Did you know that it’s British Pie Week? I think there might actually be a ‘week’ for pretty much every meal, cake or ingredient you can think of (for a case in point, check out my carrot cake recipe); but let me put aside my mild cynicism for one moment because I’d hate for you to miss out on the chance to enjoy this Puy Lentil Shepherd’s Pie. It’s a healthy, wholesome, delicious dish that makes a lovely (yet simple) family meal.
Shepherd’s Pie is definitely a British classic; and the chances are (if you’re from these shores!) that you grew up with it as one of your regular family dinners, and I’m sure every family has their own take on it. But what’s always central to this recipe – whether it includes meat or not – is a warm and comforting rich sauce, earthy root vegetables, fragrant herbs and a potato topping. And that’s the great thing about recipes like this one: all of the flavour, which develops and intensifies during the cooking process, is carried in the sauce, so you’re not missing out on anything by making your Shepherd’s Pie a plant-based one.
Puy lentils are just perfect for this recipe. They have a firm texture that can withstand being simmered and baked in sauce for an hour, and they also have a wonderful peppery bite, making them a fantastic choice for the filling of this pie.
I can imagine that tending to lentils in the green and fragrant French countryside could be quite an agreeable way to pass the time on a long summer’s day… But enough of that wishful thinking – let’s get back to why this Puy Lentil Shepherd’s Pie makes such a satisfying and tasty whole foods dinner:
- it’s healthy, hearty and super satisfying;
- it’s simple to cook, and all in one dish;
- puy lentils are only 1% fat, are high in dietary fibre (which can lower cholesterol), and keep you full for longer;
- the spinach, lentils and tomatoes are all great sources of antioxidant vitamins A and C, which can help to prevent disease;
- not only do the pumpkin seeds add a wonderful crunch, but they’re high in magnesium which makes them a heart-healthy superfood;
- being plant-based, this yummy family-favourite benefits from not having high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol; and
- you can make this in advance, freeze it and have lots of lovely ready-made dinners that are both good for you and delicious.
Look how tempting and crisp that topping looks, and all without a drop of oil! I’ve used sliced potatoes in this recipe because they make a lovely alternative to mash in terms of flavour and texture – not to mention the simplicity of avoiding a whole additional cooking process before putting the pie in the oven. I hope you enjoy this adaptation to the original as much as we do.
What’s your favourite way to adapt a favourite family recipe?
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 red onion
- 6 cloves garlic
- 250g chestnut mushrooms
- 1 small carrot
- 15g fresh rosemary, leaves picked
- ½ tsp dried chilli flakes
- 1 tsp each smoked paprika, ground cinnamon and coriander seeds
- 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
- 125ml red wine
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp tamari/soy sauce (or a handful of olives)
- 2 tbsp tomato purée
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes (400g) plus ¼ tin water
- 1 tin puy lentils (400g / drained weight 240g), rinsed
- 250g spinach
- 600g potatoes (I like to use Rooster potatoes)
- To season: black pepper, nutritional yeast
- Preheat the oven to 220°C / 425°F / Gas Mark 7.
- Place a heavy-based casserole dish on the hob and heat the oil on a moderate to high heat. Chop the onion, garlic, mushrooms, carrot and rosemary leaves and add these to the oil, stirring.
- Leave to sauté for 5 minutes, or until the onions soften.
- Stir in the chilli flakes, smoked paprika, cinnamon, coriander seeds and pumpkin seeds, followed by the red wine, vinegar, tamari, tomato purée, chopped tomatoes and water. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- While this is bubbling away, slice the potatoes as thinly as you can.
- Now add the lentils, spinach and black pepper to the sauce and give it a good stir. Remove from the heat and arrange the potato slices to cover the dish in any pattern you like. If you are using nutritional yeast, sprinkle onto the potato topping.
- Cover the dish and cook in the oven for 20 minutes.
- Remove the lid and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes. The potatoes should be cooked through and nicely crisp.
- Serve with lovely steamed greens or a fresh salad.
Puy lentils also go by the name of 'Lentilles Vertes' and can be found tinned, dried or vacuum packed in most supermarkets.