, topped with a mashed-potato crust, shepherd’s pie is ideal for chilly nights when you’re feeding a crowd. The traditional British version is made with ground lamb, a fatty, gamey-flavored meat that really holds its own in the dish. American recipes tend to favor milder ground beef (in the U.K., if made with beef, this recipe is often called “cottage pie”). Ultimately, when it comes to deciding which meat to use when making shepherd’s pie, the choice is completely up to you. You could even swap in half of each.
One major difference between this shepherd’s pie and classic recipes is the addition of legumes. Though they aren’t a traditional ingredient, we swapped in tender French green lentils for half of the ground meat. Not only do lentils add bonus texture and flavor to the casserole, they’re significantly cheaper (at my local supermarket, it was $10.99 per pound for ground beef and lamb, compared to $4.19 per pound for lentils), not to mention more sustainable (lentils produce nearly 30 and 40 times fewer greenhouse gasses per kilogram of food consumed than beef and lamb respectively).
Of course, it’s not shepherd’s pie without a mountain of fluffy mashed potatoes on top. Yukon Gold potatoes have super-creamy flesh, which makes them ideal for mashing. Russet potatoes on the other hand, are much starchier—great for baked potatoes, but they simply don’t boil as nicely as Yukon Golds. And while you could make a topping of just potatoes, if you’re not already a member of the Parsnip Appreciation Club, it’s high time. Like a flavor hybrid between a carrot and potato, parsnips add some much-needed sweetness to balance the dish. —Rebecca Firkser
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