The idea of a vegetarian shepherds pie recipe presents me with a small conflict. In principle, I'm not a fan of simply transposing meat dishes into veggie ones. Most of the time, the best vegetarian food is vegetarian in its conception. This recipe is one of my favourite exceptions to that idea.
Although, with a grudging nod to its meaty origins, I do think that a good vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe should be rich and savoury. To achieve this, I add a little soy sauce and vegetarian Worcestershire sauce to the basic sauce of lentils and tomatoes. A good quality stock, homemade or otherwise, will also add a depth of flavor.
You can use other lentils or beans here if you like - black eyed peas (or beans) are a good choice too, though I generally stick with lentils. The recipe is easily made vegan if you use soy milk and vegan margarine for the potato. I do use butter to dot the top of the pie before it goes in the oven which gives it its characteristic golden appearance but it will taste fine without it.
This dish is quite nostalgic for me. I've been making it for years and my mother used to make it for me when I was a teenager. I still remember how satisfying and warming it was after school on a cold Winter's day. It is quite substantial so a quickly cooked green vegetable like broccoli or green beans is enough to serve on the side. This recipe will serve four to six people.
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
250g/9oz/1½ cups of whole green lentils, rinsed
1 teaspoon each of dried thyme and oregano (or any herbs you like)
1 400g/14 oz can of chopped tomatoes
450mls / 2 cups of water or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of vegetarian worcestershire sauce
750g/1½ lbs of potatoes, peeled. That's about 4 medium sized potatoes
a tablespoon of butter or vegan margarine
a few tablespoons of milk or soy milk
salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large saucepan, gently fry the onion in the olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.
Now add the lentils, herbs, chopped tomatoes, soy sauce and water.
Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30-40 minutes until the lentils are very soft and the sauce is nice and thick. Season with plenty of salt and pepper.
While the lentils are cooking, boil or steam the potatoes until tender. Mash well and add some butter or vegan margarine, milk and seasoning.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.
Spoon the lentil mixture into a shallow casserole dish. Spoon over the mashed potato and spread evenly. Now run a fork over the top of the potato to create a ridges on your shepherds pie. Dot with some more butter or vegan margarine and bake for 45 to 50 minutes until golden.