A few weeks ago, I stepped up my game with this delicious Hearty Lentil Shepherd’s Pie at our Thanksgiving buffet. It is an ideal choice for any cold night, but the ultimate plant-based entree for a holiday dinner. It was so good, I am making it again for Christmas too.
Since holiday meals are synonymous with “meat” to so many people, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when preparing a single meal meant for vegans and non-vegans to share. People tend to have strong opinions, and the word “vegan” can provoke a range of charged responses.
But this dish makes everyone happy. It skips the meat in traditional Shepherd’s Pie, and goes right to the good stuff — mashed potatoes!
First, a savory lentil stew simmers with onions, zucchini, and a dash of dry red wine. Then the lentils and vegetables are smothered with a thick pile of rich mashed potatoes.
Into a piping hot oven the whole pie goes, and bakes until the potato topping gets crisp around the edges. Most recently I served this with warm whole grain bread, roasted butternut squash and steamed green vegetables.
Hearty Lentil Shepherd’s Pie takes just a little bit of time to prepare, and it’s worth every minute. I like to assemble two and throw one into the freezer for next time. Just remember to wrap the filled pie dish very well for the freezer, and extend the baking time just about one extra hour, or until bubbling hot, and golden brown.
HEARTY LENTIL SHEPHERD’S PIE
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (I make crumbs from Ezekiel bread)
6 large Yukon gold potatoes, OR 5 Yukon gold and 1 large sweet potato
1/2 cup soy milk, unsweetened, plain
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons oil-free vegetable broth
1 large onion, minced
6 ounces zucchini, diced
3 1/4 cups of cooked lentils, OR 2 (15-ounce) cans of lentils, drained, and rinsed
2 tablespoons dry red wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
4 tablespoons of tomato paste, OR prepared chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon cumin
dash of Cajun seasoning, or seasoned salt (optional)
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
8 to 10 ounces baby spinach or arugula leaves, chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Have ready a 2-quart round casserole dish, or two deep-dish pie pans.
Scatter the breadcrumbs evenly over the bottom. Set aside.
Peel and chop the potatoes. Place in a large saucepan with enough water to cover. (Salt the water, if desired.)
Bring potatoes to boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover the saucepan, and cook for 20 minutes. Drain and transfer potatoes to a large mixing bowl. Add soy milk, plus salt and pepper to taste, and mash until fluffy and delicious. Cover and set aside.
While the potatoes are cooking, heat the broth in a large nonstick skillet. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent, adding more broth or water if needed to prevent sticking. Add the zucchini and lentils, and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir in the wine, soy sauce (or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos), chili sauce, and the seasonings. Cook gently for about eight minutes.
Add the spinach, a little at a time, cooking just until wilted. Remove from heat, taste, and adjust seasonings to your liking.
Pour the lentil mixture into prepared pan(s), and then spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the top. If using two pie plates, divide mixtures evenly between them. At this point, one of the two pie pans can be frozen for later use.
Bake uncovered for 35 minutes, or until bubbling hot, and potatoes begin to turn golden brown and slightly crispy. (If frozen, bake at 375 instead of 400 degrees, for a total of about 90 minutes.) Remove hot dish from oven, and allow to stand for five minutes. Cut into wedges, and serve hot.