By Vivian Howard

(Recipe makes a 9 x 13-inch casserole.)

I was one of those moms who made all of their kids’ baby food. Normally I’d be annoyed by someone who bragged about that, but I worked a lot and felt like making their food was the one way my work could be meaningful for them.

I used the baby-food aisle at the grocery store as my guide, mimicking the textures and combinations that coincided with their increasing age. Oddly enough, this combination of sweet potato, turkey, and spinach is something I started out blending up when they were eight or nine months old, and I just developed the same healthful ingredients over time into something we all like to eat.

This recipe can also be found on page 318 in my book Deep Run Roots.


Sweet Potato Parmesan Topping

  • Sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks, 4 or 5 medium
  • Brown sugar, ¼ cup
  • Butter, 4 tablespoons
  • Salt, ½ teaspoon
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated, ⅔ cup


Turkey Filling

  • Extra virgin olive oil, divided, 3 tablespoons
  • Yellow onions, diced, 2 medium
  • Salt, divided, 2 teaspoons
  • Button mushrooms, quartered, 3 cups
  • Ground turkey, 2 pounds
  • Garlic, minced, 1 tablespoon
  • Chipotle powder, ground, 1 teaspoon
  • Paprika, smoked, 2 teaspoons
  • Tumeric, 2 teaspoons
  • Cumin, ground, 2 teaspoons
  • Tomato sauce, 8 ounces
  • Water, 8 ounces
  • Frozen spinach, 10 ounces



Making the Topping:

Vivian Howard Chopping Sweet Potatoes

  1. Peel the sweet potatoes, and cut them into rough 2-inch chunks.
  2. Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover them with water.
  3. Bring them up to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are very tender.
  4. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pan.
  5. Place the pan over low heat and add the brown sugar, butter, and salt.
  6. Using a fork or device of your choice, mash the potatoes so that they are nearly smooth and the butter and sugar fully incorporated. Set aside.


Make the Filling:

  1. In a 12-inch sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion and 1 teaspoon of salt. Sweat for about five minutes, or until the onions are translucent.
  3. Push the onions to the edge of the pan and force them into a tight mound.
  4. Add the remaining olive oil and the mushrooms. Allow them to sit and caramelize in the hot pan for about one minute. Resist the urge to shake the mushrooms around, as you are trying to develop flavor by letting them brown.
  5. After 2 minutes, stir together the onions and the mushrooms, making sure you scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
  6. Transfer the onion and mushroom mixture to the plate, and add the final tablespoon of olive oil to the pan.
  7. Add the turkey and begin breaking it up with a spatula.
  8. Season the turkey with the remaining salt, garlic, chipotle powder, paprika, turmeric, and cumin. Allow the turkey to brown and the spices to toast. This will take about 4 minutes.
  9. Stir in the onion mixture, tomato sauce, water, and spinach. Let this all cook down until it’s very thick and saucy. Remove from the heat.


Assemble and Bake:Vivian Howard Making Shepherd's Pie

  1. Preheat your oven to 350˚F.
  2. Spread the turkey mixture on the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, or 8-ounce ramekins.
  3. Spoon the sweet potato over the top so that it’s in an even layer. Sprinkle the sweet potato with the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
  4. Bake for 1 hour uncovered. Allow it to cool for about 10 minutes before serving. (My kids like this on its own, but I generally eat it with a green salad on the side for balance.)


Download the recipe now to enjoy this family favorite at your leisure! 

Download the Recipe - Sweet Potato and Turkey Shepherd's Pie