I am a summer person, through and through. I am cold blooded and I love the heat. I love the beach, tropical fruit, cold beer and flowers. It is my intention to move to the tropics as soon as I am able. I just love that humid heat.
So, it may not surprise you to hear that winter for me is a long, depressing time full of misery, being constantly cold and nose-drippy, with aching bones and what seems like an eternity of darkness. I have spent winters in the northern hemisphere and while I realise the Melbourne winter is relatively mild, it’s still too much for me. However, I do love winter food.
As soon as the mercury drops below 20C it’s time to pull out the snuggly jumper and crank up the oven, start slow cooking those stews and pies and roasting potatoes. And so it is that I made a gardener’s pie (aka meatless shepherd’s pie) in the middle of an Australian summer. There is nothing more comforting than gathering around the table with a steaming dish of hearty lentils and crispy, creamy potato, scooping it into a delicious mess on your plate. Plus, there’s always leftovers for the next couple of days, which makes a great work lunch.
I know that there are thousands of vegan shepherd’s pie recipes out there, but one more can’t hurt. This one is so flavoursome and doesn’t require beef or chicken style stock, which not everyone has access to, usually contain palm oil and are loaded with MSG. However, you can use whatever stock you wish if you have a beef style one that you love.
The gardener’s pie might be a humble dish, but I haven’t met anyone who didn’t like this. Make it in a large dish for an everyday weeknight meal (less washing up) or individual ramekins if you want to make it a bit more special. I’ll leave you with a restaurant insider’s tip: the meals are often not that special, but appear special because of the presentation. Place this in individual ramekins or those adorable mini casserole dishes and pop them on a plate with a little salad garnish and a decorative swirl of dressing, and your dinner guests will be suitably impressed.
2 cups dried whole red aka brown lentils (I used green this time because I was out, but it’s better with brown and looks prettier too), soaked 2-4 hours, rinsed and drained
3tbsp olive oil
2 medium carrots, grated
6 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 brown onions, finely diced
2 cups frozen peas
1 bouquet garni
2 bay leaves (yes, two more in addition to the boquet garni)
3/4 tsp celery seeds
1L vegetable stock
20g dried porcini mushrooms
5 cups thickly sliced Swiss brown mushrooms
1 cup porcini soaking liquid
1tbsp dark brown miso
2tbsp cornflour, dissolved in 3 tbsp cold water
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups water, if needed
For the potato topping
10 Dutch cream or desire potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup non dairy milk (I use unsweetened rice milk or cashew milk)
1/2 cup non dairy butter/margarine
Salt and white pepper, to taste
1. Place the porcini mushrooms in a bowl and cover with 2 cups water for around 40 minutes. Strain through a paper towel lined sieve, reserving the soaking liquid, then rinse the mushrooms and squeeze out. Chop finely
2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the onions and cook until almost caramelised. Add the garlic and cook another couple of minutes. Add the mushrooms and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook until the mushrooms are browned. Add the carrots, porcini mushrooms, bay leaves and celery seeds and cook a few minutes more. Add the lentils, peas and vegetable stock and stir well, scraping the bottom to de-glaze. Add the porcini soaking liquid and the bouquet garni and bring to the boil. Add the tamari and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the lentils are soft and the mixture has thickened, stirring every few minutes, around 30 minutes. You may need to add more water so it doesn’t dry out. Add the miso and a generous amount of freshly cracked black pepper and season to taste. Once you are happy with the flavour, add the cornflour slurry.
3. Meanwhile, place the potatoes into a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and cook until soft. Drain and return the potatoes to the pot. Mash well and then add the non-dairy milk and butter. Mash well until super creamy. Add more milk and butter if you think it needs it, it will depend on the size of your potatoes. Season generously with salt and a little white pepper, to taste.
4. Remove the bay leaves and bouquet garni from the lentil mixture and pour it into your pie dish of choice. Blob the mashed potato all over the mixture and squash together. Run a fork across the top to make grooves for extra crispiness. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt (again, for more crispiness). Place into a hot oven until the top is crispy (around 20 minutes) and allow to cool a few minutes before serving so you don’t burn everyone.