The STOP Lentil Shepherd’s Pie
Shepherd’s pie. What a quintessential winter dish! It combines everything needed to nourish the body and soul on a cold winter day: carbs in the ‘stick to your ribs’ mashed potatoes and squash, sweetness through the variety of winter vegetables, but especially the squash; protein through the lentils, not to mention the milk and milk by products; and of course, hearty winter vegetables cooked just right to deliver their needed vitamins and minerals.
The inspiration for this blog comes from a volunteer shift I recently did in the kitchen of The Stop. The Stop is a pretty amazing place. It proactively addresses poverty through food. It feeds people directly through its wonderful daily lunches that can serve up to 200. It’s a food bank. It runs many educational programs across a range of food and lifestyle related issues – from gardening and growing your own food through to cooking final dishes. It teaches people to be self sufficient and to eat well. It raises money through cool – and upscale – events as well as through supplier donations. I’ve been called to pick up donations of a variety of things – bread – meat, even blankets. Check it out at www.thestop.org
Once in a while, The STOP calls me to do some volunteer work when they are down on staff. Jan 21st. was the coldest day of the winter so far, and they were looking for someone to fill in for some missing people – so there I was.
Many were expected, as there was an extreme cold alert out for the homeless. Ashley was the main cook, and her menu choice for the day – a ‘Meatless Monday’ – was Lentil Shepherd’s pie.
I always learn something doing this volunteer work. Today it was a new way to conceptualize the humble mashed potato. My previous un-imaginings on mashed potato have been to work in butter and milk and hope it passes muster at home from those who want it the same way they get it in a restaurant. I have not yet succeeded at this task. Occasionally I’ve done garlic and rosemary in melted butter too, and that works. But that has been about it. The slurry in this recipe takes the simple mashed spud to a whole new level through the spicing and creaminess of the dairy items.
The other learning was how to work squash into your dinners. In this recipe, the squash is both central to the recipe, providing essential sweetness and complexity, but it also stands back and quietly supports the other rich flavours.
This is a multi stage recipe – shepherds pies are: each layer of the dish is prepared separately and layered before it bakes. On my volunteer stint, we did 5 big trays for 200. This recipe is a more modest one that fits in a 2.5 litre baking dish (9×9 or thereabouts) and will happily serve 6. We also did only the two layers. At home, I like to profile the mushrooms and walnuts in their own layer, right in the middle.
I suggested to Ashley that this would be a great recipe for the next STOP cookbook – but what I did not know at the time was that it is ALREADY in the book – page 102. This is however different in some of the details: it has more winter vegetables, the original has more fall – like veggies – like corn and zuccini. I also felt that a good hit of walnut pieces was in order here. All of which speaks to the great flexibility in a recipe such as this!
Lentil Shepherd’s Pie
1 cup dry lentils. Up to 1 1/2 cups of dry lentils can be used according to how much presence you wish them to have in the final product.
1/2 a medium sized squash (@ 1 kilo/2lbs)
3 medium onions, sliced and diced (about 1/2 kilo/1lb)
4-5 medium potatoes (@ 1.5 kilo/2lbs) – not cut: boil in their ‘jackets’
8-10 Mushrooms sliced (about 300 g/ 3/4 lb)
Other winter vegetables you wish to add – carrot, cabbage, parsnip, turnip…. Cut into slices or small pieces: (not more than 250g or a cup of diced vegetables)
3-4 garlic cloves
Salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, basil to flavour
85g butter – melted
Up to 175 ml (3/4 -2/3 cup)- a combination of milk, yogourt, sour cream, cream – whatever is available.
- Heat oven to 450
- Cut squash in half length-ways and roast on a greased cookie tray until fully cooked – 40-60 minutes (keep an eye on it – it will vary with the squash and your oven).
- Rinse lentils and cook in a pot of lightly salted water until done – about 30 minutes depending on the lentils you use.
- Boil the potatoes. Don’t cut them – just wash and take any sprouts out. Cooking them in their ‘jackets’ prevents extra water getting into the flesh.
- Saute onions adding a 3 finger pinch of salt, then garlic, other herbs and spices, including pepper. Once these have settled, add the vegetables one at a time allowing them to integrate into the rest of the dish. I like to have a variety of colors – even though they tend to even out in the final product.
- Slice mushrooms, and lightly sautee on lowest heat, with lid on – use butter & add a little salt and pepper. Don’t let them cook too much. They should be al dente. When you assemble the pie, they can either be one of the layers, or can be mixed into the lentil mix.
- Add lentils to the vegetable mix and simmer about 20 minutes. Adjust salt, pepper and spicing.
- Scoop the insides out of the squash, mash, and add about 2/3 of the squash to the lentil mix, stirring and mixing until it is well combined.
- Prepare a slurry with the melted butter, milk/yogourt/etc. you have on hand. Add salt and herbs to taste. The resulting slurry should be creamy and taste tangy, slightly salty, and slightly peppery. For this amount of potatoes and squash, the slurry should be about 175 ml – about 3/4 cup.
- Mash the potatoes along with the remaining 1/3rd of the squash. Add the milk and herb slurry a bit at a time until it achieves the desired consistency and taste. It should have a good tinge of sweetness from the squash and the right amount of saltiness and pepper.
- Layer the lentil dish first, then top it with the mashed potato/squash These quantities will fit in a 9″x 9″ baking dish, and happily serve 4-6. I like to use the mushrooms and a big handful of chopped walnuts as a middle layer.
- Bake at 350 until heated through – about 30 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes.
This recipe should take 80 minutes to assemble, and 30 to cook.
Winter Salad with Roasted Red Pepper dressing
This salad accompanied the lentil shepherd pie dish. The roasted red pepper vinaigrette takes this otherwise basic salad and shows it how to sing. Doing it at The Stop, A. roasted them simply by putting them on a flame until they blackened on the outside, then peeled it away, leaving the intensely sweet flesh. If you are doing this recipe with the lentil pie, it can be roasted along with the squash.
This is very much a winter vegetable salad. Although there is some lettuce, most of it is carrot and cabbage. These two ingredients make it a very economical salad for a winter day while also providing sweetness and quality carbohydrates we all need to stay warm. Unlike the shepherd’s pie, this is NOT in The STOP cookbook! This will serve 4-6.
1/4 head of cabbage, sliced thinly or grated.
I large carrot either grated or shaved in leafs with a peeler.
1 small red onion – thinly sliced
Other greens – whatever is available – chard, spinach, lettuce as well as any other salad vegetables you wish to include.
1 red pepper
Vinaigrette basics: olive oil (180g), balsamic vinegar (60g), 1 tbs Dijon mustard, 1/2 tsp salt, pepper, basil, thyme, oregano, garlic clove to taste.
Optional: toasted sunflower seeds or walnuts, dried cranberries.
- Roast the red pepper however you like: in a very hot oven, on the bbq, over a flame. If you are doing this alongside the Shepherd’s Pie, roast it with the squash.
- Slice, grate and combine the fresh vegetables.
- In food processor, puree in this order: garlic, red pepper, mustard, herbs, vinegar.
- Pour in the oil in a thin stream while the processor is on to enable emulsification.
- Combine with the vegetables and serve.
Serve this with a nice chunk of baguette or sourdough bread.
Pairings – haven’t tried it these yet, but cider comes to mind, as does smoked Chardonnay, or a dark ale.