Perfect vegan Shepherd's Pie. Shepherd's Pie is an old English dish. If you are British you will have always been served Shepherds Pie as a child (or a vegetarian variant of it, if you are a non-meat eater). At Primary School we were served up Synthetic Mashed Potato served on top of a grayish brown meat sauce (origins of meat unknown), padded out with marrow fat peas and tinned carrots. I still shudder at the thought of it. I remember on more than one occasion unscrewing the lid of the ketchup dispenser so that when I went to squirt 'just a little' tomato sauce on my plate, everything was flooded with watered down sauce. "Miss, I can't eat this, it's covered in ketchup!"
My first culinary Get Out Of Jail Card.
What is Shepherd's Pie?
The true origins of Shepherds (or Cottage) Pie go back even further than my own schooldays (and that was sometime in the 1980s!), although it is not as archaic as I had expected. Of course, the Spanish brought potatoes to Europe in the 15th century but those choosy Elizabethans and the so-hard to please Jacobeans chose NOT to utilise the humble potato (or any vegetable for that matter), preferring the higher protein meals.
At some point though, some wily old-timer discovered the joy of the potato and henceforth the joy of the potato combined with protein (i.e. meat). Shepherds Pie came into being in the 1800s, the first official naming of the dish not until the 1870s.
Technically it is not a pie; it doesn't have a pastry crush and is not baked in a pie tin (although it could be). It is simply a layer of rich (plant based) meat sauce, topped with creamy mashed potatoes. Whilst you can make this dish as luxurious as you like, it is a one-pot meal that sprang out of the need for frugality. In the olden days, leftover meat from the Sunday Roast would be finely ground to make the saucy layer, made to go further with leftover carrots, turnips, parsnips, whatever.
Whilst researching this dish, I asked my American friend if they ate Shepherds Pie in the US, to which I was given a dubious "yeeeeeah" which means something like "I don't know but I'll say yes because it seems like something we might eat".
Actually, a cursory glance on Google reveals any number of transatlantic variants, a scary number of them using the ubiquitous mushroom soup and green beans that Americans seem to love so much, some replacing the potato with sweet potato or even noodles, others pepping it up with chipotles.
Do a search of English recipes and they are all much the same as each other, very little wavering from grandmas original recipe. I'm not here to state which is right or wrong. I think that creativity is the mother of invention and all dishes naturally evolve, regionally, culturally and financially.
My vegan version of Shepherds Pie is, for the most part, traditional apart from the use of vegan minced meat substitute instead of lamb or ground beef. Whilst a traditional shepherd's pie is a thing of beauty, a vegan shepherd's pie is nourishing and soul-satisfying. It is the ultimate comfort food for the whole family.
And, with a tip of the hat to the late Gary Rhodes, from whom I copy his scalloped shaped topping, the final dish was particularly auspicious. The potato had crisped on top but was still fluffy beneath and the sauce had dyed the potato with it's oily goodness. And as for the vegan lentil sauce? Rich, dense and delicious.
How to make Shepherds Pie
I find that the best vegan shepherd's pie is prepared the night before, and I usually prep my sauce one day, and then make the potato the next day. It gives the sauce time to chill and all the flavors to mingle.
Firstly you need to make your "meat" sauce. I actually use a lentil filling.
Secondly you need to make your mashed potato (see below). You can make this whilst your sauce is gently simmering away.
- In a medium saucepan, sauté a large onion, carrot and celery (all finely chopped) in a little olive oil until softened and fragrant.
- Add the vegan mince of your choice, combining thoroughly, before adding a little red wine (optional) to give a deep rich flavor.
- Add some tomato paste (tomato puree), stock, bay leaves and a little milk. The milk softens the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Simmer for 5 minutes over low heat, before adding tinned, drained lentils. I use tinned because they are quick and easy.
- I add a little soy sauce to boost the savory flavor, but you could also add a dash of vegan Worcestershire sauce or a little marmite, or even miso paste.
- Taste the lentil mixture, adding salt and black pepper if necessary.
- Remove bay leaf and pour into a casserole dish.
- Leave to cool whilst you prepare the potatoes (see below).
- Once you have covered your vegetable filling with the potato, bake until golden brown.
Perfect Mashed Potatoes for Shepherds Pie
- Use a red skinned potato if available, they have a creamier, but firmer texture. I love russet potatoes.
- Peel and boil the potatoes until just soft.
- Put tablespoons of the butter in a pan, only adding soy milk (or use almond milk) when the butter has melted.
- Season with salt, pepper, AND paprika. The paprika adds a delicate smokiness to the potato, but also a beautiful rich colour.
- Add potatoes back to the pan and mash using a potato masher to the desired consistency.
- Using a palette knife, pick up some of the potato and scrape off on the edge of the baking dish. Repeat this procedure until the entire periphery of the dish is covered with potato.
- Close up the remainder of the pie with the rest of the potato. Working from one end, firmly press the tip of the knife into the potato leaving a semi-circular indentation repeating the process across the dish left to right.
- Repeat the procedure until the entire surface is scalloped.
- And if you loved this, try my vegan chili recipe! It uses exactly the same base as the shepherds pie, so is great to make two supper dishes in one go!
- Or try my veganised Greek classic, Moussaka!
- My vegan Lasagne is always a crowd pleaser!
Vegan Shepherds Pie
- Baking Dish, or mini baking dishes to make individual pies
- 250 g Quorn Mince or similar vegan mince substitute
- 1 Onion peeled and finely chopped
- 1 clove Garlic finely chopped
- 2 Carrots peeled and finely chopped
- 2 stick Celery finely chopped
- 2 springs fresh Thyme (optional)
- 3 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 tin Lentils in water, drained
- 50 g Frozen Peas optional
- 1 Vegetable Stock dissolved in 1 cup boiling water
- 1 tablespoon Soy Sauce
- 2 tablespoon Ketchup or Tomato Puree
- ¼ cup Soy Milk or unsweetened plant based milk
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- ½ teaspoon Black Pepper
- 6 Potatoes, medium red, peeled and boiled to mashing consistency
- 1 tablespoon Butter vegan
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- a little unsweetened Plant-Based Milk
To make the Lentil Sauce
- Gently heat olive oil in a large saucepan and add the chopped onion, carrots, celery, thyme and garlic. Saute until softened.
- Add the vegan mince, stir into the vegetable mixture thoroughly, then add the stock, milk and ketchup/tomato puree.
- Let gently simmer until thickened, another 5 minutes or so, and then add the drained lentils, soy sauce, and seasoning.
- Taste for seasoning, you may want to add a little pinch of sugar, or a little more black pepper.
- Finally, stir through the frozen peas, let cook for another couple of minutes then add to your baking dish.
To Make the Mash Potato Topping
- Peel and boil the potatoes until just soft. Drain.
- Put butter in a pan adding milk when the butter has melted.
- Season with salt, pepper, AND paprika. Add potatoes back to the pan and mash to the desired consistency.
- Preheat oven to 180c
- Gently dollop your mashed potato on top of your cooled mince base.
- Working from one end, firmly press the tip of the knife into the potato leaving a semi-circular indentation repeating the process across the dish left to right. Repeat the procedure until the entire surface is scalloped.
- Dot with a little more butter, then bake in the oven until golden brown and bubbling, about 30 minutes.
- Remove from oven and leave to cool for about 10 minutes so that it's easy to remove from the dish. Leftovers reheat perfectly too!