The other day I texted my friend (who is also a mom of two young kids) to tell her that I was feeding my kids hot dogs for dinner. And by “hot dogs,” I actually meant weiners that I had dug out of the back of my freezer, defrosted in a mixing bowl of cold water, steamed, and then cut into tiny pieces. Steamed broccoli on the side.
I don’t normally text my friends to share the evening’s dinner menu, but something about this particular dinner compelled me to get it off my chest. In the hope, perhaps, that it would lead to our joint commiseration about the daily struggle to feed a family.
This shit is hard. It’s hard! What one kid devours the other kid finds “too soft” or “too orange” or “so disgusting.” And what’s delicious one day (“Hummus Yummus!”) is inedible the next (“Mama, I told you hummus is so so gross!”). Add to that all the grocery shopping, the meal planning, the chopping and sauteeing, the pot-scrubbing, and the high-chair disinfecting, and I wonder sometimes how the whole thing isn’t a freakin’ full time job.
In the interest of full and honest disclosure, this Tex-Mex Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie is the very meal that the Bean found “too soft” and “too orange”. “Just try it!” I pleaded, as she angrily Elsa-forked her green peas one at a time. I offered guacamole, sour cream and salsa for dipping (nope). I even offered to painstakingly separate the meat from the potatoes from the vegetables (nope). And this while her brother sat one seat away from her, devouring the stuff, sweet potatoes on the tip of his nose, looking up from his plate only for long enough to ask for “mo tatoes!” One cursed; one blessed.
Do not let the Bean’s distaste for this dish dissuade you from making it. I love it; Kiwi loves it; and the Beansprout inhales it, and that’s reason enough for me to make it over and over (and over) again. If not once per week, at least once every couple of weeks. The Bean will come around eventually, I imagine.
I grew up eating shepherd’s pie—the conventional variety with peas, carrots and corn and topped with mashed potatoes—and there’s a certain comforting nostalgia in it, especially at this time of year.
This version is a significant improvement over a traditional shepherd’s pie (sorry mom), with a tex-mex flair from the chili powder, cumin, corn, black olives (leave the olives out if your kids won’t touch them), cilantro, and cheddar, and a vitamin and flavour kick from the sweet potato topping. It tastes a bit like a big bowl of sweet-potato topped chili, and is especially excellent with a dollop of sour cream, some chopped avocado or guacamole, and a bit of salsa or fresh tomatoes.
It’s full of veggies, so it makes a full meal all on its own. But you can serve it with a salad or some steamed broccoli if you’d like to round it out.
Unlike a white-potato topped pie, this one freezes beautifully: freeze the leftovers in their casserole dish (cover tightly with plastic wrap) or refrigerate the leftovers until they are cold, and then cut into individual-sized portions and freeze in small containers.
- 3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil (or your preferred cooking oil)
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 small carrots, peeled and diced
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1 zucchini, diced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup frozen corn kernels
- 1 small can black olives, drained and rinsed (optional)
- Handful of cilantro, finely chopped (optional)
- 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
- Cilantro, guacamole, sour cream and salsa for serving
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Place the sweet potatoes into a medium pot; cover halfway with cool water; put the cover on and bring to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and cook the potatoes until they are soft.
- Pour off the water, add the butter and 1 teaspoon of salt, and mash the potatoes with the back of a fork until they are relatively smooth. Set aside.
- In the meantime, heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the ground beef, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Let it brown on one side and then turn it over so it browns on the other.
- When the meat is almost cooked through, add the onions and cook, stirring regularly, until the onions are soft and starting to get some colour. Stir in the carrots, red pepper and zucchini, followed by the chili powder, cumin, tomato paste and water.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer until the vegetables are soft (about 10 minutes). Add the frozen corn and olives and continue to cook until the corn is warmed through. Stir in the cilantro. Season with salt to taste (I use about 1 teaspoon).
- Dump the meat mixture into a shallow casserole dish, and spread the mashed sweet potatoes evenly over top.
- Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until the meat mixture begins to bubble up at the edges. Remove the dish from the oven and sprinkle over the grated cheese. Return to the oven and bake until the cheese is melted. Then turn the oven up to broil to brown the top. (Watch carefully to make sure it doesn't get burned).
- Let the shepherd's pie sit for about 10 minutes before serving.
- Serve with guacamole or chopped avocados, sour cream, salsa or fresh tomatoes, and chopped fresh cilantro.