An English Casserole Kissed By Indian Spices

I try to love casseroles, and I do. At least, in theory, I do.

What is not to love? They are nice, warm dishes that are baked in a nice hot oven where they are transformed into cozy, homey and comfort food, that often involves bubbling melted cheese with luscious browned crispy bits on top.

Well, in theory, all of that is true. But, having grown up in the era of bland casseroles composed of a can of soup stirred into a can of gloop with a can of crunchy bits and shredded processed cheese sprinkled on top, I have to admit to being somewhat leery of casserole recipes. I will give them a wide berth out of fear that they will turn out to be tasteless gooey messes that even melted and browned sharp cheddar cheese cannot save.

However, I -do- make some casseroles myself, which I go out of my way to ensure that they never see a soup can and are never bland. Enchiladas, moussaka, lasagne, baked macaroni and cheese, and of course, the classic, if ugly, shepherd’s pie have all graced my oven from time to time. All of them are excellent in large part because I start from fresh ingredients and eschew cans altogether, with the exception of using canned tomatoes for sauces when I am not cooking in the summer.

The last time I made shepherd’s pie, however, as I was making the meat filling which at my house consists of ground lamb, herbs, onions or leeks, garlic, mushrooms, carrots, turnips and corn cooked with a bit of broth that is later thickened into a gravy, I realized how similar the cooking process was to the making of keema sookh–a quick weekday curry consisting of ground lamb cooked with onions, garlic, ginger, chilies, spices and vegetables until a rather dry dish is made to serve over rice. Thinking that, I wondered how it would taste if I put keema sookh into a casserole dish and covered it with a layer of mashed potatoes and cooked it like shepherd’s pie.

Then, as I was mashing the potatoes, I decided that if I were to use keema sookh as a filling for shepherd’s pie, I should also “Indianize” the potatoes as well. Thinking on one of my favorite Indian appetizers, potato and pea-filled samosas, I had a thought. Why not cook up samosa filling, and turn it into mashed potatoes and use that for the topping?

So, that is how I made my Anglo-Indian fusion shepherd’s pie last week. I did alter my keema sookh recipe a bit in order to make it wetter–so that there would be a curried gravy. I left some of the water in with the keema, and thickened it; however, instead of using flour or roux as I usually do for shepherd’s pie, I used a couple of tablespoons of Indira’s Magic Powder. This powder of ground roasted, hulled chickpeas and spices not only thickened the gravy, but added a wonderful texture and flavor to the keema filling.

How did it all turn out?

Not only was it as comforting and filling as shepherd’s pie always is, but it was also fragrant with spices and herbs, with the popping sweetness of peas in the mostly mashed potato topping. Even Zak, who was skeptical of the entire experiment, was converted in the end to loving the newly remade casserole, so I think this will appear on our table again and again when the cold winds of winter blow.

Anglo-Indian Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients for Filling:

4 cloves garlic
1 1โ€ณ cube fresh ginger
2 fresh thai chile peppers, stemmed (optional)
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 medium onion, sliced as thinly as possible
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
1 pound ground lamb, goat or beef
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 tablespoons turmeric
water as needed
1 cup fresh green beans, stringed and snapped into 1โ€ณ pieces
2 tablespoons dalia powder
salt to taste
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, lightly chopped

Ingredients for the Potato Topping:

1-1/4 lb. baking potatoes peeled and diced
8 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup ghee or butter
1 tsp. coriander seeds, ground
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, divided–1/2 ground, the other, whole
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1-2 fresh thai chilies, sliced thinly (optional)
1 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1/4 cup milk or yogurt
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1 tsp. garam masala
salt to taste


Preheat oven to 375 degrees, F.

For the filling, grind the dry and wet spices (the first 8 ingredients) into a paste.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat, add oil or ghee. As soon as oil is hot, add the onions, and cook, stirring, until they are a very dark reddish brown. When they are about halfway cooked (golden brown) add salt and keep cooking. This helps force out as much juice as possible, which hastens the browning process.

Once the onions are brown, add the ground spices together and cook in the oil for about a minute. Add the ground meat and the milk, and begin chopping the meat into the milk until it all begins to fall apart and brown. Add the paprika and turmeric, and cook down until the milk is evaporated. At this point, add water, and continue cooking for twenty minutes, adding water as needed to keep it from boiling completely away.

After twenty minutes of simmering, add the green beans and about 1/2 cup of water and cook until the green beans are barely tender and the water is nearly cooked away. Add salt to taste, and the dalia powder, and stir until the liquid is thickened into a gravy. Stir in fresh mint, and remove from the heat. Spray a 9″X9″ casserole pan with vegetable oil, and scrape filling into the pan, and set aside.

For the topping, boil the potatoes and garlic together in salted water until the potatoes are just starting to fall apart, drain.

While the potatoes are cooking, melt butter or ghee in a frying pan, then add the onions, and fry, stirring until they are golden brown. Add the spices, ground and whole, the chile and the ginger and fry, stirring until the onions are reddish brown.

Set aside 1/4 of the potatoes, and mash the rest with the garlic. Add the milk or yogurt, and beat until smooth. Stir in the onions, spices and butter or ghee, the cilantro, the peas, the set-aside potatoes, and garam masala. Add salt to taste. Spread potato mixture over the keema filling, and bake for 25-30 minutes until hot, with a bubbly filling and browned spots on the potatoes.


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  1. This looks like a great idea!

    Comment by Danielle — March 6, 2007 #

  2. Actual Shepherd’s Pie, for once, with LAMB, not Cottage Pie, with beef! Most Americans make it with beef, and and astonished when I tell them it’s not really Shepherd’s Pie. I grew up in the Midwest with a mother who never made Shepherd’s Pie with anything but lamb!

    Comment by Kiwi C. — March 6, 2007 #

  3. This dish does sound very delicious, yummy!!

    Comment by Monika Korngut — March 7, 2007 #

  4. Hi Barbara:
    I am married to an Indian man and make North Indian food all the time but it never occurred to me to fuse the two.
    I think I shall try it with ground chicken. I have a new stove being installed within the next couple of weeks (Dreaded kitchen reno!) and this shall be one of the first new dishes to try. Love your AGA … I opted for a fairly large French stove a Lacanche Cluny 1400 ๐Ÿ™‚

    Love your list of Chinese cookbooks too have some and others are on order.
    Thanks for the wonderful and inspiring blog, Aileen

    Comment by Aileen — March 7, 2007 #

  5. Kiwi C.: I always wondered why it was called shepherd’s pie if it didn’t have any sheep in it. I thought it should be called cowboy’s pie or something.

    Comment by Indefatigable — March 7, 2007 #

  6. This is such a versatile recipe. The last time I made it for stuffing vegetables, I used the extra (w/o green beans) for Indian “sloppy joes”. They received rave reviews from my family.

    Comment by Ann Harste — March 7, 2007 #

  7. Shouldn’t a shepherd’s pie have shepherds in it? ;^)

    I’ve been adding curry to lots of dishes lately, or just turmeric sometimes – trying to improve my hubby’s memory….

    Comment by donna — March 7, 2007 #

  8. Kiwi C.–oh, yes, I -do- know the difference between cotter’s pie and shepherd’s pie, though that was not always the case. I had a dear British friend explain it to me, and so I started making shepherd’s pie properly with lamb and have never looked back. It tastes much better with lamb. But I do make cotter’s pie, too , if all I can get is beef. I just don’t like it as much.

    I do like the idea of calling the beef version “cowboy’s pie,” though. Making it more Yankee, that way.

    Aileen–what cemented it in my head was the fact that Indian cookery has vastly influenced British cookery, primarily to the better. I like your idea of using minced chicken. Have you ever made chicken seekh kebab? You could use similar spicing as those kebabs for the keema, for a different flavor. I think your husband will definately like this dish–I wish I had thought of it when I was still cooking for my Pakistani and Bangladeshi clients, too. They loved it when I “Indianized” American classics for them.

    Ann–that is a great idea! The keema could be served in buns or in pooris for Indian sloppy joes! You are right–keema sookh is very versatile. There are wetter keema recipes that use milk or yogurt to make a sauce–I bet those would be useful and versatile, too. I just haven’t made them yet, because everyone likes keema sookh so much.

    Donna–I think that we eat so much turmeric and curry around here that we are safe from any memory loss! I also have used turmeric for years in chicken soup and stews to color it and to give it a subtle fragrance that is lightly floral. I remember that Morganna for years would not eat canned chicken soup from anyone else but me until I told them to use turmeric–she could taste the difference.

    Comment by Barbara — March 7, 2007 #

  9. […] Tigers & Strawberries ยป An English Casserole Kissed By Indian Spices A casserole Laurel might not be disdainful of! (tags: recipes casseroles potatorecipes) […]

    Pingback by Erin S. O’Connor » Blog Archive » links for 2007-03-07 — March 7, 2007 #

  10. Ooh, looks delicious! I’m a sucker for samosa filling. Maybe I’ll attempt a veggie variation with lentils.

    Comment by SecretNatasha — March 7, 2007 #

  11. Great recipe Barbara. I’ve been using a favourite keema recipe for shepherd’s pie filling for a long time, but with just plain mash. I love the peas and garlic mash – will definately make this at the weekend ๐Ÿ˜€

    A friend created ‘pigkeeper’s pie’ last week when she used home-reared pork mince and bacon and topped with mash. LOL!

    Comment by Steph in the UK — March 8, 2007 #

  12. Oh, and Aileen–those French stoves are gorgeous–you should email me a pic when it is installed.

    I like the lentils idea–that is a good one. You could call that “Gardener’s Pie,” Natasha!

    Steph–I think a more elegant way of naming the pork and bacon (oh, yum!) version would be “Swineherd’s Pie.” Swineherd is an old word seldom in use, but in this context, it works. (And it sounds very, very tasty, too, I might add.)

    Comment by Barbara — March 8, 2007 #

  13. Bravo! A very good looking recipe for Indian Shepherd’s Pie that I’m sure will have tasted great. I learnt cookery like this from my mum, who in an earlier life was married to an Anglo-Indian. This dish may be called fusion, but that term should not be used in a derogatory sense because the dish has a genuine ancestry in post-Raj British cooking and is far from a modern invention. I think cooking like this is just great. We’ve planned a family meal this weekend at Cafe Spice, where Cyrus Todiwala cooks lots of English-Indian modern fusion dishes that work really well.

    Comment by Trig — March 8, 2007 #

  14. hi im also married to north indian man it is great he will eat english and indian food i want to know how to make indian spices can you heip me

    Comment by donna sharma — March 17, 2007 #

  15. Hi Barbara, I was trying to find recipes for english foods with Indian influencs when I stmbled across your site. It sounds amazing and even as a poor student I’m going to be heading down to the shops tonight to give it a go! Love it!

    Comment by Amg Greenwood — April 18, 2007 #

  16. Hi Barbara,
    I was trying to find recipes for english foods with Indian influencs for a feature hook I’m doing on my placement when I stumbled across your site. It sounds amazing and even being a poor student Iโ€™m going to be heading down to the shops tonight to give it a go, hopefuly the feature will be a success aswell! Thanks, Love it!

    Comment by Amy Greenwood — April 18, 2007 #

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