It’s that time of year again.

We are experiencing cooler weather and days that never seem long enough for all that needs to be accomplished within them. Getting everyone to school and work on time seems like challenge enough, but then, add the onslaught of after-school activities and sports practices and it’s a wonder that anyone manages to sit down and eat, let alone get a healthy, nourishing meal on the table.

This Vegan Shepherd’s Pie is pure comfort food – exactly the type of meal you want to come home to on a chilly evening after a long day. It’s also a meal that everyone – kids included – will love. It’s chock-full of vegetables, but in a non-obvious way that won’t offend any picky eaters at your table. No one will ever suspect the cauliflower in the mashed potato topping, for instance, and there’s no reason that you have to tell them (wink, wink). Lentils are an excellent and affordable source of protein as well as a great source of iron, both important for growing girls and boys. Comforting, delicious and nourishing – it’s all you could hope for in a family dinner.

The real plus here, however, is that it happens to be extremely easy to make, perfect for fitting into a busy schedule, where time to leisurely stir pots and chop vegetables is basically non-existent. Some or all of the pie can also be prepared ahead of time, on the weekend for example, so all you have do on the day in question is simply pop it in the oven. Easy.

Vegan Shepherd’s Pie
Serves 6 – 8   
Total Time: 50 minutes

For the mash, you’ll need:

  • 2 large baking potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 12 oz bag frozen cauliflower, or 3 cups fresh cauliflower roughly chopped
  • ½ – 1 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt + pinch of black pepper

For the filling, you’ll need:

  • 1 cup Puy lentils
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • small yellow onion, finely diced
  • small bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 3 tbsp tamari or soy sauce

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add a good pinch of salt and then add your chopped potatoes and cauliflower. Cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 15 minutes. Drain off the excess water and return the vegetables to the pot.
  2. Add ½ cup of the non-dairy milk, olive oil and salt and crush with a potato masher until smooth and fluffy, adding additional milk if necessary to get the right consistency. You can also pop the vegetables into a food processor and let the machine do the mashing for you. Once you’re happy with the mash, set aside.
  3. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in another saucepan. Once boiling, add the lentils and cook uncovered for around twenty minutes, or until tender.
  4. Drain off any excess liquid and set aside.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  6. While the lentils are cooking, heat the olive oil in a large oven-safe skillet or saute pan over moderate heat. Once hot, add the onion,  bell pepper, carrot and celery along with a pinch of salt. Cook until softened, about 10 minutes.
  7. Add the spices and stir to coat the vegetables evenly, then add the cooked lentils, tomato sauce, maple syrup and soy sauce. Cook the mixture down for about 10 minutes and then check for seasonings.
  8. Pile the mashed potato and cauliflower mixture over the top of the lentils, smoothing down with the back of a spatula.
  9. Pop the pan in the oven and cook for 10 minutes, then turn the oven to broil and heat until the mash is lightly browned here and there. Serve immediately.

Tips
You can make the entire pie ahead of time, transfer it to an oven safe container covered with foil, and freeze it (I often like to double the recipe when I make it and pop one in the freezer for a rainy day). To cook from frozen, heat in a 375 degree oven for around 40 minutes.

If you don’t have time to completely make the pie ahead of time, simply pre-chopping all your vegetables and cooking your lentils ahead will save you loads of time and energy. It takes only about twenty minutes to do this and will make the cooking and assembly of the pie incredibly speedy. 

Writer Danielle Charles Davies holds a Bsc in Herbal Science from Bastyr University and completed the two-year clinical training program at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism in Montpelier, VT. Her writing has appeared in Taproot, The Journal of the American Herbalist Guild, and Kindred Magazine, among others. She lives in Northern Michigan with her husband, two dogs and eight ducks. She blogs at www.bluemoonkitchen.com.

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.