Operation vegetation • 06.29.08
We had some friends around for dinner on Saturday night, and amongst the group lurked two vegetarians. I wanted to plan a meal that the vegos could eat and that everyone else would enjoy as well.
For me, the keys to meatless deliciousness in a dish are lots of flavour and a little inventiveness. In fact, I really enjoy cooking vegetarian meals because I think it helps me be more creative. I keep a little folder for recipe ideas and I realised recently that about 90% of the recipes in that folder are vegetarian. I could pretty happily live without meat most of the time (exceptions are a great steak every few months and bacon on Sunday mornings.)
But… alas. I am married. Married to a wonderful man who really prefers meals that include meat. He’s not a fanatic about it and he does let me make a few meat-free meals a week, but overall the presence of meat is important to him.
So feeding the meat lovin’ husband and the vegetarian guests well enough to avoid having anyone order a pizza after dinner was the challenge. The solution? My lentil shepherds pie.
This dish is hot and hearty. Covered with a layer of creamy mashed potatoes, the lentil shepherds pie is everything a shepherds pie should be- minus the meat. This was a great hit for dinner on Saturday night. I served it with a warm salad of butternut pumpkin and chickpeas from Molly at Orangette, which was gorgeous, and a simple green salad.
Lentil Shepherds Pie
For the lentils:
1 large brown onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large carrot, grated
3 cans brown lentils (or you can use dried lentils that have been soaked overnight. If you do this, increase the cooking time.)
1/2 litre or 2 cups of vegetable stock
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
For the mashed potatoes:
6 large potatoes, cleaned and peeled
1/4 cup milk
5 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
Preheat your oven to 200C or 400F.
Put the onion in a large pot over medium heat with the olive oil and butter. Stir for about 2-3 minutes, then add the garlic and carrot. Let this cook slowly until the onion is translucent (don’t let the garlic brown. If it does start to brown, turn the heat down.)
Add the lentils and stir to coat with the oil and onion mixture. Pour in the vegetable stock, tomato paste and worcestershire sauce and stir until it is all combined. Turn the heat down to medium low and allow this mixture to simmer for about 30 mins or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thick. Taste. Add salt and pepper as needed. You may need an extra dash of worcestershire sauce. Add that too if you want.
When the lentils are done, spread them in the bottom of a casserole dish. The lentils should fill the dish to a little more than half full.
Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into chunks and boil them in well salted water until they are tender. Drain and place them back in the pot in which they were boiled. Add the milk and butter and mix with a hand mixer until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste (I generally add a lot of pepper, but I am a bit of a pepper monkey).
Spread the mashed potatoes over the lentil mixture in the casserole dish. Once the lentils are completely covered by the mashed potatoes, drag a fork across the potatoes to make little lines. These little raised up bits will become brown and crunchy and irresistible in the oven. Sprinkle the grated cheese and a little more salt and pepper over the mashed potatoes.
Bake in the oven for about 30 mins, or until the top is lightly browned and the whole thing is heated through.
Enjoy with a medium-bodied red wine and some friends who won’t even notice the missing meat!