18 October 2015

We're in this together: Middle Eastern shepherd's pie

151012 Middle East Shepherd's Pie 4

Tomorrow is election day in Canada. 

It’s been a long campaign. It’s been an aberrantly and abhorrently caustic campaign. 

As we waded through attack ads, endured dog whistles, and sifted through fictions presented as facts, many of us remembered what it was like to be Canadian. 


Not the hawkish, divisive and belligerent archetype some try to frighten and bully us into being, but the humanitarian, inclusive and reserved people we have been and (I believe) still are.

Throughout the past 78 days I saw people hold true to the unspoken but understood simple truth about Canadian society, that Calgary mayor, Naheed Nenshi, addressed at the LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium:

Nous sommes ici ensemble.
We’re in this together.

We are our shared experiences and shared emotions.  Our neighbour’s pain is our pain.  Our neighbour’s strength is our strength. Our neighbour’s joy is our joy.  It doesn’t matter what we look like, where our parents or grandparents came from, how we worship, whom we love—or any other artifice of division or classification encoded upon us—we all deserve to live a great Canadian life, in the Canada we hope for. 

As Michael Rowe wrote, in Canada the words “take our country back” are not a right-wing rallying cry of reactionary racism that celebrates and prioritizes white, Christian, heterosexual hegemony.  In Canada, “take our country back” is the cri de coeur for a return to an era when being Canadian meant aspiring to something greater than it currently is.  Something greater than decimating, selling and shedding the entities and endeavours that help to define Canadian culture and identity—the CBC, the Wheat Board, environmental protection of thousands of our rivers and lakes, peacekeeping.

I saw many people take our country back during the campaign period.  People stood up to bullies and called out fibbers.  Religious freedom was defended when peddlers of fear vilified women in veils.  Average people stepped in and sponsored Syrian refugees because the government stepped out and fell down.  Democracy was revived through new and innovative get out the vote programs for marginalised populations.

In their own ways, they were rebuilding our society to one that resembled more closely the Canada we hope for.

In his speech, Nenshi recounted a family devastated by the 2013 Calgary floods. As they sat in their nearly destroyed home, they didn’t focus on what they no longer had.  They focussed on what were about to have: a hot, homemade shepherd’s pie.  One of the relief effort’s thousands of community volunteers cooked and delivered a hot meal to this family.  It was that unspoken but understood simple truth about Canadian society.

So today I offer you a shepherd’s pie in anticipation of tomorrow’s vote.  It’s warm and comforting, and with Middle Eastern flavours, it celebrates the multicultural mosaic that makes our country stronger and better.

Parce que nous sommes ici ensemble.

151012 Middle East Shepherd's Pie 2
Middle-Eastern shepherd’s pie
Yield: Serves 6

For the mashed potatoes:
450g/1lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
55g/60ml/0.25c butter, melted
100ml/a generous 0.33c buttermilk, plus more, if needed

For the filling
Olive oil
450g/1lb ground lamb
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
35g/2Tbsp/30ml tomato paste
1tsp/5ml ground cumin
1tsp/5ml ground allspice
1tsp/5ml ground coriander
1tsp/5ml cinnamon
0.5tsp/2.5ml pepper
1 pinch ground nutmeg
50g/75ml/6Tbsp sultanas, plumped in water
0.5c/125ml beef stock, lamb stock, or water
1Tbsp/15ml Worcester sauce
30g/60ml/0.25c toasted pine nuts
1 handful chopped parsley

Make the mashed potatoes in the usual way.  Set aside.

Brown the lamb and remove from pan, leaving any fat in the pan. Sweat the onions, celery and carrots in the lamb fat. Add the garlic and stir until the air is perfumed with its scent. Remove the veg from the pan.  Add some olive oil and fry the tomato paste until it deepens in colour.  Return the sweated veg to the pan and add the cumin, allspice, coriander, cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg.  Stir for about a minute before returning the meat to the pan.  Tumble in the sultanas and stir well.

Add stock and enough water to cover the mixture.  Pour in the Worcestershire sauce.  Stir and bring to a boil.  Let boil for a few minutes before slowing the hob to a simmer and let blip (uncovered) until a thick sauce clings to the meat. 

While the mixture reduces, preheat the oven to 190C/375F.

Add the nuts and work through the parsley.  Balance flavours to taste.

Tip the mixture into an ovenproof pan or dish.  Top with the mashed potatoes.  Fluff and style the potatoes in the usual way, so as to create as many opportunities for browned, crunchy bits. Drizzle with olive oil.  Bake until the potatoes are burnished to satisfaction.

Let cool for about 5-10 minutes before serving.

  • Instead of lamb, used minced beef (or a combination of the two).
  • Almonds can be substituted for pine nuts.
  • Use the raisins’ plumping water when cooking the meat mixture as it will add some of the raisins’ sweetness to the dish.
  • If you're lucky to have celery with its leaves, mince those leaves and stir through with the parsley.

I'm a quill for hire!

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