Today was one of those perfect winter days – fairytale-like snow, warm herbal tea, and a cozy feeling. And there’s nothing more wintry than a warming dish, so I crowned this beautiful day with a comforting recipe full of flavors – the shepherd’s pie, in its delicious vegan version, with sweet potatoes and lentils. It made the day!
Traditional shepherd’s pie is made with ground beef and mashed potatoes, and I pretty much associate it with the Greek dish, moussaka. My mother used to make moussaka for Sunday lunches, when all of our family gathered around the table, when our darling nanna was still with us – it’s all about lovely memories. It’s been more than twenty years since I’ve had a shepherd’s a pie casserole, so it was just about time to think of a healthy version of this comforting dish to include in my winter diet.
There are lots of ways to reinterpret shepherd’s pie in a healthy, vegetarian version, and while I searched for inspiration, I fell in love with Laura’s Garden Keeper’s Pie. I had a batch of sweet potatoes, so I decided to replace the mashed potatoes with the sweet ones, while the meaty texture was to come from my favorite legume – lentils.
There are many reasons why we should add lentils to our diet, and I already wrote about the main ones over here. Lentils are a real blessing for vegetarians because they are packed with proteins, they easily absorb flavors, which makes them versatile when it comes to combining them in dishes, and they’re packed with fibers that support good digestion. Lentils, like all legumes, cereals, and nuts, do not provide all the amino acids necessary for protein synthesis, but these are complemented by the ones in vegetables for creating the whole protein building blocks, so the mashed sweet potatoes were a great choice for my shepherd’s pie.
They also load it with high amounts of beta-carotene, which our bodies converts to vitamin A, a key nutrient for good eyesight, cell growth, and a healthy immune system. The beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant, but if you find purple-fleshed sweet potatoes, then you hit the jackpot, because these are abundant in antocyanins, with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and cancer-fighting properties. There is better absorption of beta-carotene in our bodies if the sweet potatoes (and any other beta-carotene-rich vegetable) are paired with a healthy fat (like avocado, coconut oil, or nuts).
Vegan Shepherds Pie
- 2 cups sweet potatoes peeled and cut in cubes
- 1 tbsp virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves crushed
- 1 cup green lentils
- 1 carrot cut in small cubes
- 1 celery stick finely diced
- 1 onion finely diced
- 1 bay leaf
- Fresh juice from one lemon
- 1 small bunch of thyme
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1 cup filtered water
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small bunch of parsley roughly chopped
- Boil the sweet potato cubes in salty water until tender (about 15 minutes).
- Drain well, transfer to a bowl, mash with a fork, add the olive oil, crushed garlic and a pinch of sea salt, and mix to obtain a chunky puree. Set aside.
- Heat the oven at 175°C/347°F .
- Heat the coconut oil in a pan and add the onion, celery and carrot. Cook for five minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the lentils, the bay leaf, thyme, tomato sauce, water and lemon juice, bring to boil, cover with a lid and simmer for 15 minutes, until the lentils are almost cooked and the liquid thickened.
- Season with salt and pepper, remove the bay leaf and thyme, and transfer to a baking dish.
- Spread the sweet potato mash on top, drizzle with olive oil and cook in the oven for 15 minutes.
- Serve garnished with chopped parsley leaves.