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Home on the Range: Mushroom-Lentil Not-Shepherd's Pie


Published January 26, 2021 at 10:38 a.m.

Mushroom-Lentil Not-Shepherd's Pie - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Mushroom-Lentil Not-Shepherd's Pie
I grew up with shepherd's pie. By that I mean the real version made with ground lamb left over from a proper Sunday lunch roast — not the ground beef that is often thrown willy-nilly into recipes pretending to be shepherd's pie.

Ever met a shepherd tending a flock of cows? No, I thought not.

For similar reasons, there is no such thing as a vegetarian shepherd's pie.

But stepping back from my purist roots, I understand why people use the term to refer to all manner of finely chopped ingredients swimming in gravy and tucked under a cozy blanket of mashed potato.

I used to make a really good one from a legendary Moosewood Restaurant recipe starting with a frozen block of tofu, thawed and pressed dry, then crumbled and cooked in a rich soy sauce gravy. But that was excised from my repertoire when my husband developed a severe allergy to soy.

My latest vegetarian version is completely adaptable and especially suited to the plethora of local root vegetables in abundance right now. I made it most recently with carrots and diced celery root — though the latter's assertive, earthy, almost musky flavor is not to everyone's taste.
Ingredients for not-shepherd's pie - MELISSA PASANEN  SEVEN DAYS ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen Seven Days ©️ Seven Days
  • Ingredients for not-shepherd's pie

To that, I added quartered cremini mushrooms, finely diced stems included, and a can of lentils. (Yes, you could cook lentils from scratch and it's not hard, but this is quicker.)

For the magical umami quality we inadequately describe as "meatiness" or "savoriness," I included some tomato paste and smoked paprika. Splashes of soy sauce will also add similar depth. I topped it with mashed sweet potatoes rather than standard potatoes, but either will work just fine.

It all makes for rib-sticking goodness for cold winter days. Please just don't call it shepherd's pie.

Mushroom-Lentil Not-Shepherd's Pie

Serves 6

  • 2½ pounds sweet potatoes, scrubbed, no need to peel, cut into chunks (sub: all-purpose potatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Splash of milk
  • 1½ teaspoons coarse salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus a little more for drizzling
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ medium celery root, peeled and diced, to yield about 2 cups (sub: rutabaga, parsnips, beets)
  • 1 large carrot, scrubbed and diced
  • 12 to 16 ounces cremini or white button mushrooms, stems finely diced and caps quartered
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (sub: ketchup will work fine)
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika (sub: a couple splashes of soy sauce)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (sub: 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1½  cups mushroom or vegetable stock
  • 1 (15-ounce) can lentils (sub: 1½ cups cooked brown or green lentils)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Set a large pot of water over high heat with a steamer insert if you have one. Steam or boil the sweet potatoes until they are completely soft, about 25 to 30 minutes. Drain and mash the sweet potatoes with the butter,  a splash of milk and about ½ teaspoon of the salt. Taste and adjust seasoning and set aside.
  2. While the sweet potatoes are steaming, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large ovenproof sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and turning golden, about 5 to 6 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, celery root, carrot and mushroom stems. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushroom stems have softened, about 7 to 8 minutes.
  4. Add the quartered mushroom caps with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have given up their liquid and are starting to brown, another 5 to 7 minutes.
  5. Stir in the tomato paste, smoked paprika, thyme leaves and flour and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes.
  6. Stir in the mushroom stock, making sure to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook a few minutes until the gravy has thickened slightly. Stir in the lentils. Taste and season with more salt and freshly ground pepper as desired.
  7. Remove the pan from the stovetop and spread the mashed sweet potatoes over the top. Drizzle with a little olive oil and finish in the oven for about 20 minutes until browned and any filling peeking through is bubbly.
    Got cooking questions? Email pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.