Oct 15, 2011

Recipe: fancy vegetarian shepherd's pie

One benefit of learning French is that I now have more recipes available to me. And man, this recipe is SO GOOD. It's not something I would ordinarily make, but I tried it around this time last year and was impressed. It was way tastier than I expected, but I knew I wanted to make some adjustments for next time. I finally got around to making it, and I'm impressed with my adjustments too.

First, you have to forget that it's shepherd's pie. If you're expecting a ground beef, pea/carrot/corn, and potato dish that's all mushy and homogenous, don't even bother. I grew up loving the M&M Meat shepherd's pie and have been trying to replicate it with ground round or lentils since giving up beef. It doesn't work. This recipe doesn't try to be that kind of shepherd's pie, and it's better for it.

Second, the recipe has a lot of ingredients, ranging from eggplant to oats to nuts to squash to fresh herbs. And it takes forever to make, since there's chopping, baking, slicing, grating, mashing, scraping, and two phases of sautéing. But it's totally worth it. Just make sure you set aside an afternoon.

As for my adjustments. The original recipe calls for pine nuts. Pine nuts are expensive, and I'm cheap, so I decided to substitute walnuts. Close enough. Also, having the middle layer composed of just spaghetti squash (as per the original recipe) was somewhat disappointing. It was very bland, and almost watery. So I figured a different kind of squash (acorn, butternut, or pepper) would work, or maybe sweet potato. I opted for a mixture of spaghetti squash and sweet potato, and it was pretty tasty, although still the blandest of the layers. Suggestions on this point are welcome. So far I've considered adding margarine, but that's probably not the healthiest option... For the cheese layer, I supplemented the old cheddar with marble because I'm selfish and wanted to save some of the old cheddar just for snacking. :)

Some other notes: The recipe makes a lot of food, so I decided to freeze most of it. I baked all of it at the same time and then put some of the dishes in the freezer (after letting it cool a bit, of course). I figured if I'm running the oven for 50 minutes anyway, I might as well bake all of them at the same time. We'll see how it goes when I thaw and reheat one of them in a few weeks. Also, I used a small spaghetti squash, so my middle layer was pretty thin, which you can see in the photos. I was OK with this since it is the blandest layer, but it could probably have been thicker to improve the healthiness of this meal (i.e. increase the ratio of veggies to bread/potato).

Fancy Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
Ease: 2 easy
Time: 5 time consuming
Ingredients: easy
Source: modified from Recettes du Québec

  • 1 cup oat flakes
  • 2 cups bread chunks
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (original recipe used pine nuts)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped (original recipe uses fresh thyme)
  • 1 sweet potato (original recipe didn't have sweet potato)
  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 6 potatoes, thinly sliced (original recipe used Yukon gold; I used baking potatoes)
  • 2 cups old cheddar cheese, grated (I supplemented with marble)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  1. In a bowl, mix the oats, bread, and milk. When the milk is absorbed, add the sunflower seeds, nuts, eggs, and herbs. Set aside.
  2. Cook the sweet potato in whichever way you like. I chopped mine into large chunks (skin on) and cooked in the microwave for 10 minutes. Peel and mash.
  3. Cook the spaghetti squash: Cut the squash in half, clean out the seeds and guts (reserve the seeds to roast like pumpkin seeds!), then cook the squash in a shallow baking dish for 35 minutes at 375 F. Using a fork, remove the flesh into the bowl containing the sweet potato. Add salt and pepper. Mix well.
  4. In a large frying pan, melt half of the butter and then sauté the eggplant and onions until cooked. Remove and set aside.
  5. In the same frying pan, melt the rest of the butter and brown the oat/bread/nut mixture. Add the eggplant mixture back, mix and cook 4 more minutes.
  6. In whatever sized baking dish(es) you like, layer: the oat/bread/eggplant mixture, then the squash/sweet potato mixture, then the sliced potatoes, and top with the cheese.

  7. Cook in a 350 F oven for 50 minutes until the potatoes are cooked and the cheese is bubbly and a bit browned.

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