jamaican yuca shepherd’s pie

I never thought I’d see the words “Jamaican” and “shepherd’s pie” together in one recipe title. The first conjures up tastes of fried plantains, coconut, and spicy jerk seasoning. The second? Tired ground beef suffocated by dry mashed potatoes stripped of their whipped garlicky glory.


Sure I’ve had good times with shepherd’s pie. It can be done right, and when it is, it’s at least 10 iron chef points ahead of meatloaf. There is something satisfyingly simple about it that makes me want to put on a peasant dress and go out and milk cows. It’s the same way I feel about stews and artisan bread and wine served in thick, stemless goblets. Good shepherd’s pie can be staid and steadfast, served on a beaten-up harvest table, surrounded by joy.

So when I saw this pie, all stripped of those old-fashioned ingredients, I was wary. But as it stared back at me from the pages of Veganomicon, I knew I had to answer its rainbow plea.


A recipe that’s multi-step enough to rise to any special occasion, yet every day enough to stuff in wraps for lunches, this dish can wear many masks. With a curry essence that’s sweeter than traditional Indian curries, this stew can also be made without the cassava (yuca) topping and served over plain rice.

Let me warn you about one thing first. As with many vegetarian recipes, there’s a little more prep involved in this one than your average sheep-herdin’ pie. But that’s what husbands (or boyfriends, or girlfriends, or kitchen elves) are for, right? If you’re lacking a second pair of hands, do it in stages to lessen the load.


I guarantee this will get you out of your casserole rut. (Does anyone make casseroles anymore?) Or at least out of your one-pot rut. (That sounds much more modern.) And as the skies get grayer by the day here in Syracuse, it might help splash your table with some good Caribbean vibes, mon.

So let out those dreads and grab the keys–this is one you’ll have to make a special trip for. But don’t worry: I made all the mistakes for you already. What’s left should be all straw huts and sunshine.

Ketch up dih fire Ma’hta
Pass me dih gungo peas,
Rub up dih flour Sarah – Lawd!
Feel di evenin’ breeze

Jamaican Folk Song

Jamaican Yuca Shepherd’s Pie

serves 8

3-3 1/2 pounds yuca (cassava), peeled and cut into 1.5 inch chunks. (Chop the root as in the picture above, stand each piece on its end, and slice off the peel. Then chop as you regularly would.)
Note: cassava often goes bad in North American supermarkets because of the low demand. Make sure the flesh is relatively odorless. It develops a very distinctive smell when it goes bad. Cassava is a bit strange–choose it only if you want to go for authenticity, or to try something new. Alternatively, you could substitute regular mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, or omit the topping altogether. Next time, I would use good ol’ potatoes!
1 3/4 tsp salt
3 T olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 T finely chopped fresh ginger
1 T Jamaican curry powder (Note: this has a different mix of spices than the Indian stuff. If you don’t feel like finding and/or buying it, add star anise and coriander to your T of regular curry powder. But who doesn’t want another specialty spice in their cupboard?)
2 sweet potatoes, cut into 3/4 inch chunks (don’t bother peeling–extra fiber! Just wash.)
2 Scotch bonnet peppers, scored down the sides (Note: these guys are HOT. Instead of cutting them, all you need to do is use a paring knife to cut slivers up the sides, which will allow the peppery flavor to be released without the mouth-burning heat. If you can’t find them, use Serrano peppers instead.)
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup water or broth
1 (15 oz) can coconut milk (light or not–your choice)
1/2 cup canned corn
1 cup cooked kidney beans, or 1 (15 oz) can, drained and rinsed
1 cup cooked lima beans, or 1 (15 oz can, drained and rinsed
2 ripe yellow plantains that have just begun to blacken, sliced in half lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Note: If you don’t want to shell out the $$ for these giant, potato-like bananas, just use slightly underripe bananas.)


  1. First, prepare the yuca: Place the chunks in a medium stockpot and cover with water until they’re submerged. Cover and bring to a boil, addding 1 tsp of the salt. Lower the heat to medium. Let it boil for 20 minutes, until tender enough to mash.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Preheat a medium stockpot over medium high heat. Place the 2 T of oil, the onions, green pepper, garlic, and ginger in the pot. Saute for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the curry powder, sweet potatoes, Scotch bonnets, thyme, salt, and water. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sweet potatoes are easily pierced.
  4. Set your oven to 350.
  5. Add the remaining ingredients (coconut milk through plantains) to the mixture and lower the heat. Cook for about 5 more minutes, until everything is heated through. Remove the thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and Scotch bonnets and discard.
  6. By this point, the yuca should be done. Drain it and then place it back in the pot you boiled it in. Add the remaining T of oil to the yuca and mash with a potato masher. It usually takes about 20 mashes to get it to the right consistency, creamy but chunky.
  7. Pour the curried filling into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Use a large wooden spoon or spatula to scoop the yuca over it in several mounds. Press the yuca mounds down to spread over the curry. It’s OK if some of the filling is peeking through in places.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes, and then turn on the broiler for about 2 minutes. Keep a close eye–the top should be gently browned.
  9. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Serve in rimmed plates or shallow bowls because it will be saucy.

courtesy of Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero