Vegetarian lentil shepherds pie

Our two lads will happily eat standard veggie fare such as corn, carrots, peas, broccoli and potatoes. If you asked them, they would vehemently deny eating (much less admit to enjoying) eggplant, zuchinni, mushrooms, fennel, onion and capsicum. However, they regularly eat these vegetables in curries, vegetarian Mexican bean dishes, veggie lentil pasta dishes, meat casseroles, burgers, bolognese and more.

Whilst eating, they sometimes ask ‘Mum, what’s in this ?’ When I tell them ‘eggplant’, they are not deterred from continuing the inhalation process. I am sure this has something to do with the leafy matter being ‘hidden in plain sight’ and not easily identifiable. On the flip side, they run screaming from the room when confronted with beetroot, brussel sprouts, parnsips or sweet potato.

This hearty winter dish is all about the fifth flavour of umami (or in other words ‘deep savouriness’), provided by the mushrooms, miso and soy sauce. These flavours and textures, combined with some slow cooking, are completely satisyfing. I cannot promise that it will convert the most adamant of carnivores but our lads love it and in fact, have said they prefer it to my meat version of the same dish. (A declaration at which many sheep breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing.)

Make, eat and enjoy; knowing that neither sheep nor shepherd was harmed in the making of this pie.

VEGETARIAN LENTIL SHEPHERDS PIE

WHAT YOU NEED
4 tbl olive oil
1 medium onion finely diced
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
3 medium carrots, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
1 medium sized red pepper, diced
1 large eggplant, diced
1 large zuchinni, diced
2 cloves garlic
3 large flat mushrooms, diced
2 tins brown lentils, drained
1 tin crushed tomatoes
250 ml vegetable stock
1 tbl oregano
1tbl gluten free soy sauce
1 tbl miso paste
Salt and pepper to taste

Mashed potato topping
1.5 kilos potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup milk
50-100g Butter to taste (add as much as or as little as you like)
Salt and pepper
50-80g Parmesan for grating on top

HOW YOU DO IT

Lightly oil a large baking dish.
Sauté onion, chilli, carrot, celery and red pepper for five minutes. Add the eggplant and zuchinni and sauté for another five minutes, stirring regularly. Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
Add the mushrooms and cook for another five minutes. Add the lentils, tin of tomatoes, veggie stock, oregano, soy sauce, miso and another cup or so of cold water so the whole mixture is covered in liquid.
Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer, cook for up to one hour until all the liquid is evaporated and the veggies are tender. (This can take more like 1 hour 15 minutes.) Check for seasoning.
Whilst the vegetable mixture is simmering make the mashed potato topping. Cook the potatoes in boiling water until tender then drain them. Quickly pop them back into the saucepan and cook on a low heat for a minute or two. This will evaporate any remaining liquid and help to make a more fluffy mash. Remove them from the heat.
Warm the milk then add this and the butter to the potato mixture and mash until light and fluffy. Season with salt and pepper.
If cooking the shepherds pie straight away, preheat the oven to 180C.
To assemble the pie: Place the vegetable mixture into the prepared baking dish and smooth flat. Dollop even spoons of the potato mash over the top of the veggies. Flatten the mash with a spatula then drag a fork through the top. (This uneven texture helps the potato to brown.)
Sprinkle the Parmesan over the potato and bake in the oven for 40 minutes until golden brown. (If the top hasn’t browned enough, I often turn the grill on to medium for five minutes or so to help the browning process.)
If you are heating up the shepherds pie from the fridge, bring it out for half an hour before baking and it will take around an hour to heat up to piping hot.

Cooking Notes: Don’t feel compelled to follow my recipe for mashed potato if you have your own awesome recipe and technique. You can also make this recipe vegan by using a vegan margarine to mash the potatoes with and not using any milk. Top with a vegan cheese instead.
Another great thing about this dish is that due to its size, there are always leftovers for the next night. You little beauty.

A Cheergerm recipe


Lentils, slow roasted tomatoes and goats cheese

Most of you would have heard the saying ‘you don’t make friends with salad.’ The underpinning sentiment being that salad is not worth eating. Personally, I try to avoid eating anything or anybody that I have made friends with. However, if we were ever to find ourselves in an extremely desperate survival type situation, who knows what may happen. (Having read the book ‘Alive’ based on the 1972 Andes flight disaster where sixteen survivors survived only by deciding to eat pieces of their dead friends, I have been forever haunted by the choices they made. Would I, wouldn’t I?)

Ponderings on cannibalism aside, salads these days are mega interesting and worthy of being elevated to ‘main course’ status. Yotam Ottolenghi, the British chef, cookery writer and TV presenter could easily be hailed as the ‘King Of Delicious and Fascinating Salads.’ Having been lucky enough to procure another smattering of delicious cherry tomatoes from the local Growers Markets, the idea of slow roasting them popped into my brain box. Trawling through my cookbooks I came across this salad from Ottolenghi’s book ‘Plenty’ and did a bit of re-jigging. The lentils have a toothsome nutty bite, the thyme perfumed tomatoes are unctuously sweet, the melting red wine vinegar onions and bright herbs add a zingy lift. The nuggets of goats cheese provide an extra creamy tart surprise.

Salad may not be ‘my friend’ but it is certainly a very tasty acquaintance.

LENTILS, SLOW ROASTED TOMATOES AND GOATS CHEESE

WHAT YOU NEED
1 small red Red onion, very finely sliced
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
250g lentils (I used a french style fine green lentil from Mount Zero, Ottolenghi used castelluccio lentils or you could use French puy. The lentils need to hold their shape once cooked.)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 tbl parsley, chopped
1 tbl oregano, chopped (note, Ottolenghi’s recipe used 3tbsp chervil or parsley, 3 tbsp chopped chives, 4 tbsp chopped dill but I didn’t have these so just made do with what I had)
80g goats cheese (or Gorgonzola, or feta)
Black pepper

Slow roasted tomatoes
400g mixed cherry tomatoes, washed
2 tbl olive oil
1 tbl caramelised balsamic vinegar
8 sprigs of thyme
Extra sea salt

HOW YOU DO IT
Start by making the slow roasted tomatoes. Preheat the oven to 100C. Place the cherry tomatoes and thyme sprigs onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Drizzle over the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sprinkle with some salt and gently toss to coat. Roast for one hour, turning once or twice in that time.
Remove the tomatoes from the oven, discard the thyme and allow them to cool.
Meanwhile, place the red onion in a medium bowl, pour over the red wine vinegar and sprinkle with the salt. Stir, then leave the onions to soften.
Place the lentils in a pan of boiling water (the water should come three centimetres above the lentils) and cook for 20-30 minutes or until tender.
Drain the lentils in a sieve and whilst still warm, add them to the sliced red onion. Next, add the extra virgin olive oil, garlic and some black pepper. Stir to mix and leave aside to cool down.
Once cool, add the herbs and gently mix together. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
To serve, pile up the lentils on a large plate or bowl, integrating the goats cheese and tomatoes as you build up the pile. Drizzle the tomato cooking juices on top and serve.

A slight variation on a Yotam Otteolenghi recipe from ‘Plenty’ published by Edbury Press, 2010


Green lentil dal, a curry, not the author

How could I not use this recipe as an excuse to wax a wee bit lyrical about one of my favourite authors, Roald Dahl?

Easily, you may say but then, that is how I roll. Expect the unexpected, I never promised you a rose garden and all that. (Whatever the hell that means, seriously, what does it mean?)

As a child, my fervent reading habit encompassed the works of Roald Dahl. His books were devoured as readily as any white bread that I was able to get my mitts on. (Back in the day, Mum baked homemade bread or we ate brown bread. This once painfully fussy eater hankered after a slice of white bread something fierce.)

Favourite Dahl tomes included the hippy trippy delicious adventures of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, closely followed by Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and of course, James and the Giant Peach. These books were read cover to cover and more than once. They were then followed by the rest of his children’s novels and poetry. In my later teenage years, I encountered his more grown up ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ in which a story about screaming plants was inked indelibly onto my mind and psyche. To read Dahl is to go on an adventure and end up in a place you never thought you would go.

Indian food is a little like a Roald Dahl tale, an exciting and exotic journey into a diverse world of spice and many varying ingredients. Each bite can reveal a different flavour and aroma. Every spice brings something new to the party. This curry consisting of deep green legumes is gently earthy, with a delicate creamy blend of heat and richness. It is a wonderful addition to an Indian banquet or just as pleasantly, scoffed alone with a heft serving of basmati rice.

On that note, I leave you with my one of my favourite Roald Dahl quotes. (And of course, the recipe.)

‘And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’

GREEN LENTIL DAL

WHAT YOU NEED
250g green lentils, washed
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic clove, roughly chopped
5 cm ginger, roughly chopped
1/4 cup oil
1 tbl ground cumin
1 1/2 tsps ground coriander
2 tsps salt
1/4 tsp chilli powder
2 tbl garam masala
1/4 cup cream

HOW YOU DO IT
Put the lentils in a large saucepan and add 6 cups of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes to one hour or until the dal feels soft.The lentils will start to split a little and that is fine.
Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.
Blend the onion, garlic and ginger in a food processor to form a paste or finely chop them together with a knife.
Heat the oil in a medium size saucepan and fry the onion mixture over a high heat, stirring constantly until golden brown.
Add the cumin and coriander and fry for two minutes.
Add the lentils and stir in the salt, chilli powder and garam masala.
Pour 310ml (1 1/4 cup) of the reserved lentil liquid into the pan, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for ten minutes.
Just before serving, check for salt then stir in the cream and simmer for another 2 minutes to heat through.
Serve alone with steamed basmati rice or as part of a feast.

A Cheergerm adaptation from the The Food of India: A journey for food lovers by Murdoch Books. Recipes by Priya Wickramasingh and Carol Selva Rajah.