How I came to make my famous vegetarian shepherd's pie this week: I was visiting Foodbat.com the other day and reading about her taking an extra beef tongue off her friend's hands ("How can one say no?"). Even though her motto is "Exploration is delicious," she chickened out and threw it in the freezer. Made pork chops instead.
Well, I can't help her! I would have said no to anyone trying to palm off a spare tongue on me. You see, I was exposed to tongue early in life. Unlike many children, I was a fairly adventurous eater and I would at least taste most everything. But whenever my mother cooked tongue, only she and her mother would eat it. I had to fall in with the more picky eaters on those occasions. It might be perfectly delicious, but I wouldn't know and I never will!
I was just a toddler when I began hanging out in the kitchen with my mother and grandmothers, eager to watch and learn. Well, I kept my eyes closed when it came to the beef tongue. So I can't give Foodbat any tips. She's on her own. No, wait, I can help! I can put her in touch with a man in England who is sure to know all about it, Le Charcutier Anglais.
All that talk about tongue has put me off my feed! I'll be vegetarian all week now! I'm all about "comfort food," but foods like tongue make me distinctly uncomfortable! (Discomfort Food, anyone?) So my shepherd's pie this week is made with lentils instead of beef, turkey or lamb. Hope you'll try it and let me know how you like it. (And, if you happen to be a beef tongue aficionado, I hope I haven't offended you!)
Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie
1 2/3 cups dried green lentils
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups water
4 pounds potatoes (I use organic russets)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1 1/2 cups diced carrots
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 or 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
4 ounces (1 stick) butter
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 cup grated Cheddar
1 In 3-quart saucepan, bring lentils, salt and water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, loosely covered, until tender. Cooking time may take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the variety and the age of the lentils (I cooked these for 40 minutes--the package said 30). When they are done, there will be just a little water left. Drain it off and reserve it for another use.
2 Pare the potatoes, and rinse and quarter them. Put them in a 3-quart saucepan; add salt and cold water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, loosely covered, about 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
3 In the meantime, prepare filling. In 12-inch skillet, heat olive oil and cook chopped onion for 10 minutes. Add diced carrots and cook an additional 10 minutes. Sprinkle vegetables with flour and cook, stirring, until flour is absorbed, about 3 minutes. Stir in diced tomatoes, soy sauce and seasonings. Stir in cooked lentils. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Remove from heat and stir in frozen peas. Set aside.
4 Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Drain and mash potatoes. Stir in butter, milk, salt, pepper and cheese.
5 Spray 13x9x2-inch baking dish with vegetable cooking spray. Line bottom of dish with half the mashed potatoes, cover with all the filling, top with remaining potatoes. Fluff potato topping with a fork. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
6 If making ahead, refrigerate unbaked casserole until 65 minutes before serving time. Preheat oven to 375. Bake for 55 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes.