{Recipe Redux} Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

The last Recipe Redux of the year, and it’s a good one! In celebration of their inception 42 months ago, the ladies behind RR challenged members to dive into a cookbook, find a recipe on page 42 or 142 and make it healthier. Since most of the cookbooks in my collection are pretty healthy, I had to explore several before I found the perfect candidate: Shepherd’s Pie. Such a classic, and I bet you haven’t made it in a while. For me, it’s the ultimate comfort food, and the timing couldn’t be better since winter has taken firm hold for most of us.

So, what to do to make the classic combination of beef, mashed potatoes, gravy and veggies healthier? The most predictable approach would have been to simply replace the beef with turkey or chicken. Where’s the fun and challenge in that? Why not channel my inner vegan (who will never actually be a full-time alter-ego since I can’t imagine a life without butter) and create a plant-based protein version? So trendy.

I admit to (and gladly own with pride) a love of lentils. They are incredibly versatile, cook more quickly than most beans and legumes, and can impart a somewhat meaty quality to a dish. No, seriously…they really can. In order to make them seem even more ‘meaty’, I cooked them in a flavorful mushroom-based broth. For those of you who are regular readers of this little blog, you’ve seen me wax poetic about the magical ‘meaty’ quality of mushroom broth (since this recipe is somewhat, let’s call it ‘involved’, I took an easy shortcut and used my favorite packaged mushroom broth by Pacific Foods. If you can’t find it, you can order it online, or just use a vegetable broth instead). If you’re feeling particularly ready for an added challenge, you can find my recipe for homemade mushroom broth as the base for my vegan French mushroom soup. Incidentally, mushroom broth also makes a great base for gravy.

So, with the meat replaced, I pondered what to do with the vegetable component of the recipe. Corn and peas are the traditional choice, but they didn’t seen quite right for the lentils, or for my take on the potato topping (more on that later). After staring out the window in an unsuccessful bid to be inspired by sky and rain, I decided to venture out to the grocery store for inspiration. after getting the essentials piled into my basket, I wandered the produce aisles and happened upon turnips, parsnips, and carrots. Brilliant! Something about these beautiful seasonal vegetables just seemed so…harmonious. Roasting them adds a rich and hearty element that helps to ensure that you just won’t miss the meat. No, really.

Lastly (and most importantly) the potato topping. Since this shepherds pie had taken on a seasonal twist, I decided to on a 50/50 blend of potato and celery root (celeriac). If you’ve never had this somewhat homely and tricky-to-peel root, you’re in for a treat. While it does have a subtly celery flavor, it adds such an interesting dimension to a boring and expected mashed potato.

This dish was so yummy, even my lentil-neutral husband (he doesn’t really hate them…doesn’t really love them) loved it. And, it was even tastier the next day. It is a fairly involved dish that requires you to make all three components somewhat simultaneously, so it’s a great candidate for a nice Sunday supper. It can be made ahead, too….just pop it in the fridge for a day or two and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes and you’re ready to dive in.

Added bonus: serve up this hearty meal as the main course for your vegan and vegetarian guests around the holiday table. They’ll be so excited to have a plate that isn’t entirely made up of sides. Trust me on this.

{Recipe Redux} Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

servings: about 6 | time: about 1.5 hours

ingredients:

4 TBSP. olive oil

3/4 pound baby Portobello mushrooms, chopped

1/2 medium white onion, chopped

2 TBSP. dry marsala wine

2 TBSP. tomato paste

1 1/3 cup mushroom broth (or veggie)

1 cup green lentils, rinsed

2 bay leaves

2 tsp. herbs de Provence

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

2 medium russet potatoes (about 1/2 a pound)

1 small celery root (celeriac) (about 1/2 a pound)

2 medium carrots, diced into 1/4″ pieces

2 medium parsnips, diced into 1/4″ pieces

1 mall turnip, diced into 1/4″ pieces

big handful of fresh parsley, chopped

3 TBSP. vegan buttery spread

directions:

Get the lentil layer started:

1. Heat 2 TBSP. of the olive oil over medium high heat in a large Dutch oven

2. Add the chopped mushrooms and onion and saute for 5 minutes

3. Add the wine and tomato paste and saute for 2-3 minutes

4. Add the mushroom broth, lentils, bay leaves, herbs de Provence, kosher salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes

5. Uncover, stir and simmer for an additional 20 minutes, until lentils are just tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove the bay leaves and set aside
Prepare the potato and celery root layer:

1. Peel the potatoes and cut into quarters

2. Peel the celery root and cut into quarters then cut each quarter in half

3. Add the potatoes and celery root to a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook at a low boil for 20 minutes or until both are tender when tested with a fork or paring knife. Set them aside until you’re ready to make the puree (do not drain)
Prepare the roasted root vegetable layer:

1. Preheat oven to 400

2. Place all of the diced veggies in a large bowl. Add remaining 2 TBSP. olive oil. Add a couple pinches salt and one pinch of black pepper. Toss well and spread in a single layer on a large baking sheet

3. Roast in 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until veggies are just tender, tossing a couple of times during cooking time
Assemble the Shepherd’s Pie:

1. Spray a medium baking dish or pie plate with non-stick spray

2. Spread the cooked lentils evenly in the bottom of the dish

3. Add the roasted root vegetable layer over the lentils, spread evenly. Top with the chopped parsley

4. Spoon the cooked potatoes and celery root into a high-powered blender container or food processor. Add about 1/3 cup of the cooking liquid into the container. Add the vegan buttery spread. Puree until very smooth. Spread over top of the lentils and roasted root vegetables, making sure it’s smooth and even

5. Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over top. Cover and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Uncover and cook for an additional 10 minutes

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