Turkey Shepherd’s Pie with Whipped Cauliflower

As promised, I present to you a healthy take on an old classic. I think the staples of our childhood kitchens can fall by the wayside when we try to start eating healthier. Beef stroganoff, tuna noodle casserole, chicken divan, and meatloaf are practically taboo in modern, ‘healthy’ households these days. These were foods I was raised on. They elicit fond memories and unadulterated nostalgia. However, in today’s 2014 world, we all know we cannot add Campbell’s Cream of Anything to our nightly entrees without a little saturated fat guilt.

Which brings me to our featured cauliflower recipe. The creation was sparked by my mother a few weeks ago. If you read ‘Crushing on Cauliflower’ last week, you know whipped cauliflower was a mashed potato substitute in our house some 10 years ago.  She asked if I thought said cauliflower would work on top of shepherd’s pie in place of mashed potatoes. Let me tell you, there’s never been a food science question thrown at me I won’t attempt to tackle. This baby was born not 2 weeks after that 15 minute phone conversation.

I am not saying all good things must be destroyed in order to make them healthier. I enjoy the challenge of healthfully adjusting recipes in the kitchen – make it taste good, look good, and most importantly, feel good. That’s not a crime. I also find it thrilling to try new things for the first time while cooking for others. Shoot, my eggplant osso buco didn’t turn out? Oh, did you say it tastes like tire rubber? Thank you! Now then, where can I get my hands on a Dominos menu and who will be running out to purchase the beer to help drown my shame?

I decided to make this dish for some friends during New England’s 3,307th snow storm this year. Instead of lugging the perishables around town, I took a cab straight to my evening kitchen. En route to the destination, my cab driver asked what was in my grocery bags. I think it was ‘Hey, what are making you for dinner tonight little lady?’ After I bit my tongue in resentment for the somewhat sexist comment, I informed him I was making Shepherd’s Pie…with turkey…and whipped cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. This 5’10″, 200-something pound man rolled his eyes as if seeing the top of his cab would be a crime if he didn’t indulge the desire. His verbal response was, and I quote, ‘Oh God, their poor souls. They [my dinner guests/ginny pigs] are going to be so mad at you!’ I paid the fair, tipped appropriately, exited the cab and got to work.

Needless to say my cabi was W.R.O.N.G. This pie is good. I mean darn good. I made it for the male population and these boys were practically licking their plates clean after supper. I would never lead you down the wrong path. Try this beauty and let its traditional simplicity amaze you.

Side bar on this one – photos were taken using my iPhone because my Cannon battery decided to die with unapologetic urgency.

Turkey Shepherd’s Pie with Whipped Cauliflower

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Serves 6-8
*See bottom of post regarding recipe notes

2 medium heads of cauliflower, chopped into small floweretts
1 small onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 cup shredded asparagus
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
½ cup canned corn, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
½-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper*
¼ cup ketchup
1 pound ground turkey breast
4 cups chicken broth, divided
1 Tablespoon flour
¾ cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil


Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit

In a large pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, cook to soften for about 5 minutes. Stir in carrots, asparagus and cook for another 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook until fragrant (~2 minutes). Add ground turkey and cook until lightly browned, breaking up the turkey during cooking. Fold in peas and corn. Add herbs, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper; heat through. Stir ketchup and cook until lightly caramelized, about 1-2 minutes. In a small separate bowl, whisk together 1 cup of chicken broth and flour, pour into skillet and cook for another 2 minutes until juices have thickened. Transfer mixture to a 9×13 pan.

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Meanwhile, in large saucepan heat remaining 3 cups of chicken broth and cauliflower over medium-high/high heat. Broth should nearly cover the cauliflower, if it doesn’t, add water until it does. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook until cauliflower is soft*. Drain excess fluid, reserve about 1 cup of fluid in case needed to thin whipped cauliflower. Place cooked cauliflower in a food processor and puree. Drizzle in ~1 Tablespoon of olive oil, pulse to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper. If too thick, add reserved broth here until desired consistency is achieved. This step will take about 20-25 minutes, feel free to make whipped cauliflower prior to starting the turkey layer.

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Spread whipped cauliflower over turkey mixture in baking dish. Top with shredded cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese has melted and turkey mixture is bubbling around the edges. You may need to broil for ~5 minutes if you want cheese to brown depending on your oven.

Cut pie into pieces, plate, serve and enjoy!

Recipe Notes:

*Crushed Red Pepper: add as much or as little as you like depending on your desired level of heat.

*Whipped Cauliflower: When I write ‘soft’, I mean soft. At this point you can practically mash it with a fork. Paragraph two under the directions is how I make whipped cauliflower as a side dish. However, in addition to the cauliflower, I add a few peeled cloves of garlic during the boiling process and puree them with the cauliflower to add extra flavor.

Crushing on Cauliflower

Cauliflower can be a very underrated vegetable. Think about it, how often do you see it as a side option at restaurants. Broccoli rabe, asparagus, sautéed mushrooms and creamed spinach seem to pull rank in the vegetable department when it comes finer dining. Cauliflower can be broccoli’s inferior step sister; she’s ugly and can be downright boring sometimes.  As a dietitian, it feels almost illegal to dislike any type of vegetable, but I am going to be honest with you, there was once a day some 10 years ago I HATED cauliflower. The texture, the lack of flavor – it’s a vegetable that screams ‘Blah!’.

So why am I writing about it? Well, in my growing maturity over the past 10 years, I’ve learned to embrace two things; no longer needing powder blue eye shadow and cauliflower. The turning point was the night I decided to make whipped cauliflower for the family as a mashed potato alternative. After that dinner, cauliflower has never been the same.

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Cauliflower is a member of the cruciferious vegetable family. Other members of this classification include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy and kale. The name ‘cruciferous’ comes from its alternative name Cruciferae, new latin for ‘cross-bearing’. The shape of these plants four-petal flowers resemble a cross. Get it? One rule of thumb for these vegetables: don’t overcook them. When overcooked, they can give off a strong sulfur odor.

Over the past decade or so it seems like one waxing and waning health trend is to swear off all white foods. Why? Sure white breads, pasta and rice aren’t nutritionally dense, but I’ve found that many people think other white foods are bad for you. They’re not. White beans, white button mushrooms, parsnips, onions, turnips, cauliflower and regular white potatoes all have nutrients to bring to the table. Yes, even potatoes.

Now then, I spotlight cauliflower today. It is rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties through its high vitamin C and K content. One cup of cooked cauliflower contains 5 grams of fiber and 140mg of omega-3. Talk about protecting that ticker of yours!

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Image by Kimberly Sabada

I enjoy cauliflower roasted with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 375 degrees F until tender and lightly browned. When cooked properly, cauliflower develops a very smooth, creamy texture great for adding to soups or as a substitute for cheese on salads. You’re probably rolling your eyes at the idea of a vegetable taking place of cheese, but try it! Click here for my Curried Cauliflower with Garlic Roasted Beans and Brown Rice on The Healthy Revival (pictured above).

Come back next week for a delicious twist on a classic recipe featuring cauliflower!

An Easy Weeknight Dinner: Part Two & Three

Developing posts can sometimes feel like opening the Hatch on LOST. I don’t always know where they are going to lead and they often require heavy lifting.  Having said that, these Easy Weeknight Dinner posts are a delight to create. Like most of you, I am pressed for time, but that does not mean I am willing to sacrifice my appetite. As the spring semester gets into full swing, I am realizing one thing: Holy Mother of God, this one is going to hurt. 16 credit hours, 150 hour research practicum at Tufts University and a teaching assistant position are all on the docket for the next four months. I am beginning to think I had some kind of brain aneurism last fall when I was designing this infernal agenda.

These two recipes are vegetarian, but you could easily add some turkey sausage, grilled chicken breast or beef slices on the side. I’ve really just combined some classic vegetable sides into one dish and called in it an entre. I’m dressing up your vegetables and making them fabulous.  Charles Bukowski once said, “An intellectual says a simple thing a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.” So I suppose in this case I am the intellectual.  It rarely happens so let me have it. Please.

Cooking doesn’t have to be a nightly production.  Finding little ways to cheat the system can be rewarding and that’s why I am here.

Curried Cauliflower with Garlic Roasted Beans and Brown Rice

Serves: 1

  • 1 (15 ounce) can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 TBS. olive oil
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into flowerets
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/8th tsp. curry powder
  • 1/8th tsp. cumin
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup cooked brown rice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine beans, garlic and 1 TBS of olive oil in small bowl. Place bean mixture onto a 14″ sheet of aluminum foil and season with salt and pepper.  Bring sides of aluminum foil together and seal, crimp edges to make a sealed pouch.  Place on a cookie sheet in the center of the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, until beans are tender and fragrant.

Meanwhile, coat cauliflower flowerets in oil, curry, and cumin.  Place mixture into a rimmed cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Bake in 400-degree oven for 15-20 minutes, or until tender and slightly browned.

On a large plate, place warm brown rice. Top with half of bean mixture (saving other half for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner) and cauliflower. *Note: this may be more cauliflower than you want. Fee free to cut it in half.  I am a vegetable FREAK at night. 

Garlic Roasted Beans with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Brussels Sprouts

Serves: 1

  • Left over Garlic Roasted Beans (1/2 of original mixture)
  • 1 TBS chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil
  • 8-10 Brussels sprouts, trimmed, washed and halved
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. dry minced onion
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1/2- 3/4 cooked brown rice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a rimmed cookie sheet with aluminum foil. In a medium size bowl, combine Brussels spouts, olive oil, minced onion and salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Place mixture on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until sprouts are tender and slightly brown.

Add sun-dried tomatoes and some oil from jar to leftover Garlic Roasted beans.  Microwave on high for about one minute to heat through.  On a plate, place brown rice and top with Brussels sprouts and beans. Enjoy!