Moroccan spiced cottage pie

shepherds-pieFirst things first, do you know the difference between Shepherd’s pie and Cottage pie? There is not much difference really except for the meat. Shepherd’s pie is made with lamb and Cottage pie uses beef. Essentially both pies consist of two layers: creamy mashed potatoes slathered on top of well- sauced and seasoned mince meat with vegetables. The creamy mash is the easier part, but the bottom layer requires skill in building layers of flavours until it reaches perfection.

After mastering the classic cottage pie, I decided to scour the internet for a recipe that has added spice flavours to jazz up the standard version.  I came across a Moroccan spiced version on the BBC Good Food website.

After trying this recipe I felt the Moroccan flavours were not coming through sufficiently. I replaced the spice combination with the more specific Ras el Hanout spice blend which is common in North African cooking. In addition, instead of using the recommended Middle Eastern Za’atar spice mix in the mash, I have used the Ras el Hanout spice mix together with onions and garlic to ramp up the Morrocan flavours in both layers of the pie.

I can easily blend the spice mix myself as it contains the typical spices that most good home cooks will have in their cupboards in Dar es Salaam. Small amounts of cloves and nutmeg add a sweet accent.

The onions, carrots, celery stalks, bay leaves, thyme and parsley are just as important as they are the building blocks to flavour the meat.  If you want to learn more on flavor building, simply read the helpful article published by

Foodie Tip: If you’re getting beef mince from a butcher, it’s likely to be made from cheaper cuts of the cow and may include trimmings from more expensive cuts. The trick is to choose the lean cut of beef that you like and get the butcher to mince it in front of you. In Dar, butchers have a tendency to pass the meat through the mince machine twice resulting in a mushy ground beef. Insist that they grind it only once.

What you need:

For the meat layer

  • 2 ½ cups grated onions
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1 cup finely chopped celery stalks
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2  bay leaves
  • 2 tsp dried parsley
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tsp minced garlic
  • 1kg lean beef mince
  • 3 tbsp tomato purée
  • 3 cup peeled and chopped tomatoes
  • 9½ tsp  Ras el Hanout spice mix (reserve 2 ½ tsp for the potato layer)

For the Ras el Hanout

  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • ½ tsp cardamom
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp ground clove
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg

For the potato layer

  • 1 ½ kg potatoes
  • ½ cup finely grated onion
  • ½ tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 ½ Ras el Hanout spice mix
  • 6 tbsp milk

What to do:

  1. For the meat layer: place the mince in a hot wok or large frying pan and cook until brown and starting to caramelize.
  2. In a separate large saucepan heat 3 tbsp olive oil and add the onion, carrot, celery, parsley, thyme and 7 ½ teaspoons of the Ras el Hanout spices. Then mix. Cover and cook for 10 to 15 mins on a low heat until softened. If the onion starts to brown add a splash of water.
  3. When the vegetables have softened, add garlic and fry for 1-2 minutes on medium heat.
  4. Stir the beef in with the onion mixture, add the tomatoes, tomato purée, bay leaves and 1 litre of water, and cook on low heat for 1 ¼ hrs or until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Do not cover the stew while it is cooking.
  5. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
  6. For the potato layer: peel and cut the potatoes into chunks. Tip into a saucepan and cover with cold salted water. Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for 20 mins or until the potatoes are cooked.
  7. Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and fry the onions on low heat until softened. Make sure the onions do not brown as it will affect the flavour of the mash. Once onions are soft add ½ tsp garlic and 2 tsp of thespice mix. Continue to fry for further two minutes. Add the butter to the pan to melt it then remove the pan from heat.
  8. Drain the potatoes and mash with milk together with onion, garlic, spices and butter mixture.
  9. To assemble the pie, preferably use one rectangular 9 x 13 inch ceramic dish and 2 small rectangular ceramic dishes. You can use one larger rectangular dish if you prefer.
  10. Divide the meat stew into the three dishes and top each with mashed potato then rough up the top with a fork.
  11. Place the pies in the middle rack of the oven and cook for 30 mins.
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