The only worry with a book on comfort food is that most families already have their own recipes for the favourites. How can I offer something reassuring and familiar, but with enough of a twist to entice you to make it? Shepherd’s pie is one of those recipes, but rather than give you the regular version we know and love, I’m making it with spice. This is something else. 

Nassima Rothacker

Nassima Rothacker


  • 50g unsalted butter 
  • 4 cloves 
  • 2½ teaspoons cumin seeds 
  • ½ cinnamon stick 
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 4 black peppercorns  
  • 2 onions, very finely chopped 
  • 1 carrot, very finely chopped 
  • 40g fresh ginger, finely grated                              
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 tablespoon tomato purée 
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 2 x 250g sachets cooked Puy lentils
  • 250g lamb mince  
  • 250g frozen garden peas, defrosted  
  • Fine sea salt

For the sag aloo top

  • 1kg red-skin potatoes, cut into 2.5cm cubes 
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower oil 
  • 50g unsalted butter 
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric 
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds 
  • 200ml water 
  • 200g baby leaf spinach 


Heat a large sauté pan or shallow casserole over a high heat and, once hot, add the butter, cloves, cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and peppercorns. Fry, stirring frequently, until the bay leaves start to crackle and there is a strong spice aroma. Add the onions and carrot and continue to fry, tossing the pan every so often, for five minutes, just until the vegetables are hot – there’s really no need to cook them until they soften, provided you chopped them finely enough. 

Mix in the ginger, garlic and tomato purée and fry for a further minute, just until the garlic smells strongly. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, and cook until the liquid has reduced by a third. Add the remaining ingredients and a pinch of salt, and put into a roasting dish. Don’t bother to wash the pan out – use it for the topping. 

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. 

For the sag aloo top, put the potatoes into a large saucepan, cover them with cold water and add a generous pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, boil for 10 minutes, then drain. Put the oil and butter into the sautépan and set over a high heat. Once the butter melts add the spices and fry until the mustard seeds start to pop. Add the potatoes and water – the water will sizzle and evaporate quickly. Stir the potatoes in the spiced liquid, then add the spinach, turn off the heat, and allow the spinach to wilt in the residual heat for a few minutes. 

Pile the sag aloo on top of the lamb and lentil filling. Bake for 30—40 minutes, until the filling is bubbling. If the potatoes start to burn before the filling is ready, cover the dish with foil. 

This recipe has been taken from my book, Comfort: Food to soothe the soul. If you'd like a copy, order it here