Friday, January 16, 2009

vegetarian shepherd's pie

A recent question about eating lentils brought up one of my favorite ways to eat them; in a vegetarian shepherd's pie.  Shepherd's pie is such a great dish because it is so versatile; a "crust", a vegetable filling and a mashed potato topping.  It's a great meal served with a hearty salad and a tasty millet muffin.  Because only half of us are vegetarians I usually make two, one with a ground turkey crust and one with a lentil crust.  This means that there are plenty of delicious leftovers to keep everyone happy for a couple of days.

Lentils, Lens ensculenta, also known in Indian cuisine as dal, are a legume (as are all dried beans and peas) and are very quick and easy to prepare.  Unlike other types of legumes lentils do not require a long soaking time before you can cook with them.  They come in different varieties, green, brown, black, yellow, orange, and red, although most of us are familiar with the green one which is easily available.  Lentils are powerhouses of nutrition being very high in fiber, folate, tryptophan and manganese (which is good for healthy bones, fatty acid and cholesterol synthesis, and helping stabilize blood sugar among other things).  They are also good sources of protein, iron and phosphorus (which the body needs for bone health).

When cooking with lentils they need to be sorted and rinsed before cooking.  The usual ratio is three cups of water to one cup of lentils.  Bring the water to a boil, add the lentils, cook on medium for approximately 30 minutes (if you like mushy lentils you can cook them longer), remove from heat and let sit 10 minutes for them to settle and firm up before using in a recipe.  If you are using them in a salad you'll need to cool them completely before adding other ingredients and dressing.

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

prepare lentils as mentioned above but add 1/2 C. chopped onion to the water
after lentils have rested  mash them together with:
     1 T. nutritional yeast
     1 T. dried, minced veggie seasoning
form into a bottom crust in a lightly greased pie pan
fill with your choice of lightly steamed or thawed veggies (about 2 C.)
drizzle with 1 T. tamari sauce (can use worcestershire instead)
top with your favorite mashed potato recipe
sprinkle with paprika

Bake 20 minutes and serve.


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