experiments in cooking

Salsa’s a vegetable, right?

Cottage Pie
Image by smileykt via Flickr

Tonight’s dinner adventure was a Mexican-inspired version of shepherd’s pie. Sort of.

Step 1: Clear the decks.

Meaning, in my case: use up the onion that’s been on the counter waiting to be used, before it starts to grow legs and go in search of a more hospitable environment.

OK, that probably wouldn’t really happen. But better safe than sorry.

In this case, I didn’t use my food processor for the job. Apparently I haven’t figured out all the settings and blades and gizmos, because last time I ended up with onion puree rather than minced onion. And while that would be fine for something where I wanted the flavor of onion but wanted to hide its look and texture (if I were cooking for small finicky eaters, perhaps, which I am not), I wanted to sautee and brown said onion, which is a lot harder when dealing with onion mash.

Step 2: Spice it up

Once the onion was well on its way to caramelization, I threw in some additional flavors. Salsa (which is also my not-so-secret ingredient for sloppy joe when the original feels like it needs a little zing), because a good shepherd’s pie needs a veggie in there. And salsa’s a veggie, right?  Sure it is!

Meanwhile I pulled two of the smoked chipotles out of the fridge, seeded (because I wanted heat, but not injure-myself heat) and chopped those up.  I added all that to the onion and salsa for a few minutes, then I pulled them out to a separate bowl, so I could work on the next ingredient.

Step 3: Brown some ground.

Ground beef, usually. But today I used a package of meatloaf mix: ground beef, veal (which, last I checked, was technically also beef), and pork. Browned. Then well drained.

Step 4: Mix it up and add some color.

Once the meat was cooked, I added a pinch of salt and pepper, and then poured the onion-chipotle-salsa back into the pan and let everything get to know each other.  Then I added a very small can of tomato paste, and another scoop of salsa. Simmer-simmer-simmer, so the liquid could cook off and the tomato paste could caramelize a bit.

Step 5: Prep the topper

The recent discovery of mashed potatoes that can be quickly microwaved has been a godsend for this dish, especially because I never-but-never have actual potatoes in the house and even if I do, mashing them is almost certainly out of the question. Often I try to make these ahead the night before (they’re easier to work with cold, as far as finger-burn avoidance goes), but a quick batch just-in-time works too.

Step 6: Assemble and cook.

Sometimes (and always with the “regular” version) I use potatoes to help stick the “bottom” layer together in the pan, but this time I didn’t bother. Instead, I pressed the meat mixture into my casserole pan, and topped it with the potatoes. Then I generously sprinkled shredded cheese on the top. (In the process of pulling the cheese out of the fridge, I discovered the banana peppers in the back. DARN! Those would have been fabulous in this, and would have added another dimension of spice to the mix. Oh well, too late for this round.)

I baked at 450°F for 20 minutes, then sprinkled just a little parmesan over the whole thing and gave it another 5 minutes, before pulling it out to set it start to cool and set a bit.

Step 7: Eat hearty.

Mmm, yeah. Tasty. Spicy. And it’s almost like a balanced meal. Kinda. Provided that salsa counts as a vegetable.

2 thoughts on “Salsa’s a vegetable, right?”

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