Shepherdess Pie

Shepherdess Pie (Vegan, Vegetarian)
Isn’t this the loveliest name for your dinner? I’ve been making variations of this since I first turned vegetarian (terrifyingly, twenty years ago) and I was trying to replace a Sunday family favourite – shepherd’s pie. I have no idea when the vegetarian (vegan, in fact) version – usually involving lentils and other protein packed goodies – was given its feminine name, but I’m glad it happened and I’m totally using it! I’ve tweaked this recipe endlessly, and only recently added the borlotti beans. They are the perfect addition and I’ve finally stopped tweaking. For now, anyway! I really like this pie and thankfully my daughter does, too. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for a while to get her to enjoy a Sunday dinner based more around roasted veggies and a meaty alternative smothered in gravy, but she really doesn’t care for it. She’s generally such a fantastic eater, so I’ve never had the heart to keep encouraging her to eat a meal she simply doesn’t enjoy. Her fondness for Shepherdess Pie however has resulted in it becoming a Sunday staple in our house, and this fills me with joy. Serve up with some steamed greens and a couple of Yorkshire puds for pure Sunday comfort food.

Mashed potato topping:
Approximately 750g  potatoes (a mix of white and sweet potatoes is fab, or make up some of the weight with parsnips if you’ve got any)
A couple of tablespoons of non-dairy spread such as Pure*
Fine breadcrumbs (one blitzed slice of bread produces more than enough)
*If you’re not vegan, you can just use butter and also add a handful of grated cheese to the breadcrumb topping, if you like.

Filling:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely diced
150g frozen soya mince (Tesco and Sainsbury’s own brands are both vegan. Quorn isn’t.)
65g red lentils, rinsed
500ml hot vegetable stock
1 tbsp vegetarian Worcester sauce*
1 tbsp tomato puree
Squeeze of HP brown sauce
1 tbsp cornflour combined with 1 tbsp water
1 x tin borlotti beans

*This is SO worth hunting down. I use Biona’s Worcester sauce, which is vegetarian/vegan as it contains no anchovy. It lasts for ages and there is seriously zero difference in taste from regular Worcester sauce. If you can’t find any, try replacing with 2tsp soy sauce and 1 tsp cider vinegar.

Slow cooker tip / Making in advance: You can get ahead by placing all of the filling ingredients (all raw is fine) into a slow cooker and cook on high for 3-4 hours or low 6-8 hours. You can boil and mash the potatoes when you’re ready to eat, then transfer everything to a pie dish, top with breadcrumbs (and cheese, if using) and place in a hot oven for 20 minutes until crispy. I do this a lot! Alternatively, make the whole pie in advance then chill, and simply reheat until piping hot (about 30mins at 200c). Pies – like lots of things – taste even better when they’re reheated anyway!

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Scrub your spuds (peel if you want to, I never do), chop and bring to the boil in a pan of water. Boil for around 20 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, you can carry on with the pie filling below. When the potatoes are cooked through, drain and mash with some spread (or butter, if using).

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While the potatoes are cooking, preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas mark 6. Warm up the olive oil in a deep pan and add the chopped onion and carrot. Give it a stir, clamp the lid on and soften on a very low heat for five minutes. Stir in the rinsed lentils and vegetarian mince and sauté for a couple of minutes. Try not to let the lentils stick.

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Pour in the stock, Worcester sauce, tomato puree and HP sauce. In a little bowl, combine the cornflour and water, then add that too. Give it all a really good stir, put the lid on and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir every few minutes just to make sure nothing is sticking. Add the borlotti beans right at the end. Pour everything into a 2litre pie dish, then dollop on the mash and use a fork to spread it all over. Don’t make it too smooth – the crunchy bits are the best!

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Blitz a slice of bread in a food processor and sprinkle all over the pie. Add a handful of grated cheese if you’re not vegan. Bake in the middle of the oven for around 20-25 minutes or until the breadcrumbs and mash look golden brown – you may notice the filling start to bubble at the sides, too. Serve and enjoy with any of your favourite Sunday extras!

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