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When I first made this recipe, it was January, which means we were all craving food that is a little lighter, a little healthier, and a little more in line with the way we've resolved to eat this year. But at the same time, it was January — when we're wrapped up in sweaters and blankets, it's comfort food we're dreaming about.
That's where this recipe comes in. With its rich, mushroom-studded filling tucked under a layer of soft mashed sweet potato, it has all the hallmarks of a good shepherd's pie, but it's completely vegan — and includes a secret ingredient that adds body and creaminess to the filling, without any cream.
Authentic shepherd's pie is a comfort food classic, but there's no room in my diet or grocery budget for a heavy dish of ground lamb or beef and buttery potatoes, except as an occasional treat. Lentils and mushrooms are more my speed, and sweet potatoes, roasted until creamy-soft, need just a little salt and pepper to be a flavorful topping.
This recipe uses one unusual ingredient: steel cut oats! The dry oats — cooked and drained with the lentils — release just enough starch to bind the filling into a creamy, mushroomy mass, rather than a loose scattering of lentils and vegetables. The oats also add a texture somewhat like ground meat, but they aren't noticeable unless you know to look for them, so your guests will have no idea their dinner includes a nutritious breakfast staple.
Speaking of guests, this recipe is an ideal dinner party dish for vegan or vegetarian eaters. It's hearty, full of umami flavor, and looks and feels like a proper main dish, rather than a vegetable side dish that received a promotion. But that doesn't mean it's only for those who can't eat the meat version — I've served it to omnivorous guests and my meat-loving husband with great success.
Lentil, Mushroom & Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie
Makes 6 servings
medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed
brown or green lentils, washed and picked over
cremini mushrooms, divided
medium yellow onion, chopped
large carrot, chopped
celery stalk, chopped
garlic clove, minced
low-sodium vegetable broth
dry red wine
soy sauce or tamari
chopped fresh parsley leaves
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Prick each sweet potato several times with a fork and place on a baking sheet. Roast until very soft to the touch, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, cook the lentils.
Place the lentils, oats, bay leaf, salt, and 5 cups of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil and lower heat. Simmer uncovered until the lentils are soft but not mushy, stirring occasionally to keep the oats from sticking to the bottom of the pot, 15 to 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and drain mixture into a colander or fine-mesh strainer.
While the lentils and oats are cooking, finely chop half of the mushrooms and set aside. Cut the remaining mushrooms into quarters. Warm the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the quartered mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook until browned and soft. Add the chopped mushrooms, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and translucent. Lower heat to medium and add the lentil and oat mixture, followed by the vegetable broth, wine, tomato paste, soy sauce, paprika, parsley, and a few grinds of black pepper. Simmer mixture for 5 minutes. Taste, and add salt or correct the seasonings as needed.
Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Peel sweet potatoes and place the flesh in a medium bowl. Use a fork to mash into a smooth paste. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Evenly spread the lentil mixture into a 9x13-inch baking dish. (For thicker layers, use a 9x9-inch pan.) Spoon the sweet potato mixture on top and smooth with a spatula. Bake until the filling is bubbling at the edges, about 30 minutes.
Make ahead: Both the filling and the roasted sweet potatoes can be made ahead and refrigerated up to 2 days before assembling and baking.• This recipe freezes well; after assembling, cover and freeze. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bake uncovered at 350°F for 35-45 minutes, or until filling is bubbling at the edges.
Freezing: This recipe freezes well; after assembling, cover and freeze. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bake uncovered at 350°F for 35 to 45 minutes, or until filling is bubbling at the edges.
Using regular potatoes: Leftover mashed potatoes can be used in place of the sweet potatoes.
Gluten-free: Use tamari in place of soy sauce and double-check that you are using gluten-free oats if serving this to gluten-free guests.