Shepherds Pie originates from Great Britain, where it came about at as a way to use left over meat, primarily lamb, (hence the shepherd) and vegetables in a savory stew, topped with a pillowy layer of buttery mashed potatoes, and baked. It’s quite brilliant, isn’t it?
This version however, is vegan (and gluten free). No shepherd involved here. The stew is made with mushrooms and my favorite, sun chokes, instead of lamb. It’s rich and deep enough for a full bodied glass of red wine, and depending on how you make it, can be rustic, or refined.
Substituting thinly sliced yukon gold potatoes, instead of mashed potatoes for the top is a fun option when crunched for time. Or, for a more formal, special dinner like Thanksgiving, try elevating it, by serving individual portions and topping it with flavorful Truffle Mashed Potatoes.
The nice thing is, if you are having guests over, you can fully customize these, making some vegan, and if you prefer, some with lamb because you can bake them in individual baking dishes. It is perfect for the holidays. But more to the point, it’s perfect after the holidays, using up leftover mashed potatoes, yams, stray vegetables, turkey or roast or whatever you have in your fridge. The beauty of Shepherds Pie, is its ability to transform leftover ingredients into something new. Think of it as “re-purposed”. You get the idea. That said, here is my vegan version…but feel free to play around and add your own touches.
Last week I taught a cooking class at the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy in Spokane. I was asked to pick a topic, and after much thought, I decided to teach a class on “The Modern Vegan”. I must confess, I am not vegan, but the reason I chose the topic is because I really enjoy vegan cooking. Why? Because it forces us to think outside the box. It eliminates the usual ways of creating richness and depth, through using butter, cheese, eggs and meat, and pushes us to come up with alternative, more creative ways of building flavor. And to me, this process is very liberating in the kitchen.
Have you ever noticed, how most vegans, are really excellent cooks? They learned to be so. I believe it is because without the crutch of animal products, they are more inclined to explore and play with ingredients that perhaps they would not normally venture out to. Cooking vegan is a good exercise for anyone who is in any sort of creative rut.
Try this: think of cooking like you would think of a painting. For example, if you look at a painting, you will see layers of colors, light, shadows, and depth. The depth is what draws you in and holds you there. Similarly with music, the bass notes, are low and grounding, like a pulse. And without it, music seems shallow. It is the same with cooking. If there is no depth, nothing to ground the flavors, often food will taste as if “something is missing”. Building layers of flavor upon a foundation of depth, adding richness to the dish, and finally notes of brightness, make for the most unforgettable of meals. For the vegan cook, creating richness and depth can be especially challenging, but here is where the fun begins. Substituting other ingredients like miso paste or mushroom powder, blended nuts, black vinegar, or tahini, nutritional yeast, caramelized onions….. just to name a few, are ways to give a vegan dish interest, richness and depth. Giving yourself license to play around with new ingredients is like an artist adding new colors to her palette. Suddenly there are more options and this expands creativity. The possibilities become endless. And to me, this is one of the best feelings in the world.
Here is how to make easy, vegan, truffled mashed potatoes for the top. These are also great on their own as a side dish. For the rustic, sliced version, see below.
Peel and dice 4 lbs russet potatoes, cutting them into 3/4 inch cubes of similar size. Place them in a saute pan and cover with an inch of water. Add salt and minced garlic. Bring to a boil, and continue to boil until fork tender, about 15-20 minutes.
The star of the recipe is the Jerusalem artichoke, or also called a sun choke. They look similar to fresh ginger, but are completely different. They are actually the root of the perennial sunflower, in season for a short period of time in the fall. They have the most amazing flavor, nutty and earthy and a hint of sweet, and are starchy like a potato. Simply roasted in the oven with salt, pepper and a little olive oil, they are tasty. Roasted and blended in a soup, with mushrooms, and truffle, to me, is magic. They are fun to experiment with.
Instead of sun chokes, or parsnips or carrots, you can experiment with other ingredients….just remember that different vegetables cook at different speeds, and you don’t want them to get too mushy. Other vegetables to consider….celery root, butternut squash, kale, celery, rutabagas, even beans. You could also add seitan.
In the end, you will have a rich deep flavorful stew. Fill your baking dish, or individual ramekins, or a large cast iron skillet, or whatever oven proof dish you want to serve it in, and either cover with the truffled mashed potatoes, or sliced potatoes.
Something to consider: If you are doing the sliced potatoes, they do take longer in the oven, at least 40-50 minutes, because the potatoes actually need to cook. If you are using mashed potatoes, they will need only 15-20 minutes in the oven.
Take them out when they are bubbly and golden, about 20 minutes.
To go the sliced potato route, very thinly slice the potatoes, or use a mandolin. For purely aesthetic reasons, the rounder the potato the better. Blot them dry and toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Begin layering them on top of the stew. For added yumminess, drizzle a few drops of truffle oil on top of the stew before layering the potatoes.
Sprinkle with a little rosemary or thyme.
Cover with foil and bake covered for 30 minutes, uncover and bake another 20 minutes until potatoes are browned and crispy.
- 2 T Olive oil
- 2 C Diced Onions
- 4 cloves Garlic- minced
- 1 1/2 lbs sliced Mushrooms
- 1 lb sun chokes
- 2 C parsnips, peeled and diced
- 2 C carrots, peeled, diced
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp cracked pepper
- 1 T fresh rosemary
- 1 T fresh thyme
- 1 C red wine
- 2 T rice flour ( or regular flour)
- 3 C rich veggie stock
- 1 T red or brown miso paste
- 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 C fresh Italian Parsley
- 1 C Optional- diced browned seitan
In a large heavy bottom pot, heat oil on med high heat. Saute onions, parsnips, carrots and 1/2 tsp salt for about 12 minutes, stirring occasionally until onions are golden and carrots are tender. Turn heat down to medium. Add mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, herbs and 1/2 tsp salt and continue to sauté on medium heat, stirring frequently, until mushrooms begin to give off their liquid, about another 8 minutes. Still on med heat, add 1 C red wine. Stir occasionally, and let wine reduce until its almost gone, about another 8 minutes.
At this point you could divide your stew mixture ( if you want to add lamb of beef to part of it) For example, I like my shepherds pie, without meat. My husband likes his with meat, so I separate a portion, adding cooked lamb to his portion. When having guests over, you could do half and half if you like.
While wine is reducing, heat 3 C vegetable stock and add 1 T miso, in a separate pot, stirring until its dissolved.
When wine is mostly reduced, Sprinkle with 2 T rice flour ( or regular flour) and stir it for about 2 minutes. Add hot stock/miso mixture to the pot, stirring until the stew thickens, about 3 minutes. Taste for salt, add more cracked pepper if necessary, and 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar. Remove from heat, stir in fresh Italian parsley.
Pour your stew into a baking dish, an oven proof skillet or individual baking dishes, or ramekins. For a little extra luxury drizzle the top of the stew with a few drops of truffle oil.
There are two options here, read both and decide which one you want to do.
Option 1: Make truffled mashed potatoes….the slower, but better way
Peel and dice 4 lbs of yukon gold potatoes, into 1 inch pieces. Make sure the pieces are similar in size. Place in a sauté pan, cover with an inch of water with 2 tsp kosher salt and 4 minced garlic cloves. Boil until very tender about 15-20 minutes. Drain, mash with potato masher and add 2 T olive oil and 1 T truffle oil. Taste for salt. I like adding just a little white pepper. Put in a piping bag and pipe out over stew. If potatoes seem too dry to pipe, add a little hot water to them and they will loosen up nicely.
Place Completed pies in a preheated 375F oven and bake until bubbly and golden, about 20 minutes. Serve with a sprig of thyme and a good red wine.
Option 2: Sliced Yukons, the fast way ( but longer baking time)
Slice 4 round yukon gold potatoes very thinly using a mandolin or very sharp knife. Remember, as thinly as possible, the thinner the better. Blot dry. Toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.
For a little extra luxury, drizzle the top of the stew with a few drops of truffle oil. Arrange potatoes in overlapping concentric circles, over the stew. Sprinkle with a little thyme or rosemary. Bake in a 400 F Oven for 40-45 minutes minutes until potatoes are golden and crispy. Very Important…..let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 8