Making the Perfect Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

lentil-shepherd’s-pie
Image source: HarshLight from Flickr

Shepherd’s pie is a staple in the UK and it has been for years. It is meant to be a comfort food; a warm, flaky bit of goodness that can keep the body warm on even the coldest of days.

There are also subtle differences that outsiders may not realize. For instance, in modern British English, a shepherd’s pie that is made with beef is referred to as a “cottage pie.” It is when the dish is made with lamb that it is actually referred to as a shepherd’s pie because, well, a shepherd is in charge of looking after his sheep.

But times have changed and eating meat is not for everyone. Now more than ever, people are taking on a vegan lifestyle. Whether this is because they feel it is wrong to eat animals or for dietary reasons, vegans are looking for traditional meals with a meatless twist to them.

That is where making a shepherd’s pie the vegan way comes into play. How can vegans enjoy this delicious, traditional British dish without the ground beef or lamb in it? The answer is in lentils. Lentils can make a great substitute for beef or lamb, providing a similar taste and texture so that you wouldn’t know the difference when eating it.

The question then becomes how to make the best possible lentil shepherd’s pie. There are many recipes out there, but there is a straightforward way of making your vegan shepherd’s pie so that you can enjoy this classic in a modern way.

Making a Great Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

One sign of a truly great lentil shepherd’s pie is not in the initial baking and eating of the pie. It is when you make an additional pie or have leftovers and need to freeze them. A truly great lentil shepherd’s pie will be able to come out of the freezer and taste like it was just made.

Being able to bake a few pies and to safely store them in your freezer means being able to enjoy your lentil shepherd’s pie whenever you like. When the pie can hold up even after freezing, that is what makes for a truly great pie.

But there are three distinct reasons why a lentil shepherd’s pie makes for a great meal. The first is that it is totally healthy and totally vegan. The lentil pies come packed with mushrooms, carrots, and peas while offering a wonderful seasoning of onions, garlic, and thyme. That’s a whole lot of flavor in one pie.

The second is that a great lentil shepherd’s pie will have garlic mashed potatoes. Sure, you could go with plain mashed potatoes and still wind up with a very good pie. But with creamy garlic mashed potatoes, it will take the flavor profile of your pie to the next level.

Lastly, it is still a hearty meal even without the meat filling. That makes it great for any occasion: weekend, holiday gathering, or any old night of the week where a hot, hearty meal is welcome. What’s even better is that it can fit any type of setting, be it casual or classy. It is the perfect meal for any time.

Prepping the Veggies

While there isn’t a strict rule that shepherd’s pie has to have specific vegetables added to it, you would generally use onions, mushrooms, and carrots. The first step is to prepare the vegetables for the pan. Cut them into whatever size you see fit; you want to get them so that they are not too big and not too small.

When you have properly cut up your vegetables, heat some oil in a frying pan or a skillet with the heat set to medium-high. You can use either vegetable oil or cooking oil, but if you are in a pinch, butter should serve as well.

When the pan is properly heated, add in your carrots, onions, mushrooms, thyme, and garlic. Allow the mixture to sauté for around six to eight minutes; it could take slightly more to make certain that the bits are browned and everything is softened. When you have ensured that your veggies are ready to go, remove them from the pan and set them aside for later.

Prepping the Lentils

This step will take a little bit longer as preparing the lentils is a longer process. After you have removed your veggies from the pan and set them aside, return your pan to the heat. Then, it is time to add in your lentils as well as some vegetable broth.

With this mixture simmering on the burner, cover it and let it go for around 25 or 30 minutes. This is to ensure that the broth is absorbed by the lentils and that they are perfectly tender. Much like the veggies, it depends on your lentils, the heat, and other factors to know how much time that it will take before your lentils are tender.

Mashed Potatoes

You can save yourself a little time by getting the potatoes boiling while you prepare both the vegetables and the lentils. This way, while the lentils are going, you can begin to finish your preparation of the potatoes and not have everything else waiting.

The potatoes are relatively simple: when they are tender from boiling, remove them from the pot and add them to a bowl. You can mash them with a bit of butter, garlic, and milk or cream to make them nice and smooth.

You will want to mash them thoroughly to ensure that there aren’t many or any lumps in the mixture; the goal is for total creaminess. When they are ready to go, you can set them to the side for now.

Putting Together the Pie

When your lentils and potatoes are ready to go, add the vegetables back into the pan with your lentils. Any additional seasonings that you want to add would go here; heat through so that everything can properly mix.

When you have properly mixed all of your vegetables and lentils, move the mixture into a large skillet or a casserole dish and then spread out the mashed potatoes over the top smoothly and evenly. You want total coverage of the potatoes, so take your time spreading it out.

It’s Bake Time!

When your potatoes have been spread out and cover the pie, it is time to bake! Preheat your oven to 425°F and bake your pie for around 10 to 15 minutes. The goal is that not only will your lentil shepherd’s pie be hot, but bubbly and dark around the edges as well.

Making the perfect lentil shepherd’s pie is as easy as that. You can tweak the recipe to your liking as well by adding different vegetables or spices; whatever appeals to your specific palette.

Also, keep in mind that not every oven is the same. The first couple of times that you make this pie, keep a watchful eye over it. The time is not the important part, it is looking for those dark brown, bubbly edges that makes the pie perfect.

Because it is so easy to make, you can prepare a few at a time and freeze them for later use. That means you can have a delicious meal whenever you want one!