We rarely go out to eat anymore, we try to cook and eat at home most of the time and reserve going out to eat for special occasions. We seem to enjoy it so much more. One of my favorite things about going out to eat has always been when I find a dish I really think has potential but it just isn’t quite there, I love coming home and recreating the dish the way I would like it. On the flip side, when you are out and have the perfect dish, everything is just right, I love to still come home and recreate it my way, keeping the integrity of the elements and ingredients that made me fall in love in the first place. This past week our good friends from Toronto, Ben and Esther came up for the day and we went out for dinner. We took them to Betty’s, a wonderful home-style but eclectic restaurant in the neighborhood where our store is. Betty’s has a large menu that features local and seasonal ingredients and dishes that warm your soul just reading about them. I ordered their Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie that had a bit of a goat cheese crust on top. I had never had goat cheese on a shepherd’s pie and it was so perfect. Everything about theirs was delightful, so much so that I found myself recreating it just a mere 3 days later.
What I love most about this dish, besides how delicious it is, is the fact that you can totally make and assemble it a day or two ahead of time and hold off on the baking. It is perfect for a busy week like we are in the midst of this week. I made it all on Sunday, waited for it to cool, popped it in the fridge and pulled it out the next night. I also love how many meals it yields for the two of us, we’ve been enjoying it all week for lunches.
This dish is so hearty and it is the perfect belly-warming meal for a cold winter night. The lentils provide as much protein as any meat that would traditionally be in a shepherd’s pie and it has an incredible amount of healthy goodies in it. You can easily make this vegan by substituting a non-dairy milk and a non-dairy butter in the mashed potatoes and skipping the goat cheese.
Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie with Lentils and Goat Cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 red onions, peeled and diced
2-3 organic carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks of organic celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
a small bunch of fresh rosemary
1 small bunch of fresh parsley
1 cup of dry organic lentil beans
1 28-ounce can of organic diced tomatoes
6-8 organic baby potatoes, peels on, halved and sliced
1 cup frozen organic green peas
2lbs potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large whole clove of garlic, peeled
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup whole organic local milk (use non-dairy milk if vegan)
2 tablespoons organic butter (use vegan butter substitute like Earth Balance if vegan)
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (skip if vegan)
1 fresh nutmeg, for grating
Prepare the lentils. Add 1 cups of lentils to a few cups of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and allow to boil approximately 30-45 minutes until cooked. Once the lentils are cooked, drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, chop and prepare all of your vegetables. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over a medium-high heat, add in the onions, celery and carrots. Saute for about 8-10 minutes, then add in the minced garlic, saute another 2 minutes. Add in your cooked lentils, fresh herbs, tomatoes and their juice, potatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Allow the mixture to simmer approximately 30-45 minutes until the veggies are no longer hard and it is nice and thick. Add in the frozen peas when there is about 10 minutes of cooking left.
While your filling is cooking, peel and dice your potatoes (if they are small/medium sized, quartered are perfect), bring the potatoes to a boil in a large pot with the clove of garlic and a bit of salt, boil for 10-15 minutes until they are soft. Remove the pan from the heat and drain. Pour in approximately a 1/2 cup of milk to start (you can add more as needed), the butter and a sprinkle of kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Mash by hand, with a ricer or with a hand mixer.
If you are going to cook and eat the shepherd’s pie right away, preheat your oven to 375º. Transfer the lentil mixture to a large 9″ x 13″ glass baking dish, spoon the mashed potato mixture on top and spread it evenly. Crumble the goat cheese over the top of the entire dish and sprinkle with fresh ground nutmeg. Cook for 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Scoop a large portion onto each plate, garnish with a sprig of rosemary and a sprinkle of fresh nutmeg. Serve.
If you are making this ahead and plan to eat it the next day, hold off on the goat cheese, allow it to cool, cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate up to a day or two. Sprinkle the goat cheese on just before baking. Baking time will increase when coming from a cool refrigerator, it may take more like 45 minutes.