Ireland is a land with great small pubs tucked into the corners of the countryside, both a traveler’s relief and a tourist destination. Enter at lunchtime and prepare to enjoy one of the several rustic dishes that Ireland is famous for – lamb stew, colcannon, peasant soup, brown bread, bangers and mash, fresh fish, or Shepherd’s Pie.
During one of our trips, Sheila and I realized that there are as many versions of Shepherd’s Pie as there are cooks in the kitchen. We had always thought that perhaps, except for spices, the ingredients would be the same everywhere. Nope. I think the only common factors we found were the peas and carrots in every bowl (or plate) served. Even the toppings varied from pub to pub – we had both pie crust and mashed potatoes covering the tasty meat and veggie dish. Some had ground lamb for the meat, instead of the beef that we use in this recipe.
Shepherd’s Pie, in whatever form, is a fairly simple dish to create. After tinkering a bit, this is what Sheila created. And, of course, taste tested by me.
During our last trip to Ireland, Sheila and I had lunch in many different restaurants, in both big cities and small villages throughout the country. We were surprised to see that there were two comfort foods common to every mid-day menu: Brown Bread and Irish Peasant Soup. While I’m traveling, if I find something I like to eat, I tend to stick with it, just to be on the safe side. Sheila says I should be more adventurous, but IMO, odd sauces can cover up a LOT of mystery meat.
Having said that, we discovered that each of the places had different recipes for the soup. Sheila came up with this combination of vegetables after striking up a friendship with a chatty cook who revealed that the soups are basically created using whatever is fresh from the garden that week.
The menus in Irish pubs list ‘bangers and mash.’ Bangers are large sausages served with the colcannon – a tasty, filling combination. I have also eaten a version of this dish in Ireland with cabbage chunks instead of the kale. The kale version is prettier on the table (IMO).
3-4 large red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-2 inch chunks
8 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup finely chopped leeks
1/2-3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1 Tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon sea salt for potato water
1 additional teaspoon sea salt for seasoning the dish
Ground pepper to taste
Boil potatoes in salted water for 20 minutes (or until fork tender).
Meanwhile, wash and trim kale, discarding the spines of the leaves. Blanch, drain, gently squeeze out the water and chop finely. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons butter and garlic powder in a large frying pan and cook leeks until tender over low heat, about 5-10 minutes. Add the chopped kale and 2 Tablespoons butter and cook an additional 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with pepper to taste.
Drain and mash the potatoes. Whip in the kale mixture and 1 teaspoon salt. Slowly beat in cream until mixture is smooth, but still firm. Season with additional salt & pepper if needed.
In a small frying pan, brown the onions in the remaining butter.
Create a mound of the potatoes in a dish. Make a depression in the center and pour the browned onions and butter in the well until they spill over the side. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. (the photo is of a version I make without the onion topping.)