Autumn weather always seems to bring out the comfort food, and what can be more comforting than Shepherd’s Pie? Rich savoury filling topped with soft, fluffy potato light browned on top. Yum!
Of course, since cutting out meat and changing to a whole-food plant-based diet, it’s a long time since I’ve had traditional shepherds pie (or cottage pie!). But that doesn’t mean I miss out on eating this family favourite. In fact I have two versions – this lentil based one and a Beany Shepherd’s Pie that features in my book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie. It’s a big hit with people who have been on my Eat Well Live Well course too.
I like the lentils to have a firm texture in a Shepherds Pie. The lentils I’ve used for this version are the small green ones you can find in the supermarket. Black puy lentils also work really well, but are slightly more expensive. You can of course just use a tin of ready-cooked lentils. Great if you are short of time, but they tend to get easily over-cooked and mushy (the same reason why I don’t use red split lentils for this recipe). They do however take longer to cook. So to mitigate this, it’s a good idea to soak them in warm water for an hour before you want to make the dish. If you’re going to be out all day, then you can do this before you leave. In fact the longer the soaking time, the shorter the cooking time. Just remember to drain and rinse before you add them to the pan.
Lentils are not only great to cook with but they also provide a wide range of fabulous nutritional benefits. These include loads of fibre to keep your appetite and your gut bacteria happy. Plus they are a great source of plant-based protein, essential minerals like magnesium, zinc and iron as well as a range of B vitamins. So really worth eating these every day, although if you’re new to plant-based eating or struggle with IBS, you might want to take it slow as lentils can also create quite a lot of wind if you’re not ready for them!
Green lentils create the texture for Shepherds Pie, but what about the savoury flavour? To get that satisfying umami flavour, I add a little tamari (gluten-free soya sauce). This however is still fermented, so if you struggle with fermented products, or have an intolerance to yeast then try using liquid aminos. I have a bottle of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos in the cupboard and they are a fantastic tamari substitute. Made from soya beans, it’s a savoury liquid seasoning that is not fermented and doesn’t use lots of flavourings and chemicals. How it’s made is a mystery but it does have a reputation for being a more suitable seasoning for the sensitive eater. It’s quite strong so you don’t need much of it. I bough mine on Amazon here. It’s not cheap, but then again it lasts for ages. And worth it if you’re having to eat yeast-free and still desire that gorgeous savoury flavour.
If you like just potato as your pie topping, then go for it. I’m always trying to find ways to add as many types of veggies as possible to the family’s diet, so I’ve added parsnip to the mash as well. A perfect combo! If you’re not keen on potatoes, then mashed celeriac and parsnip also make a fabulous topping.
If you fancy a deliciously comforting plant-based Shepherds Pie, then do give this a go. It’s a big hit with the family, and if there is any left over, it freezes well for those days when you don’t have time to cook. Enjoy!
Lentil shepherds pie
- 100 grams green or black lentils
- 300 ml hot water
- 1 medium red onion finely diced
- 2 medium carrots finely chopped
- 1 medium stick of celery finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 clove of garlic finely chopped
- 6 medium mushrooms washed and chopped
- 6 cherry tomatoes cut into quarters
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 2 tablespoons tomato puree mixed in 100ml water
- 1 tablespoon tamari or 1/2 tablespoon liquid aminos
- 200 ml vegetable stock
- 100 grams frozen peas defrosted
- 1 tablespoon cornflour or tapioca flour (if needed)
- salt and pepper
For the topping:
- 2 medium potatoes scrubbed and chopped
- 2 medium parsnips peeled and chopped
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Rinse the lentils and place in a bowl. Cover with the hot water and leave to soak for an hour. Alternatively skip this and use ready-cooked lentils.
- Using a medium-sized pan that can go under the grill, pre-heat a couple of tablespoons of water and sauté the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaf with a pinch of salt for 5 minutes over a medium heat. Stir from time to time to make sure it doesn't stick. Add a little more water if needed.
- Add the garlic, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes to the pan and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the thyme, tomato puree and tamari/coconut amines to the pan and cook for another couple of minutes.
- Drain the soaked lentils, rinse and then add to the pan, stirring it in to combine with the other ingredients. Cook for 2 minutes, then pour in the remaining stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes, then add the peas and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Whilst the lentil mix is simmering away, place the potatoes and parsnips into a pan of boiling water. Cook for 20 minutes or until the pieces are soft. Remove from the heat, drain well then mash with a little olive oil and salt and pepper.
- Check your lentil mix. The lentils should be soft but still have some texture and absorbed most of the fluid. If the lentils are cooked but there is too much fluid in the pan, remove 3 tablespoons of sauce and pour into a small bowl with the cornflour or tapioca flour. Stir to form a thin paste then return this to the pan and stir well. This should thicken the mix so it's not too runny. Turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Pre-heat the grill to high.
- Spoon the prepared mash over the lentil mix and spread out equally. Create a pattern with a fork to make it look pretty, then place under the grill for 5 minutes until it's firm and lightly browned.
- Remove from the grill and serve with additional veg. Leftover portions can be frozen.
Have you bought your copy of my book Eat Well Live Well with The Sensitive Foodie yet? If not, you can find it on Amazon in paperback and on kindle. Just click the link here.