Friday, November 2, 2012

Shepherd's Pie

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only person in the world who likes plane food.  Maybe the better question is: why do I like it?  Could the explanation be psychological?  I never flew on a plane at all until I was 13, and when I did, it was very exciting.  I actually still feel a small thrill of excitement every time, even though it's quickly outweighed by discomfort, impatience and occasional fury.  Perhaps my taste for plane food is related?  Or maybe there is a simpler explanation, such as the fact that plane food is heavily salted and spiced to compensate for a muted sense of smell and, consequently, taste (caused by intentionally dry airplane air - or so I read in the NY Times).

Either way, I always find my plane meal satisfactory, and occasionally even inspiring.  Such was the case after eating a shepherd's pie on a flight out of London; I simply had to make it, and sukot was the perfect opportunity.

Scholars debate whether shepherd's pie must have a bottom crust, but I chose to go without.  I made the filling in a large skillet.  First, two onions and two carrots got chopped and sauteed  with salt, pepper, garlic and paprika.  After a few minutes, in went a kilo of ground beef.  Once this was browned, in went a chopped package of white mushrooms, about a cup of red wine, and a healthy squirt of ketchup.  The whole thing was mixed together, and seasoned with fresh rosemary (though dried would work too), cooked down a bit, and scooped into a Pyrex.

The top contains 4 or 5 potatoes that were peeled, chopped, and boiled until soft, and then mashed with about half a stick of margarine and half a cup of soy milk, and seasoned with salt and pepper.  If I could do it again, I'd leave out the soy milk.  The idea was to make the potatoes creamy, but it also gave them a sweet soy milk taste.  I find Israeli potatoes are slightly sweet anyway, and the soy milk didn't help.  Once the topping is mashed and seasoned, it gets spread over the filling and put under the broiler.  Everything is already cooked; the point of the broiler is just to give some nice brown spots on top.

Oh, I also threw some cabbage into the filling, simply because I had some leftover from stuffed cabbage and couldn't think of anything else to do with it.  That's why I didn't mention it before.  You can do this with lots of things - spinach, broccoli, squash, celery, zucchini or pretty much any veggie would work.  When in doubt, toss it into the shepherd's pie.