A Lentil Bit Wiser

I’ve had a winter hiatus from the blog.  For those of you that know me, know that I’m a marketing manager at a shopping center and that I can’t seem to handle much more than work, sleep and eat during November and December.  This season was incredibly busy.  I have missed cooking, crafting and experimenting so it’s time to get back to DelishTish!  I have lots of fun planned for this year, so hope you read and subscribe to the blog.

A Lentil Bit Wiser

I think lentils are always a smart choice to cook in a dish. They are a great fiber choice, good for your heart and they give you energy!  All are wonderful traits in a food except how do you make a brown or green variety lentil look appetizing?  You definitely have to add a bunch of other ingredients!

Several years ago, I entertained being a vegetarian. When I told my Filipino dad who I learned a lot of cooking from, his answer to vegetarian cooking was to add more vegetables to his regular meat dishes.  It was reminiscent of the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Aunt Voula learns Ian Miller is vegetarian.  She says, “It’s OK!  I make lamb.”  I appreciated the sentiment of dad at the time but I had to do some research on my own to find dishes that I could embrace a meatless lifestyle.  My research took me to a lentil shepherd’s pie.

This recipe is adapted from 125 Best Vegetarian Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson, pg. 123.

I found that this recipe was great in the crockpot or my dutch oven on the stovetop did the trick too.

Lentil Shepherd’s Pie Ingredients
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cups finely chopped onions (about one large onion)
4 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
2 to 3 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 tsp salt ½ tsp dried thyme leaves
½ tsp cracked black peppercorns
1 ½ cups brown or green lentils, rinsed
1 can course chopped tomatoes, including juice
2 cups vegetable stock

Topping
The recipe calls for 4 cups of mashed potatoes but I tend to use about 2 cups and just add a thin layer, about 1/2” thick covering. ½ cup of bread crumbs 1 or ½ cup of shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

To start, I chop and prep everything so that when I get to put it all together I can pretend I’m on a cooking show!

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In an effort to use one pot, I did everything in my dutch oven.  If you use your crock pot as the recipe intended, you would use a large skillet through boiling ingredients then transfer to your crockpot.

Heat the oil and saute, on medium flame, your onions, celery and carrots until they are soft. Add the garlic and spices (salt, thyme and peppercorns).  Let that simmer to incorporate these flavors for a minute or two.

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Next add the tomatoes with the juice and add your rinsed lentils. Bring the whole thing to a boil.  Add the vegetable stock, cover and put on a low flame.  Let the dish cook for two to three hours.  Add water or vegetable stock if it starts to dry out.

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In my experience for this dish, you can make any kind of mashed potatoes that you prefer – garlic mash, cheesy mash, creamy or chunky, it’s all good. Even cauliflower mash works but this can be watery, so be careful to drain and add just a little milk or butter at a time.

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To make basic mashed potatoes, I peeled, coarsely chopped three russet potatoes. Cover them with water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover and let simmer for about five to ten minutes.  I tend to poke them with a fork to know when they are done and soft to mash.  I drain them, add about ¼ cup sour cream and ¼ milk.  I use a hand mash tool and add the ingredients slowly so that they are thick and creamy consistency.  You may need to add more milk or sour cream to work towards a creamier texture.

For the crockpot, you can cover your lentils with this potato mash and cook for seven to eight hours on low.

For the dutch oven, I transfer the lentils that I’ve cooked on the stovetop to a casserole dish, cover with potatoes, sprinkle bread crumbs and cheese then back at 400 degrees for about 30 mins. Baking in the oven gives the topping a nice crust that doesn’t happen in the crockpot version.

This is a really adaptable meal to fit your tastes and comfort level of cooking. And….when you’re not feeling vegetarian you can add chicken or ground beef.

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This meal also freezes well or is a great dish to make ahead. You can prep the lentils on one day and then add the topping and bake on the next day for your gathering.

Even though I am not a vegetarian today, I can still have a meatless Monday or become a lentil bit wiser with an occasional vegetarian meal. This is a great one to save for yourself all week long or to enjoy with a group of family and friends.

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