Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie Recipe

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?

Photo Lentil Macro 3 by Nick Mote

21 responses to this post.

  1. Funny, I made a big pan of traditional Shepard’s Pie last night- made with local, organic ground beef and corn. Its a decent way to “spread out” a pound a beef, as it makes leftovers for a few meals. This recipe with lentils looks very good! I also struggle with finding lentil recipes that I like, so I’ll have to try this. I recently found a local source of lentils, so this Shepard’s Pie Recipe can be made with almost all local foods. Thanks for sharing.


    • Hi Emily!

      I’ve never actually had non-vegetarian shepherd’s pie. I think I tended to avoid mushy brown foods as a child, and my parents are Asian, so most of what we ate was vegetables. 🙂 I strongly recommend the fire roasted tomatoes if you can find them (or wait until late summer and roast/can your own). Kevin and I agreed later that they made the recipe.

      I’m not sure if lentils are grown around me. Mine came from the bulk bins at Whole Foods. I should check!


  2. I was vegetarian for about ten years, a long time ago, & the only lentils I would eat were the red ones – they made a great meatless loaf. The only problem with them is that they get mushy very quickly, I suppose you could add to the shepherds pie mixture after all the veg have cooked.


    • Hi Ellen,

      I think red lentils would be fine. Just cut up the vegetables smaller and cook them longer before adding the liquid and the lentils. I like red lentils because they cook more quickly and taste less musty than the green ones.

      I’ve never tried vegetarian meat loaf before. (I didn’t grow up with regular meat loaf, so I never developed a taste for it.) Care to share your recipe? 😉


  3. I guess I am the odd one out because I love lentils. This recipe sounds amazing though! I can’t think of any time when I cooked with rutabaga. That would be interesting to try.


    • Hi Brenna,

      This was actually the first time I cooked a rutabaga, too, though I remember having them at Thanksgiving one year and thinking they were good. They’re pretty mild, with the texture of a turnip. Mine were just a touch on the crunchy side, which I don’t recommend! I’d love to try sunchokes in this recipe, but I haven’t been able to find them near me.

      Do you have any favorite lentil recipes to share? I’m always looking for more ways to render them palatable.


  4. I’m with Brenna … never ate a lentil I didn’t like! 🙂 I’ve read so many recipes for Shepard’s Pie but haven’t ever made it. I’m bookmarking this one!! Thanks for sharing! Here’s another lentil recipe which I just discovered … it’s yummy:
    Have a great weekend!


    • Thanks for the recipe, Small Footprints! I hadn’t made shepherd’s pie before, either. I saw the recipe a while ago, mentioned it to Kevin (who didn’t think much of it), forgot about it. Then we almost had a friend over to dinner who doesn’t eat any grains (grain-free, vegetarian meals are surprisingly hard to come by), and it popped back into my head. He didn’t end up coming, but I’m glad I tried it anyway!


  5. Hmmm… I don’t think I’ve ever had shepherd’s pie, vegetarian or otherwise. Somehow I thought it had corn in it.. Anyhow, I’ve never had any luck cooking beans of any sort with tomatoes, because it tends to make them tough and they never get soft and mushy. Did you experience that or did they get soft?

    Soooo… my favorite lentil recipe is one that my stepmom makes. It’s a curried sweet potato stew with lentils and either spinach or kale served over rice. I don’t have her exact recipe, and every recipe has to be modified because of my allergies anyhow, but this one looks pretty close: I guess it’s sort of like dal with extra ingredients, but it sure is yummy!

    But if you’re looking for ways to use more lentils, you can pretty much just substitute them for ground beef in most recipes. I’ve used them in lasagna, enchiladas, stuffed peppers etc. I’ve even heard of people making “lentil loaf” instead of meat loaf, but I’ve never tried that one… not a big fan of meatloaf to begin with. I like to cook them until the skins are all burst, and then saute them with onion and whatever spices are appropriate for the dish before adding them… that way they pick up all of the flavors instead of just being dead space, if you know what I mean.


  6. I actually like lentils…try this: cook some puy lentils (sometimes called beluga lentils) in vegetable broth with a bay leaf; meanwhile, bake a couple of sweet potatoes with some coconut oil (2-3 tablespoon), salt, pumpkin spice. Make a warm (or cold) salad mixing the sweet potatoes with the lentils and some baby leaf spinach, and add some chopped pecan nuts. Make a dressing with maple syrup, fresh orange juice, some whole grain mustard and a tiny bit more coconut oil if the salad is too dry.

    Another yummy recipe: make a soup with: a couple of tablespoons olive oil, 2-3 chopped leeks, the flesh of a small butternut squash and 100-120 grams lentils. Add bay leaf, one tsp turmeric, vegetable broth. Simmer for 4045 minutes, then discard bay leaf and reduce to puree using an immersion blender. Serve with either a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, or a couple of tablespoons of coconut milk (my favourite!).

    Bon appetit!


    • Thank you for the lovely ideas, Cristina! Beluga lentils, huh? I thought a beluga was a type of whale. I’ve never had lentil salad before and it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me.

      I’ve been thinking about getting an immersion blender. Can I justify the impact of getting another kitchen appliance? Should I just be less lazy and put everything in my upright blender (which is harder to clean and kind of a nuisance for blending soups)? Decisions, decisions.


  7. Your blog doesn’t like me… it won’t let me comment. 😦


    • Ack! Akismet is on the fritz again. Rescued you from the spam folder. You should be OK now — no idea why it thought you were spam.


      • Woo Hoo!!! So does that mean I have free reign to blather again?

        Anyhow, what I wanted to say is that I’ve found you can use lentils in most recipes wherever it calls for ground beef. I generally have the best luck if I cook them thoroughly first (to the point that the skins have burst) then saute them with whatever spices are appropriate for the meal.

        One of my favorites is my step-mom’s stew made with curried lentils, sweet potatoes and kale. It’s very similar to this recipe:

        Have fun trying out all of these recipes! 🙂


        • Yes! Blather away, my friend! 🙂 No, seriously, I love it when you comment. I think part of my problem is that I went vegetarian around the same time I learned how to cook, so I don’t have recipes that would have originally called for ground beef. Sweet potatoes and kale sound like an intriguing combination. I guess there’s no point in bookmarking my own blog, but I’ll definitely be back here in another week or two when I’m ready for some more lentil experimentation.


  8. That sounds great. I’ll definately give it a go.

    I love lentils and they are a regular in our household. My fav lentil meal is probably lentil loaf. We eat it often and its a meal that non-vegetarian friends seem to like because it seems similar to regular meatloaf, especially when I serve it with mashed potato and beans.


    • Thanks for the recipe, Tricia! I bookmarked it and will be back to give it a try. I love the way all the ingredients in it are cupboard staples. That definitely increases the likelihood of my trying it.


  9. Posted by Andrea on 02/28/2012 at 13:34

    Sounds tasty. I always enjoy discovering recipes where you can exchange any given winter root vegetable for another.

    What’s nutritional yeast?


    • Hi Andrea,

      Nutritional yeast is a flavor enhancer / vitamin supplement (I know, not too many things are both) often used in vegan cooking to replace the savory flavors of cheese and meat broth. I don’t think it tastes particularly like cheese, but it does perk up flavors kinda like the way MSG does. It’s available in bulk, which is how I first got up the nerve to try it. Surprisingly, the cat thinks it is the greatest stuff on earth and has gone to significant lengths to get at my supply.


      • Posted by Andrea on 02/28/2012 at 13:46

        🙂 That’s because cats will, on instinct, be attracted to what we humans value the most. Like my fragile flower vase which is just begging to be knocked over and my wooden chest of drawers that clearly needs MORE claw scratches in it.

        I’ll ask for nutritional yeast at my local health/bulk food store.


  10. I am cooking a veggie shepherds pie now! I will be using bits and peices of this lovely looking recipe. Will let you know how it goes. Thanks for sharing, lee (


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