Shepherd’s pie… cottage pie… what could be more comforting than earthy lentils and herbaceous mirepoix topped with double-baked caramelised golden kumara ruffles?
Shepherd’s pie is a traditional British or Irish dish made with lamb, while its close cousin cottage pie, is made with beef. Both are considered timeless comfort foods loved by many. I genuinely believe that in vegan cooking, flavour is incredibly easy to recreate, and this vegan variation uses toothsome lentil and mushroom mince for umami, while retaining the classic vegetable mirepoix. Firm lentils, such as puy or beluga, are the preferred choice, but I used toor dal (split piegon peas) which I had wanted to clear from my pantry. Normally used in Indian stews, toor dal was an unusual choice of lentil and it cooked to more mushy than desired, but otherwise, the outcome was gobbling good.
I wanted something simple so in this recipe, the seasonings are kept to the minimum. For a more robust pie higher on the umami scale, you can enrich the mince with sherry, tomato ketchup, mushroom ketchup or even seaweed powder. Also remember you can spike your mash with everything from smoked paprika to nutmeg to horseradish, or even change up the choice of vegetable, such as jicama or parsnips instead of kumara. But for me, at least, I’m always partial to double caramelised kumara. As you can see, there are very few rules here to create your own vegan shepherd’s pie.
Since we are one week to Christmas, it is only apropos to put on the stereo the Christmas carol, “Whilst Shepherds Watch Their Flock by Night,” and ruminate on the lyrics.
The angel of the Lord came down,
and glory shone around…
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
to you and all mankind.
Blessings to you readers, and bon appetit!
- 175 g (3/4 cup + 2 tbsp) toor dal, soaked overnight (you may substitute other firm lentils, such as Puy or Beluga)
- 1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 60 g (1 medium) red onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 120 g (1 large) carrot, small dice
- 120 g (3/4 cup) peas, shelled
- 100 g (8-10 medium) cremini mushrooms, chopped
- 80 g (1/2 cup) celery, small dice
- 80 g (1/3 cup) red bell pepper, small dice
- 80 g (1/3 cup) sweet corn kernels
- 80 g (1/3 cup) tomato puree or passata
- 90 g (3 cups) baby spinach
- 15 g (1/2 cup) English parsley
- 2 tbsp chickpea flour (optional, to thicken)
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes (optional)
- 1/2 tbsp dried mixed Italian herbs
- 1/2 tsp curry powder
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch of ground cayenne
- Pinch of Himalayan salt, to taste
- 1 kg (2.2 lb) sweet potatoes
- Wash the dal or lentils in a few changes of cold water until the water runs clear. Transfer to a bowl and cover fully with filtered water by at least 2 inches. Leave the dal to soak overnight at room temperature.
- The next day, drain and rinse the dal and set aside. Bring 480 ml (2 cups) filtered water or vegetable stock to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. When it is boiling, reduce the heat to moderate and add in the dal. Cover and cook the dal for 20-30 minutes until tender, stirring every 5 minutes. Remove any foam that appears on top. You may want to keep the lid ajar at first because the dal tends to boil over. Once the dal is cooked, drain any excess water and set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the onion and sauté over medium-low heat for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and sauté another 1 minute, then add the diced vegetables (peas, carrots, mushrooms, celery, red bell pepper, tomato, corn) and cook until softened, about 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, add in the spinach and herbs and cook for another 1 minute until the leaves just begin to wilt. In a large bowl, combine the mixed vegetables with the cooked dal. Add in the seasonings (nutritional yeast, Italian herbs, curry powder, black pepper and salt) and gently fold the mixture until well-combined.
- Preheat the oven to 150°C (302°F). Place the kumara (sweet potatoes) on a foil-lined baking tray and bake for 1 hour. After 1 hour, flip the kumara and bake another 1 hour. Once the second hour has passed, turn off the oven and keep the potatoes in the hot oven for another hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before handing. Peel the skins, place the flesh in a food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer the kumara to a bowl and set aside.
- Spoon the lentil and vegetable mix in a 22 x 22 cm (9-inch) baking dish and gently layer the kumara puree over the top. Use a fork and rake the surface of the kumara. Bake at 180°C (350°F) for 30 minutes or until the kumara peaks turn lightly brown. Let stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving, on its own or with a side salad.
- You can vary the type of lentils, vegetable mix and mash according to what you have. Try whole mung beans (moong dal), chickpeas (chana dal) and edamame for the 'meat' and cauliflower, jicama, turnips or cashews for the 'mash.' Use about 1 1/4 cups cooked lentils and 3 1/2 cups mix vegetables for the base. If necessary, you can add in chickpea flour to thicken the base so it holds better.
- For a completely raw vegan version of shepherd's pie, substitute the lentils or dal with 175 g (1 1/4 cups) of walnuts, pumpkin seeds and/or sunflower seeds.