Spicy lentil ‘shepherd’s pie’ (vegan)

IMG_1601.jpgAnother grey day, though it hasn’t actually started raining (so far). I feel a day of catching up with a few jobs coming on, interspersed with a spot of light blogging activity. I think we are having a 5:2 day too – I was put off eating any breakfast this morning by having to deal with the regurgitated remains of a mouse – at least I think that is what it started life as – which had been left in the middle of the kitchen terrace, so I’m off to a good start. (Thanks guys).

Yesterday, in need of something warming and hearty for our Sunday supper, I decided to try my hand at a vegan shepherd’s pie. I realise that is a bit of a contradiction in terms, but actually it turned out surprisingly well, despite the lack of lamb. I scoured the web for recipe inspiration, but didn’t really like the look of any of them, so I snaffled a few of the different ideas and cobbled together my own version.

It turned out really well – the spices really did make it super tasty and the saffron in the mash added just a touch of luxury, making it slightly less reminiscent of a ‘school dinner’. If you don’t have any saffron, normal mash would be equally good, in which case I would add a generous grating of nutmeg.

The lentils lent a lovely earthy favour to the whole thing – when we have finished our vegan regime, I’m going to try a similar pie, using half meat and half lentils. I will give you a full report on the results in due course.

I had some of the filling left over – I could have used a larger dish and added extra mash to serve at least six people. Our pie was plenty large enough for four – Linda took home the remaining portion and I still have enough of the filling in the fridge to fill at least four pasties or to serve with jacket potatoes later in the week.

If you remember to soak the lentils in cold water for an hour (longer is good) before you start the recipe, they will cook more quickly and will soak up less of the cooking liquid. However, it is not disastrous if you forget – just soak them while you are chopping and cooking the vegetables, and increase the cooking time by an extra 15 minutes. If you can’t get coriander, use parsley instead – but the mint really does add a lovely fresh touch, so try to include it if you can. The list of ingredients does look a little long, but some of them are just ground spices.

Spicy lentil ‘shepherd’s pie’ (vegan)

Serves 4 with leftover filling

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, washed and finely chopped (no need to peel)
A 3cm knob of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thinly into match sticks
3 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
3 or 4 mushrooms, thinly sliced
150g green lentils, soaked for at least an hour in cold water (if you remember)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon hot chilli powder or chilli flakes
1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
500ml vegetable stock (a cube or powdered bouillon are fine)
A large handful of fresh coriander (stalks and leaves)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Finely grated zest and juice of a lime (or lemon, or a little preserved lemon if you have it)

For the saffron mash:

3 – 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
About 3 tablespoons almond, oat or soya milk
A pinch of saffron
1 tablespoon non-dairy margarine plus a little extra for the top


Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or saute pan (you will need one with a lid).

Add the onions, celery and carrot, and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened.

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Stir in the ginger and garlic and cook for a little longer, then add the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes more.

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Add the drained lentils, together with all the spices and stir until everything is well combined.

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Then add the tomatoes, stock, one tablespoon of the chopped mint and the chopped stalks from the coriander (or parsley). Finally, add the zest and juice of the lime (or lemon) and season with salt and pepper. The sauce will have quite a lot of liquid at this stage, but the lentils will absorb it.

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Cover with a lid and cook over a very gentle heat for about 40 minutes, checking the liquid level frequently. You will probably need to add more liquid – I just added hot water from the kettle. The finished texture should be similar to a real shepherd’s pie – it should be quite chunky and not so runny that your mash will sink in to it – if you think it is too wet, remove the lid and cook for a little longer. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped coriander leaves and the rest of the mint.

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Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for about 20 minutes until soft, then drain and mash thoroughly.

Pre-heat the oven to 190C.

Put the milk replacement in a small pan with the saffron and heat until just starting to simmer. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for a few minutes.

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Add the non-dairy margarine and the saffron milk to the mash, along with plenty of salt and pepper. Stir until the mash is smooth – you don’t want it too soft or it will sink into the filling.

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Put the filling into a baking dish, then spoon the mash on top and fluff up with a fork. Dot with a few pieces of the margarine, to help the top to brown.

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Bake for about 25 – 30 minutes until everything is bubbling hot and the potatoes are golden brown.

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