Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

There’s something very homey and comforting about shepherd’s pie. I remember it from when I was a child; my mother made it, and the school sometimes served it up, too, back in the day when lunch wasn’t pizza and fries! Now, of course, I don’t eat the animal, but shepherd’s pie (sometimes called shepherdess’ pie) is still on the menu.

I tend to think of green/brown lentils as being a bit too austeire and vegan for my brood to enjoy, but as has happened in the past, I was wrong, and the dish has gone down a storm. Daughter #2 had seconds while declaring that it really needed cashew gravy to go with it as she didn’t fancy chutney. Well, I’ll figure something wet to serve it up with next time.

Last time I made shepherd’s pie, I made it with a meetoo filling (picture at the bottom of page), which was also good, but quite honestly, any of the thick stews that don’t rely on potatoes would work well topped with mashed potato.

Green lentil "shepherd's pie"

Green lentil “shepherd’s pie”

2 bay leaves
1 cup (1/2 lb) of green/brown lentils

1/4 cup of dry white wine (or water)
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
2-3 large carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal OR small head of cauliflower cut into florets
6 cloves garlic
1 tbsp garam masala or mild curry powder
dash of nutmeg
~14 oz tin of chopped tomatoes in juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
fresh cilantro

2 lbs baking potatoes
1 tbsp margarine
plain unsweetened dairy free milk, as needed for the mashed potatoes

Pick the lentils over for stones or other debris, rinse them, and put in a saucepan with about 2 pints of water and the bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, cover, and allow to cook until soft. (~30 minutes)

In the meantime, cook the onions and carrots/cauliflower florets in a frying pan with about 2 tbsp of wine to keep them from sticking. (You can use water, if you’d rather not use wine.) Add splashes of wine from time to time if the vegetables appear to be starting to stick.

When the onions have softened (~10 minutes), add the garlic and spices to warm through for a minute, then add the tomatoes, cilantro, and salt and pepper.

Once the lentils are soft, drain them. Stir the mixtures together, and allow to simmer gently, uncovered, for a few minutes to allow the flavors to combine, and the sauce to thicken.

Peel and cut the potatoes into 1″ dice.

Put the potatoes in a saucepan with lightly salted water to cover, bring to a boil, and simmer until soft (~10 – 15 minutes). Once soft, drain the potatoes, and mash by hand with with margarine and dairy free milk until soft enough to spread with a fork. Don’t use a food processor; the potatoes take on a glue-like consistency that isn’t appealing.

Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon the lentil mixture into a medium sized oven proof dish (e.g. medium lasagna pan).

Drop fork-loads of the mashed potatoes onto the lentil mixture, then spread evenly with the tines of a fork. Place under a hot broiler/grill to allow the ridges to brown slightly. Serve hot with veggie side dishes and gravy or chutney.

Meetoo filled shepherd's pie

Meetoo filled shepherd’s pie, served with chickpea gravy

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Meetoo

This is a chunky tomato based sauce that I use in lasagnas and on pasta, or under mashed potatoes for a vegan, gluten free shepherd’s pie. It serves the same function as a meat sauce or bolognese, though I would doubt that it actually tastes the same.

Meetoo pasta in sunlight

Much of the bulk of the sauce is provided by tofu which has been frozen and defrosted at least once. Tofu is a curious beast. You can mash it to get scrambled egg texture, blend it to get sauce or thick cream texture, simmer and cool it to get the texture of boiled egg white, or freeze it to give it a slightly springy, very tender meat type texture.

In this dish, I like to freeze the tofu and defrost it at least once before using. The texture looks a bit unpromising at first, but don’t get put off by that, as it changes during cooking. Once tofu has been frozen, it has a certain resemblance to a sponge full of water; it’s necessary to get rid of that water before cooking so the flavored sauce can permeate through. You can do this either by taking handfuls of the stuff and carefully squeezing the water out, or you can put it between two plates stacked one on top of the other, and squeeze the two plates together at an angle over a sink. This takes about 30 seconds.

Make sure you have plenty of time to allow the sauce to cook. It won’t require too much of your attention, but both the onion frying at the beginning, and the long slow simmer of the complete sauce are necessary steps in order to attain a rich depth of flavor and color, much like veganesca. If you try to complete it in 1/2 an hour, the finished dish will taste quite uninspiring.

This sauce uses mushroom powder to give some of the savory notes. I keep a small coffee grinder for spices only, and grind dried mushrooms, whenever I need them.

Meetoo sauce with pastaIn case you were wondering, the name meetoo was designated by my kids as an amalgamation of the words ‘meat’ and ‘tofu’, when I explained to them what I was making. It was also a joke, when one would say, “I like this,” and the other would reply, “Me, too!”

12 – 16 oz firm tofu, frozen and defrosted (at least once)

1 tbsp Earth Balance margarine
2 large carrots, peeled and diced or sliced
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped

4 oz mushrooms, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
28 oz can chopped tomatoes in juice
2 tbsp chickpea miso
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano or 1 tbsp of fresh
3 tbsp tomato paste or 1/4 cup minced sun dried tomatoes
1 tbsp sugar, if needed to counteract sharp tinned tomatoes
2 tbsp gluten free tamari or Braggs Liquid Aminos (or to taste – this adds salt and brown color)
1/8 pepper, or to taste

Drain the tofu, and squeeze the excess water out of it.

Melt the margarine in a large cast iron frying pan over a medium/low heat, and gently fry the carrots, onions, and mushrooms in the covered pan, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned and softened (~10-15 minutes).

Add the garlic, and warm it through for a minute.

Add the rest of the ingredients, crumbling the tofu into largish pieces, stir, and turn the heat down to low. (Don’t be too eager to break up the tofu lumps, it will tend to disintegrate during the simmer.) Cook for about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. When it’s done, the tofu will have taken up the color of the sauce, and the sauce will have been mostly absorbed, except for the tomato chunks.

Check and adjust salt levels to taste.

Serve with pasta, or in lasagne, or under mashed potatoes as a Shepherd’s Pie.

Meetoo topped with mashed potato (place in the oven or under the grill/broiler to brown), and served with chickpea gravy.

Meetoo topped with mashed potato (place in the oven or under the grill/broiler to brown), and served with chickpea gravy.

For a variation: substitute 1 lb mushrooms for the carrots, and black olives for the oregano.

Chili variation: add 1 tsp finely chopped jalapeno pepper with the garlic, and a tin of rinsed red kidney beans with the tomatoes, then serve with flat breads or plain rice.

Sun Dried Tomato Pate / Sandwich Filler

This is really tasty. `Nuff said. The girls both like it, and hubby said he did, but I’m not to write that down! Does vegan pate have the same image that quiche did 20 years ago? I don’t know. What I do know is the girls had it in their school lunch packs today, and it went down well.

My initial experiments with this recipe involved cooked rice, but using quinoa makes the mixture easier to compact into a pate-like consistency. For a finer consistency, you could employ a food processor to partially blend all the cooked ingredients before adding the quinoa, but I wouldn’t over do it, as the tofu needs to retain some of its structure. You don’t want to turn it into a sauce.

Sun dried tomato pate served with hot 'buttered' almond bread toast.

Sun dried tomato pate served with hot ‘buttered’ almond bread toast.

Make sure to taste your sun dried tomatoes before using them here to check that you like them, as they are a fairly dominant flavor. The ones I buy are stored in olive oil with herbs (predominantly thyme, I would say). You might need to adjust the salt or thyme used here depending on how much is already included in yours.

1/2 cup dry quinoa
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp non-hydrogenated margarine
1/4 large mild onion, finely chopped
8 oz firm tofu
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup compressed sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, minced
4 tsps Braggs (or other GF soy sauce alternative)
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 cup (2 oz) almond flour (or blanched almonds, ground in a food processor)

Rinse the quinoa for a minute in a sieve under running water to remove the bitter saponins, then combine in a saucepan (or rice cooker) with 1 cup (8 fl oz) water, the thyme, and salt; cover tightly, and cook until most of the water has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and allow the quinoa to finish cooking in its own heat.

In a large frying pan, melt the margarine, and sauté the onion over medium heat until softened and beginning to brown.

Add the tofu, and roughly mash with the back of a sturdy fork. Add the garlic and sun dried tomatoes to the onion, and allow to warm through for 5 minutes.

Combine all the ingredients together with the fork. Check seasoning.

This is now ready to use as a sandwich spread, or it can be compressed in a small serving bowl (or four ramekins) in the fridge overnight to form a pate. Serve on warm almond bread toast, or in sandwiches with slices of tomato or cucumber.