James Robinson’s Starman is one of my favorite comic series of all time. Published by DC Comics from 1994-2001, it has a memorable cast of characters: a found family that includes a number of actual family members. The series explores multi-generational family relationships across the whole hero-villain spectrum. The main character is Jack Knight, second son of Golden Age Starman and Justice Society member Ted Knight. (Regular Cook Your Comics readers may remember that I mentioned this just last month!) Jack reluctantly takes on the Starman mantle after his older brother David is killed. By day, Jack owns a shop that sells antiques and collectibles. He has a passion for cool old stuff that many comic book collectors easily can relate to. He lives in Art Deco wonderland Opal City which is absolutely where I’d move if forced to choose a comic book city to live in.
For Starman, Robinson took inspiration from Golden and Silver Age comics, but cast the characters and stories in a new light. Starman also references modern comic classics; the “Stars My Destination” story arc takes Jack Knight on a journey to the same interstellar locations visited during a similar arc in Alan Moore’s brilliant run on Swamp Thing from the early 1980s. Starman stands on its own – you don’t need to know anything about the rest of the DCU to be able to follow the story – but it’s still steeped in DC history. Robinson tells you everything you need to know, and it’s beautiful. He obviously loves the DCU and its old stories, even the ones that seem cheesy on first glance, and he’s able to show it all to the reader in a fresh, new light.
Many of my favorite things – from movies to comics to food – are a wonderful synthesis of multiple elements that are good on their own, but can be wonderful when combined. That’s how this recipe came to be. I love shepherd’s pie, and I also love vegetable samosas. Both are full of potatoes and peas. And on the day I realized this, an idea was born.
This recipe is what I would call “Indian-inspired.” The meat mixture is inspired by traditional recipes for kheema which is spiced ground meat, often mixed with peas or potatoes. Therefore, my recipe contains spices that are commonly associated with Indian cuisine like garam masala and turmeric used in a form of shepherd’s pie, a quintessentially British dish. Most of what we call “Indian food” in America is heavily Anglicized, so I make no claims the authenticity in any way. Think of it as “Fantasia on Samosas and Shepherd’s Pie.” It also uses Asiago cheese which is Italian. But it tastes great with the other ingredients in this recipe so in goes the Asiago! Make a mashup of things we like from other cultures, then put cheese on top: America!
You can double this recipe to feed a crowd or ensure plenty of leftovers. Just keep the proportions such that you have two pounds of potatoes for every pound of meat. I’ve always found that this recipe tastes even better the day after you cook it. My husband loves it too, so I make plenty and take it to lunch for a couple of days. A small crowd may gather due to the wonderful aroma emanating from the office microwave.
Indian-Inspired Shepherd’s Pie
FOR THE MEAT
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, minced
1 lb. extra-lean ground beef
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 15-oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes with the juice
1 c. carrots, diced
1 tbsp. fresh grated ginger or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 to 3 tbsp. fresh cilantro (or 1 tbsp. dried cilantro to taste)
1 fresh jalapeño minced (or to taste) OR red pepper flakes (to taste)
1 c. frozen peas
1/2 lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a nonstick skillet (or 3-qt. enameled cast-iron Dutch oven*) set over medium high heat, warm the oil until hot. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
2. Add the beef and cook, stirring until the meat is no longer pink and most of the liquid has absorbed or steamed away.
3. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Then add the tomatoes (including the juice), carrots, ginger, garam masala, turmeric, cumin, cilantro, and jalapeno or red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring for 5 minutes. Add the peas and continue to cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes more or until the peas are cooked and the flavors blend. Stir in the juice of the lemon and adjust seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.
Note: These measurements for the spices are a good starting point, but you can adjust to suit your taste. If you’re worried about it being too spicy or not spicy enough, that’s all from the jalapeno or red pepper flakes. It’s your dinner, so make it how you like it.
*These pots are seriously great. I use them more than anything else in my kitchen. You don’t have to break the bank on La Creuset either. Mine are made by Lodge, and they work great. Even heating, no sticking, oven-safe, easy to clean, very durable. (Editor’s note: Seconded!)
FOR THE POTATOES
2 lb. gold or white potatoes (waxy potatoes work better than starchy)
1/2 c. butter
2 tsp. garam masala
2 tsp. ground turmeric
1-2 c. plain Greek yogurt (low-fat is fine)
splash of milk (if needed)
3 oz. Asiago cheese, shredded
1. While you are cooking the meat, cook the potatoes. Chop them into roughly equal-sized chunks and don’t worry about peeling them unless you really want to. Boil until fork-tender, then drain and set potatoes aside in colander.
2. In the still-hot potato pot (while the potatoes are in the colander), melt the butter over medium heat. Add garam masala and turmeric and cook, stirring until fragrant (about a minute).
3. Put the drained potatoes back into the pot. Stir the potatoes to coat them with the spiced butter and cook until the edges of the potatoes just barely begin to brown in the butter. Then mash the potatoes into the butter-spice mixture until combined. This gives the potatoes a little texture. It’s fine if they’re still a bit lumpy. I like my mashed potatoes “rustic.”
4. Add 1 cup of yogurt and mash until combined. Stir in 1.5 oz. of the Asiago cheese. If necessary, add more yogurt or milk until desired consistency is achieved. Add salt and pepper to taste.
FOR THE SAUCE
1 c. tamarind pulp or concentrate
1 c. water
3 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. garam masala
1.5 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cumin
pinch of salt
cinnamon to taste (optional)
1. Put the tamarind into a small pot. Add the rest of the ingredients, mix together, and simmer until it thickens.
TO BUILD THE SHEPHERD’S PIE (finally!)
1. Preheat the over to 400F.
2. Spoon about 1/3 of the potato mixture into the dutch oven with the meat mixture, and fold together. You don’t want to overwhelm the meat mixture – just add enough potatoes to act as a binder for the meat layer.
3. When that’s done, either transfer the meat mixture to a baking dish or single serving-sized ramekins. If you have some funky, retro ramekins in groovy colors, I’m sure Jack Knight would approve. Alternatively, spread the remainder of the potatoes over the top of the meat mixture in its pot (if it was cooked in an oven-safe vessel like the Dutch oven I mentioned). Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the potatoes and bake until the cheese is browned on top and the edges are bubbly.
4. Pull the dish out of the oven and let it rest for about five minutes. Drizzle a little tamarind sauce over the top, then serve to hungry people.
Thanks for reading Cook Your Comics this year! I wish you a good holiday season and a happy 2015.