Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

Sephardic Spice Girls


Every Friday morning, my phone would ring.

“Boker Tov!” my grandmother would greet me. “You’re coming for dinner?”

“Of course,” I would reply.

“You’re making Shepherd’s Pie?” She would ask, knowing the answer.

And every Friday night, I would have the honor of going to my grandparents home with my husband, my son Ariel, my three young daughters and a Shepherd’s Pie in tow.

My grandmother, Nana Aziza, was an amazing talent in the kitchen, but she never made Shepherd’s Pie. My mother and my aunt Rebecca mastered the art of the Shepherd’s Pie when my family moved to Sydney, Australia and it quickly became a family favorite.

While Shepherd’s Pie is the quintessential English dish—a perennial on the Pub menu and the ultimate meat and potatoes comfort food—it must have reminded my Iraqi grandparents of Moussaka, a casserole made of ground lamb that includes eggplant. And while Moussaka is a Greek dish it is very popular throughout the Middle East, the Levant and the Balkans.

My Sephardic Spice partner Rachel makes a truly delicious Spanish version called Pastel de Patata, layering turmeric spiced mashed potatoes with an onion and ground meat filling, topped with sliced hard boiled eggs and another layer of creamy mashed potato.

The Moroccans make pastel. The French make everything fancy and their version is called hachis Parmentier. But they include Parmesan and Gruyere cheeses and copious amounts of butter, rendering it unsuitable for the kosher kitchen. My South African in-laws call this dish Cottage Pie. My mother in law keeps it simple with a deliciously flavored ground beef and mashed potato topping.

Shepherd’s Pie is traditionally made with ground lamb and often features carrots and peas, herbs like thyme and rosemary, as well as Worcestershire sauce. Real Worcestershire sauce is flavored with fish which means kashrut wise, it can’t be used in a meat dish.

Over the years, the family Shepherd’s Pie has evolved and my current incarnation is truly a blend of East meets West. My spice profile includes an exotic blend of allspice, cinnamon, turmeric, paprika, garlic powder, cardamom and nutmeg.


I caramelize lots and lots of onions. I sauté mushrooms and roast eggplant. I always use ground beef. And I slather in some Charbeque brand barbecue sauce to add a sweet, tangy mesquite flavor.

I also came up with a shortcut to making the creamiest, dreamiest mashed potatoes, which involves chopping the potatoes in small cubes, filling the pot with cold water and seasoning with salt, garlic powder and olive oil.

Of course, life always takes a twist and a turn: my son is now vegetarian, but he still craves Shepherd’s Pie, so I sometimes use Impossible meat or Beyond Beef as a substitute.

Shepherd’s Pie is a hearty delicious dish that is perfect for your Friday night table.

Make it a family tradition and hopefully, one day your granddaughter will make it for you.

Shepherd’s Pie

Beef filling

1/3 cup vegetable oil, divided

6 onions, finely chopped

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

1/2 cup Char-B-Que Barbecue Sauce

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 large eggplant, salted, drained and diced

1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

Mashed potatoes

8 large potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 cups water (more or less)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

  2. Heat small amount of oil in a large pan and sauté onions till soft and golden.

  3. Place onions in large baking dish.

  4. Heat small amount of oil, add beef and sauté using a wooden spoon to break into small pieces.

  5. Add barbecue sauce, tomato paste, soy sauce and spices, stirring thoroughly.

  6. Add meat mixture to the onions and mix well.

  7. Arrange diced eggplant on baking sheet, drizzle with oil and roast 15-20 minutes until golden.

  8. Layer on top of the meat.

  9. Sauté mushrooms in oil and layer on top of roasted diced eggplant.

  10. In large pot, place potatoes and add water until level is halfway up potatoes.

  11. Add olive oil, salt and garlic powder.

  12. Cover pot and bring to a boil, then turn to lowest heat and simmer until potatoes are fork tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

  13. Mash potatoes till soft and creamy and spread atop meat and eggplant.

  14. Bake uncovered 1 hour.

Serves 10-12.

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