The beautiful thing about Shepherd's pie is that it is intended to be a dish made up of leftovers. The traditional meat and potatoes shepherd's pie that most people are familiar with is believed to have originated in the late 1800's in northern England. It was a creative and frugal way for peasant women to serve leftover meat to their families. You can read quite a bit more about the history of Shepherd's pie here.
Now obviously I am not looking for a way to stretch leftover meat to feed my family. But I am often looking for a clever way to use up some of the extra produce in the fridge before that next bag from the CSA arrives on Saturday.
And that is where the Shepherd's pie comes in. I follow a general recipe, which you'll see below, but really I just mix and match whatever vegetables we have on hand, throw in some lentils and top with yummy garlic mashed potatoes.
For sides I am just as flippant. Whatever we have on hand, goes on the side. This varies from corn on the cob to green beans to salad. French bread, muffins or corn bread all work equally well. It is a perfect clean out the cupboards sort of dish.
All of the veggies are generally hidden beneath the thick fluffy layer of mashed potatoes so there is never too much complaint from the kids. The meat lovers will enjoy the hearty thickness that the lentils bring to the meal, it is almost reminiscent of all that ground beef they think they've been missing.
Another bonus to this dish is that it is simple to make more than one meal's worth at the same time. All it takes is a bit more chopping and a larger pan to saute in. Fill your second dish with the vegetable mixture, cover with potatoes, then either freeze it for next week or take it over to that new mom you've been meaning to visit!
Lentil Shepherd's Pie
1 cup dried lentils (green or brown)
2-3 tablespoons butter (use olive oil for vegan)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
zucchini or summer squash, chopped
1-2 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs (marjoram, thyme, basil, sage - your choice)
1 1/2 - 2 lbs. potatoes, cooked and mashed
Boil lentils in water 45 minutes. Drain.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease shallow oven dish.
Saute onions in butter or olive oil in large skillet, 10 minutes.
Add remaining vegetables and broth. Bring to a boil then simmer, uncovered about 5 minutes.
Add garlic, herbs, lentils, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir.
Let stand until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
Spoon mixture into baking dish. Spread mashed potatoes evenly over the top, drawing a fork over the surface to make ridges. Dot with butter, if desired.
Bake 30-35 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling around the edges.
**If you start the mashed potatoes at the same time you start the vegetable mixture they should all be ready at about the same time.**
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Chop 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of potatoes up in medium sized pieces Do not peel, unless you really want to. Bring to a boil in a pot of water until soft (about 20 minutes).
Drain off all but about 1 cup of the cooking water. Add as much smashed garlic as your family will enjoy, for us that means about 4 cloves. Add butter if desired.
For smooth potatoes mix with an electric mixer.
For chunkier potatoes use a hand held potato masher.