The ultimate? That was uncharacteristically bold and I apologize. But why not be bold? This vegetarian shepherd’s pie is so packed with nutrients and flavor and goodness at every turn. It’s the product of years of fine tuning and trial and error to develop into something unique and special. And more to point, it’s impossible to title because it has too many star ingredients and which one should you choose? So, “the ultimate” felt like a nice place to land.
What it is, is a lentil, quinoa & barley vegetarian shepherd’s pie with a potato, parsnip and goats cheese topping. I mean, seriously. I can’t call my recipe that.
Lentils. Quinoa. Barley. These foods have everything going for them. They are cheap, they are healthy, they are easy to cook, they can be comforting and stodgy. Why why why don’t I eat them more often?
I guess they can seem boring and, like many veggies, I’ve been given one too many over-priced and under-flavored lentil and grain dishes in restaurants.
But it’s time to break free of these bad memories because they really are delicious when you do them justice. I mean, you probably already know that and are rolling your eyes at me because, hello, I am in my 30’s and still being weird about lentils and quinoa.
But humor me. I needed some time to catch up.
Lentils and grains can really excel in recipes where they are intended to replace ground meat, but they need a lot of help in doing so. You can not just do a straight-up substitution of beef to lentils because where meat would have added flavor to the dish, the lentils are soaking it in and diluting it. You need much more to go around, and I totally considered that when making this shepherd’s pie.
This filling is loosely based on the “lentil mustard pottage” recipe in Leith’s Vegetarian Bible. This was the recipe that finally convinced me that I could cook lentils in a way that would be tasty… after being instructed to add a serious amount of mustard to the equation. Now, I can’t add lentils to anything without wanting to drop in a ton of mustard for good measure.
When I first made this, it was purely lentil based, and absolutely delicious, but as the recipe evolved, adding some grains felt like the right thing to do. (And it helps give it that “ultimate” status, ya know?) I opted for quinoa, which sits fairly quietly in the background, and barley, which holds its shape well and adds some bite. Having all three makes for a more interesting mix of textures as well as ticking a lot more nutritional boxes.
You could of course make this with your own mix of lentils and grains. Or something else altogether, like TVP. Also add some beans if you fancy. I’ve tried it many ways, and it’s always great.
So work with what you’ve got.
There is not huge list of ingredients for this pie, but the filling is absolutely flavorful enough because the ingredients are all very strong. Mustard powder and prepared dijon mustard go a long way to infusing a savory depth, without it getting spicy.
If you can get your hands on faux beef stock, definitely use it. It makes a difference for sure.
Yep. It’s brilliant at adding a beefy and umami note to vegetarian sauces. Aussies, go ahead and use vegemite. Americans, I know this is not a common household ingredient for you but you can buy it on Amazon and Amazon is full of grateful Americans who have been converted to this rather eccentric British concoction. If you don’t have it, you will need to add something else to inject some added umami to the recipe. If you’ve got the faux beef stock, you’re good to go. If you’ve got neither, add more mustard, herbs and other strong ingredients.
And this topping. Oh, this topping. It is rather stealing the show in these photos, mostly due to my general lack of food styling abilities. But whatever, it’s so much prettier than the filling anyway. (Delicious does not always equal pretty.)
This topping plays a bigger role in the pie than in more traditional recipes. It carries a whole load of flavor of its own. A mix of potatoes and parsnips are whipped with goats cheese to form a creamy and luxurious mash. This is topped with a sharp cheddar cheese and some sliced green onions. Every bite is a little bit different and interesting.
As with the filling, it’s very adaptable. Try a different cheese if you want. Maybe throw some different veggies into the mashed topping (cauliflower? carrots?)
For me, this iteration of the pie was “the ultimate”, but maybe that isn’t in the spirit of things. It’s one of those lovely dishes where, if you start with my recipe, in a couple years you’ll have taken it in a whole new and personalized direction, and your favorite iteration will be rather different. Or maybe I’m over-thinking a harmless cute recipe title. Either way. Have fun with this!
the ultimate vegetarian shepherd's pie
Yield 6 -8
- 3 potatoes, chopped (you could peel the the potatoes if you don't like skins in your mashed potato, but I leave them on)
- 5 parsnips, chopped
- 125g (4.4oz) goats cheese
- A few spoonfuls of butter
- A couple handfuls of cheddar cheese
- 1 bunch of spring onions (aka green onions or salad onions), sliced, with the green and white bits separated
- 2 onions, minced
- 2 carrots, sliced
- 200g (7oz) mushrooms, sliced
- 2 Tblsps of dried herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme
- 1 Tblsp and 1 Tsp of dried mustard powder
- 1 Tblsp and 1 Tsp of dijon mustard
- 500g (18oz) mix of green lentils, quinoa and barley
- 1500-1700ml (6 or 7 cups) of vegetable stock (faux beef stock works great too and gives a darker color to the filling)
- 1 dessertspoonful of Marmite
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups (250g) frozen peas
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat a few glugs of olive oil a large saucepan, and cook the carrots and onions until they start to soften (maybe 3-5 minutes).
- Add the mushrooms, herbs and mustard powder. Cook until the mushrooms start to let out moisture and the herbs are fragrant (another 2-3 minutes)
- Add the lentils, quinoa and barley (or whatever combo you're using) to the pan along with the vegetable stock, marmite and bay leaves.
- Bring to a low boil and then simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring regularly, until the grains have cooked. You may need to add more liquid throughout. It depends on your grains so just keep an eye on things.
- Meanwhile, make the topping. Boil the potatoes and parsnips for 15-20 minutes until both are fully cooked. Drain and return to the pan with the goats cheese and butter. Using a hand mixer, whip the mixture until it's creamy and totally smooth.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C / 355F
- Once the filling is fully cooked, add the frozen peas and cook for another few minutes until they are defrosted.
- Assemble the pie. Pour the filling into a large oven dish (see notes below) and top with the mashed potato and parsnip mixture. Add the grated cheddar and the white parts of the spring onion to the top.
- Cover and bake for 30-45 minutes.
I cooked this in a 4.8 liter (4.2 quart) stove-to-oven dish. I simply cooked the filling on the stove, added the topping and then baked it.