Shepherd's pie - originally termed cottage pie - is a traditional dish going back to 1791. It was a dish created to use leftover roasted meats of any kind, the baking dish was typically lined with mashed potatoes, and finished with a mashed potato crust. Potatoes were introduced as an affordable crop to feed the working rural poor living in cottages, hence the earliest name "cottage pie." In the 1800s, "shepherd's pie" typically referred to a potato crusted dish that used lamb or mutton. Some would say it is "shepherd's pie" if it uses lamb or mutton, and "cottage pie" if it uses any other protein. I like the name shepherd's pie for any dish that combines a protein and a savory sauce with vegetables covered by a mashed root vegetable crust, baked in a casserole or dutch oven because I associate the name with hearty comfort food. I have made variations that include ground lamb, ground beef, ground turkey, and even frozen and grated tofu.
My Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie is an exceptionally healthy version of the dish, created in the Charlotte, North Carolina kitchen of my son Nils and his wife Jamie. My son is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach, a nutrition expert, and a competitive body builder. He recently began preparing for a competition in May 2015. While healthy eating is always a priority for my family, in the months leading up to a competition, "healthy" takes on a whole new meaning 🙂 Each ingredient is weighed, servings are portioned, and macro nutrients are calculated. Sweet potatoes are nutrient rich, and packed with vitamins a and c, potassium, and calcium. They're an excellent substitution for potatoes in creating a healthier version of shepherd's pie.
I chose to use all white meat ground turkey to cut fat grams from the dish. Body builders require lots of lean protein. The cremini mushrooms add additional flavor when browned with the turkey. The sweet potatoes are mashed with chicken broth, coconut milk beverage (non-dairy substitute for milk or cream), and a bit of poultry seasoning. I was able to get some lovely, fresh English peas, but frozen petite peas will work nicely as well. At 377 calories per serving, this is a well-balanced, low-calorie, healthy dish. Serve with a spinach salad, and pair with an unoaked chardonnay or a full-bodied dark ale.
Ralph Waldo Emerson's emphasis on health was well-placed. Healthy lifestyle choices are well worth the effort. An added benefit to eating healthfully most of the time, is the guilt-free pleasure on those occasions that we "splurge" on dishes like risotto or pasta carbonara. If you'd love to include healthier options in your meal planning, but making changes like this seem overwhelming, take it a step at a time. Replace one less-than-healthy meal per week with one like this. Include whole foods, complex carbs, lean proteins, and lots of fresh produce. A colorful plate usually indicates a healthy meal. Bon chance!