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Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie (Really!)

Children hate the idea of “Meatless Monday.”pie

Truth be told, I’m not so crazy about it either. Butcher’s son, you know.

On the other hand, my wonderful life partner puts up with most of my foibles, so I figure the least I can do is humor her in her craving for “meatless Monday.”

I try all kinds of ways to deal with the concept—I’ve done risottos, pasta dishes, bean burritos, vegetable pot pie—and I haven’t even scratched the surface of the Moosewood empire, where meatless is a way of life.

So when my beloved handed me a recipe for vegetarian shepherd’s pie (which, I think, is an oxymoron—I mean, have you ever heard of a shepherd rounding up his—or her—lentils at the end of the day?

I mean, “Git along, little legume?”

Somehow it just doesn’t ring right.

On the other hand, I’ve made a bunch of shepherd’s pies over the last few weeks, and I think I’ve got the flavor profile down pretty well, and I have, after all, been making my shepherd’s pies from ground turkey (“Git along, little turkey?”), so why not vegetarian. I have been fairly successful making dishes using lentils of a variety of colors, and the recipe appeared to me to be reasonably open to experimentation, so Lentil Shepherd’s Pie it is.

Guess what?

It turned out to be really good. As most of you vegetarians will attest, lentils can be (a) healthful; (b) tasty; (c) brown; and (d) flexible. And pretty easy to work with, too, taking on the flavor of whatever seasonings one might be tempted to use.

I highly recommend this recipe, and I will actually make it again, amending it as I go to see what other interesting taste profiles I can come up with.

Here, then, is my version of Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie. Adapted from a recently posted recipe from Eating Well, I’ve changed it up some to suit my and my family’s taste buds, and while getting the children to eat it was somewhat of a challenge (getting my children to eat anything beyond mac-n-cheese is somewhat of a challenge), any families whose kids are open to this sort of thing will, I think, actually like this recipe a bunch.

Here it is:

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients:

1 ½ pounds Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes

½ cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons margarine or butter spread (I use Smart Balance)

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

¼ teaspoon fine-ground white pepper

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Olive oil spray

1 large onion, diced

2 medium carrots, diced

½ cup baby peas

1 teaspoon fresh (or ½ teaspoon dried) thyme

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cup vegetable broth

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons tomato paste

½ cup red table wine

1 ½ cups cooked brown lentils

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:

Place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with water, at least 1 inch over the lentils; bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and set aside.

Cut the potatoes into 1- to 2-inch cubes and place in a pot of boiling, salted water, turn the heat down to medium and cook until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain and return to the pot. Add the buttermilk and butter spread, mash with a potato masher and whip until smooth. Set aside.

While the potatoes are boiling, spray an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish with olive oil spray. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add the remaining olive oil, add the onion and carrots, and sauté until soft, about 5-6 minutes. Add the thyme, ½ teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of black pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and stir to combine. Add the broth and cook, stirring, until the sauce begins to thicken, about three minutes. Add the Worcestershire Sauce, tomato paste, and wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Drain the lentils and add, along with the peas, and stir to combine completely.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Spoon the lentil filling into the prepared baking dish and spread evenly. Top with the mashed potatoes, spread evenly, and draw lines into the potatoes with a fork to create ridges. Spray the top with olive oil spray and bake for 30 minutes. Then turn on the broiler and brown the top lightly, rotating once to brown evenly, 6-8 minutes.

Serve immediately.

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