Growing up, shepherds pie was among my many comfort foods. My mom made it really good and to this day still makes the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had.
When I went veggie, oh I guess about 20 years ago, it was one of the comfort foods I missed most. Never one to shy away from a veggie challenge, my mom made me my first veggie shepherds pie using veggie burgers as the base. Brilliant! Side note: she also makes me my own veggie lasagnas and tourtières. Since then I’ve been making it using veggie ground round, until I tried the lentil mushroom shepherds pie at Habit Lounge in Vancouver. Amazingly good. I’ve tried to replicate that one, but it’s still not the same. It’s darn good though. -Bvox
8-10 medium potatoes
4 tbsp butter (plus more for dobbing on top before baking)
1/2 cup milk, cream, buttermilk (or a combination)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp white pepper
2 tbsp olive oil + 1 tbsp butter
2 leeks finely chopped
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chopped mushrooms, any variety (I used crimini and portobello)
1/2 cup dried mushrooms (brought to life in 1 cup boiling water. Important: reserve cooking water)
2 cups diced carrots, parsnips
1 tbsp each fresh thyme and rosemary, plus a few springs for cooking
2 tbsp dry red wine
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 cups cooked lentils (see cooks note below)
1 to 2 tbsp soy sauce
Splash of worcestershire sauce, hot sauce
1 tbsp cornstarch or flour
1 cup reserved mushroom liquid or water
Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
Peel and dice the potatoes. Place in a large pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and transfer back into pot. I like to melt the butter and heat the milk together in the microwave, then add this mixture to the potatoes and mash until fluffy. A ricer works really well too. Cover and set aside until needed.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oil and butter in a medium skillet. Add the leeks and sauté over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and mushrooms (and a few thyme sprigs) and continue to sauté until the mushrooms are cooked. Add chopped fresh herbs. Deglaze the pan with wine and balsamic vinegar, adding more if needed.
Add any other vegetables at this point. I decided to quickly roast the carrots and parsnips to add more flavour, then added them to the shroom mixture. Whisk the cornstarch with just enough water to dissolve and add soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce. Stir liquids into the mushroom mixture, add the lentils and bring to a gentle simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat; taste to adjust seasonings to your taste.
Lightly oil a 2-quart casserole dish. Pour in the lentil/mushroom mixture in the casserole dish, then spread the potatoes evenly over the top. Dob top with butter. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the potatoes begin to turn golden and slightly crispy. I browned this one under the broiler for a few minutes. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, then dig in.
I usually cook the lentils in advance. To get three cups of cooked lentils, add 1 cup of uncooked lentils to a pot and cover with 2 inches of water. Cook until al dente, about 15-20 mins. To boost the flavour, I added a bouquet garni with garlic cloves, rosemary, thyme, peppercorns, dried mushroom and star anise to the cooking water. I use handy loose tea bags and tie them with kitchen string. I also added a few pieces of onion I had on hand.