Lentils are good for you. They’re one of the cheapest sources of high quality plant protein. They cook quickly. And…how I wish I liked them. I mean, they’re OK. I’m not against eating them once or twice a month. But more than that and I start to gag at the thought of those slightly musty, pebble-like legumes.
I finally found a recipe I like them in. As in, “Wow, I’m really enjoying this!” instead of, “Well, at least they’re good for me.” It’s a vegetarian (easily veganized) version of shepherd’s pie adapted from Vicki Smallwood’s 100 Great Recipes: Vegetarian. Shepherd’s Pie is a stew topped with mashed potatoes and baked until golden on top. This recipe isn’t super fast, but it’s difficult to mess up, adaptable, cheap, and so enjoyable you might even forget how good it is for you. It’s a good dish to make in the winter when root vegetables are readily available. Go ahead and try different vegetables in it — sweet potatoes, turnips, celery root…I bet it’ll taste fine. As with all my recipes, proportions are flexible and forgiving.
Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie (serves 4)
For the top:
- 1.5lb russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1/2c milk (can be omitted for vegan version)
- 2 TB butter or margarine
- salt to taste
For the stew:
- 2TB vegetable oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- 1c carrots (about one big one), cut into small cubes
- 1 medium parsnip, small cubes
- 1 medium rutabaga, small cubes
- 1 c green lentils
- 1 14oz can diced tomatoes (highly recommend fire-roasted for more flavor)
- 2 tsp nutritional yeast
- 2/3c vegetable stock
- about 1/2 c water
- dash of garlic powder
- salt and pepper to taste
1. Boil potatoes 12-15 minutes until tender. Drain and mash with milk, butter, and salt to taste. A little chunky is OK.
2. While potatoes are boiling, chop onions, celery, carrots, and rutabaga. Do smaller cubes if you’re in a hurry.
3. Heat 2TB vegetable oil in a pot and saute onion on medium until fragrant (about 5 minutes). Add other vegetables and continue sauteing another 5 minutes.
4. Add green lentils, stock, tomatoes, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer about 20 minutes, or until lentils are just tender. (You can try red lentils to reduce the simmering time.) I recommend (ahem!) also trying some of the vegetables to make sure the crunch has gone out of them, too. They will not get much softer in the oven. Season to taste.
5. While lentils are simmering, preheat oven to 350 and spray an 8×8 dish (optional, makes clean up somewhat easier). Pour in lentils and top with mashed potatoes, using a spatula to smooth potatoes into one layer. You might end up with extra mashed potatoes. Extra mashed potatoes have never been a problem in my household.
6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until potatoes are lightly golden. Alternately, you could try broiling it for just a few minutes.
This is a hearty, warming winter meal. I loved it with the smoky fire-roasted tomatoes, which complemented the earthy flavor of the lentils. It’s also a good way to work in some different root vegetables. Parsnips are a slightly sweet, fragrant root vegetable that tend to get overlooked, and that’s to say nothing of the homely celeriac or rutabaga.
I’m willing to eat lentils in soup, chili, and dal, but this recipe is my new favorite way to get them in to my diet. Do you like lentils? What are your favorite recipes?