No matter the season, lentil shepherd’s pie is comforting and delicious. You know what though, I never really was into regular shepherd’s pie. It always just seemed to be a lot of meat with potatoes on top; a few veggies sprinkled through and lots of butter in those taters. Not the most healthy meal. But sub that meat out for lentils with lots of veggies and make my mashed potatoes with “secret butter” – now we’re talkin’!
Since I began on my plant based journey, lentils have become a staple. They cook up fast (compared to most beans), so they are perfect for getting a hearty meal on the table timely. They also have an earthy, meaty flavor and easily soak up any other flavors and seasonings that you add, making them a great meat substitute.
Perhaps more importantly, they are incredibly nutritious. They have a lot of protein and while protein is definitely important, most Americans probably are getting enough protein each day (1, 4). Don’t get me wrong, protein is essential, but unless you are a body builder or extreme athlete, you likely don’t need to supplement protein. In reality, most Americans are not getting enough FIBER (3, 4). Not to be totally weird to talk about the bowels while also discussing a recipe… but this needs addressing! One of the most common issues people face is constipation and usually taking fiber supplements or laxatives is recommended by Drs or it’s what people think is the right thing to do. The reality is that most people are just not eating enough plants to get that fiber naturally, which will get the bowels going. The solution is just eat more plants, like lentils! No need for meds or supplements for this issue. And no, fiber supplements are not the same thing as fiber you get from eating real food.
All About Fiber!
Alright, I’m gonna dive more into this fiber topic now – so you may know of fiber as what “makes you go,” but it’s much more complex than that. The recommendation is to consume about 19-30 grams of fiber per day, depending on sex. Most Americans are only consuming on average 15 grams per day! This is very short of the recommendation and is the reason why so many people face constipation and have digestive problems.
Fiber has many roles: it improves movement of your bowels, it will make you feel more full because of the volume, it helps keep your cholesterol low, it helps you maintain a healthy weight, and the fiber carbohydrates have important nutrients attached to them that your body will break off (antioxidants, phytonutrients – all that good stuff). And lastly, the fiber itself feeds your gut bacteria! I know, it’s a bit weird, right?! But hey those little guys need to eat, too! This is why taking a fiber supplement is not the same thing as eating a lentil or a piece of fruit (with the skin) or a whole grain. There are so many functions of fiber and by being deficient in fiber, we are making ourselves sick.
So, now we know that Americans are not consuming enough fiber. This means that many people have gut bacteria that are essentially starving, resulting in an imbalance of the microbiome and disfunction of the gut. This actually causes the type and quality of the bacteria to shift toward a less healthful composition and causes inflammation in the gut lining, often called “leaky gut” or increased gut permeability. This is the root of many diseases, particularly allergies and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and systemic lupus erythematosus (5).
In summary, this is a very complex topic and there is still so much research coming out in the field. But it seems as though the consensus from experts is that the gut is at the root of many of our health problems. So you can help your own gut by eating lots of plant fiber. Additionally, studies have shown that legumes could be the most important predictor of longevity (6). So eat those beans and lentils! Just one serving every day actually makes a difference!
How To Make Lentil Shepherd’s Pie
Alright, let’s get to the recipe details. I made this recipe pretty large so that it will last for several days, depending on how many you’re serving. It takes a bit of time to make and for that reason, I like my hard work to pay off with leftovers. It also is a great size for a holiday dinner or party. If you don’t like leftovers, you should definitely halve the recipe and use a small baking dish. I wrote out the half volumes in the recipe for you and they are in parentheses.
While you are cooking the lentils, get the water boiling to cook the potatoes. To cook the lentils, use a large dutch oven pot. Once the lentil-mushroom-veggie mixture is cooked, spread it in a large baking pan. If you don’t like mushrooms, I will say that I don’t think you can really taste them. By chopping in the food processor until they are relatively fine, they just add to the “meaty” texture with the lentils. But if you really want them omitted, then just add in some extra lentils.
How To Chop The Mushrooms For The Recipe
I make the mashed potatoes with a special “garlic butter” that I created from cashews. It adds a bit more richness to the potatoes and lots of garlic flavor. But if you don’t want to make the cashew butter or have an allergy, you can omit it. You could even just add in some pre-made cashew butter if you have it and add the garlic in separately. If you do it that way, make sure you grate the garlic on a microplane grater so that it’s very fine.
The mashed potatoes are spread over top of the lentil mixture. If you want or have time, you can bake it in the oven, which will make it set up a bit firmer. If you don’t have time for that, no worries, it’s totally fine without that step! You could make this recipe ahead of time and throw it in the oven to warm up when you are ready to eat. I have not tried freezing leftovers, but I imagine that it would work out well! If you happen to do that, let me know how it turns out!
I hope you learned lots about fiber and why it is so critical in our diets, which is part of why a whole food plant based diet is so healthful because it is full of fiber. I also hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do and please let me know what you think in the comments!
- Rand WM, Pellett PL, Young VR. Meta-analysis of nitrogen balance studies for estimating protein requirements in healthy adults. The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition. 2003;77(1):109-127.
- The recommended daily allowance of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight which should satisfy the requirement for most adults This data is based on a meta-analysis that evaluated 19 studies on the basis of protein intake for maintaining health.
- Quagliani D, Felt-Gunderson P. Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap: Communication Strategies From a Food and Fiber Summit. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016;11(1):80–85. Published 2016 Jul 7. doi:10.1177/1559827615588079
- What We Eat in America, NHANES 2009-2010 https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400530/Pdf/0910/Table_1_Nin_Gen_09.Pdf
- Manfredo Vieira S, Hiltensperger M, Kumar V, et al. Translocation of a gut pathobiont drives autoimmunity in mice and humans [published correction appears in Science. 2018 May 4;360(6388):]. Science. 2018;359(6380):1156–1161. doi:10.1126/science.aar7201
- Darmadi-Blackberry, M. Wahlqvist, A. Kouris-Blazos, et al. Legumes: the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2004;13(2):217-20.
Increased Lifespan From Beans – Dr. Greger, M.D.
Lentil Shepherd’s Pie
Makes about 10 servings
Hearty lentils and veggies are layered with creamy mashed potatoes for a comforting and classic dish. Perfect for a big family, or a small family that wants leftovers, or for a holiday dinner. Easily halve this recipe by following quantities in parentheses.
If you don’t like mushrooms, you can use extra lentils instead. (see footnotes)
Author: Leah Romay
For the lentil-veggie mixture:
- 550 g (275 g) dried brown lentils, washed and sorted
- 3/4 lbs (1/3 lbs) carrots, diced – about 4-5 large
- 1 (1/2) large onion, diced
- 1 lbs (1/2 lbs) mushrooms, such as cremini or baby bella, chopped in the food processor until medium fine (see photo above)
- 4 (2) cloves garlic
- 2 T (1 T) fresh thyme leaves
- 3 cups (1.5 c) vegetable or mushroom broth
- 2 cups (1 c) fire roasted tomato puree
- 2 T (1T) tomato paste
- 3 T (1.5 T) vegan Worcestershire sauce
- 2 cups (1 cup) fresh shelled peas or frozen
- 2 cups (1 cup) fresh corn kernels or frozen
For the mashed potatoes:
- 3 lbs (1.5 lbs) potatoes, skins left on
- 1 cup (1/2 cup) cashew pieces (see footnote if leaving out)
- 1/4 c (2 T) water
- 1/2 t (1/4 t) salt
- 2 cloves (1 clove) garlic
- 3 T (1.5 T) nutritional yeast
- 1.5 – 2 cups (3/4 – 1 cup) soy milk, or plant based milk of your choice
- Fresh thyme, for serving
Digital Scale, Food Processor
- Bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Place the cashews (if not using, skip to step 2) in a small bowl and then pour the hot water over.
- Heat a large dutch oven pot over medium low heat and add the onion, carrot, and mushrooms plus 1/4 cup water. Cook the vegetables, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add the lentils, broth, tomato puree, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, salt, pepper, and thyme. Stir well to combine and bring to a rapid boil. Once boiling, cover with lid. Reduce heat to a very low and gently simmer 15-20 minutes until lentils are tender.
- Meanwhile, cut potatoes into quarters and add to a large pot filled with salted water. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes from the time you turn on the heat. When done, drain the potatoes and return them to the pot.
- While potatoes are cooking, drain the cashews and place in food processor with the water, salt, garlic and nutritional yeast. Process until it makes a paste. This is the cashew butter. Set aside.
- Once the lentils are done cooking, stir in the peas and corn. Spread the mixture in a large baking dish.
- By now, the potatoes should be done. Test them by stabbing a potato with a pairing knife. If you are met with little to no resistance, they are done. Drain. Return to the pot and mash. Add the cashew butter and mash well, adding the soy milk gradually. You may not need all of the milk. Add until your desired texture is achieved. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
- Spread the potatoes on top of the lentil mixture. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake for 15-20 minutes, if desired. Serve sprinkled with fresh thyme.
- Use a digital scale to measure quantities.
- Leftovers will last for several days.
- You may also be able to freeze this recipe, however I have not done this.
- If you do not want a big batch, then make half of this recipe. The volumes are in parenthesis.
- If you do not want to use the mushrooms, then add additional 275 g lentils (137 g) for total of 825 g (412 g)
- If you want to omit the cashews – grate the garlic with a microplane grater so it is fine. Mix this into the potatoes with salt, pepper, nutritional yeast, and soy milk or your milk of choice.