Warm, hearty, and comforting, this vegetarian Cottage Pie is packed with lentils, mushrooms, veggies and herbs. It feeds a small crowd and is a festive way to celebrate the holiday season or anytime a cozy meal is needed. | w/ vegan + gluten free options (recipe photos, text and notes updated 11/18)
Because so much of the holidays centers around food, when I first went vegetarian, this was an uncomfortable time for me. After all, the whole meal during Thanksgiving centers around a turkey and traditionally, for our family at Christmas, a pork roast or ham. How do I be a grateful guest and subtlety turn down turkey or ham? What was I supposed to prepare if hosting? Would people be interested in shifting traditions to a vegetarian (or vegan) feast?
Back in the day, the Internet was just emerging, so turning to it for help or suggestions was out. There were few vegetarian cookbooks and I only knew one other vegetarian, my sister. So, I started experimenting, thumbing through magazines for ideas and turning old meat based favorites into new vegetarian favorites.
This Cottage Pie is one of those old favorites and adapted heavily from my mom’s original, meaty and crave-worthy Shephard’s Pie.
Cottage pie, synonymous with shepherd’s pie, has many variations but in traditional form it’s a meat pie with a mashed potato crust. In this cottage pie, French lentils and mushrooms replace the traditional meat ingredients however, the sought after umami is still apparent.
This recipe calls for a mix of mushrooms. I always include fresh, but also easy to rehydrate dried porcini (por-che-knee) and sometimes oyster mushrooms if I can find them. Any dried mushroom will do. They have a hearty texture with an earthy flavor that pairs well with French lentils. The best part about the rehydration process is the divine broth that is created from soaking the porcini; I use this broth, in part, to create the gravy.
How to Make Vegetarian Cottage Pie:
- First, start by cooking the potatoes in a big pot of water. Rehydrate the dried mushrooms by pouring boiling water over them and letting them set until tender. Put the lentils on to cook.
- Next, prepare the veggies by chopping them into bite size pieces: onion, celery, carrots, parsnips and fresh and rehydrated mushrooms.
- Continuing, saute the veggies and add in the flavor builders like sherry (or a glug of red wine), tomato paste, and herbs. Stir in the reserved mushroom broth, flour or corn starch (if gluten free) and the cooked lentils.
- Mash the potatoes, assemble the pie and bake!
A Few Recipe Notes:
- This Cottage Pie recipe is labor intensive. There’s a lot of chopping, tasking and multiple pans to deal with. That said, this can be made in a Dutch oven which will reduce the overall pans necessary to cook and clean for this recipe.
- Make the recipe vegan by omitting the butter in the potatoes and using either olive oil or a vegan butter alternative.
- Make the recipe gluten free by omitting the flour and using cornstarch instead.
- Make ahead? Yes please! Bake, then cool. Cover the Cottage Pie in foil or lid the Dutch oven and refrigerate for up to two days. Reheat uncovered in a 350F oven for about 20-25 minutes.
- Freezer friendly? Yes please! Store in individual containers and freeze for up to two weeks.
More Vegetarian Holiday Recipes to Love:
- Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pear and Thyme
- Butternut Squash and Kale Lasagna
- Potato, Mushroom and Pea Pierogies
- Maple-Roasted Cardamom Spiced Carrots and Apples
- Black Eyed Pea Sweet Potato Cornbread Pot Pie
For the Topping:
- 2 1/2 lb (1.15kg) Russet or Yellow Finn Potatoes washed and sliced to 1/4" thick pieces (skins on), about 5 medium potatoes
- 3 Cloves Large of Garlic skinned and smashed
- 2 tsp Sea Salt divided
- 3/4 C (180g) Milk + 1 Tbs Apple Cider Vinegar both at room temperature, I use cashew milk
- 3 Tbs Unsalted Butter Earth Balance or olive oil for vegan option
- 1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
For the Filling:
- 1 C (175g) French Lentils
- 4 1/2 C (1.15kg) Water divided
- 1 Bayleaf
- 1 tsp Sea Salt divided
- 1 oz (28g) Dried Porcini Mushrooms or other dried mushroom, See Note **
- 8 oz (250g) Mixed Mushrooms de-stemmed and sliced (cremini, button, chanterelle, oyster etc)
- 3 Tbs All Purpose Flour or 2 Tbs organic cornstarch for gluten free option
- 1 Tbs Olive Oil
- 1 1/2 C (175g) Yellow Onion chopped, about 1 small onion
- 1 C (95g) Parsnip small dice, about 1 large
- 1/2 C (30g) Celery small dice, about 2 stalks. Reserve the leaves and chop if available.
- 1/2 C (200g) Carrot small dice, about 2 carrot
- 2 Tbs Dry Sherry
- 1 Tbs Tamari
- 1 Tbs Tomato Paste
- 1 Tbs Fresh Thyme Leaves
- 1/2 tsp Ground Pepper
- Chopped Chives
- Leaves Fresh Thyme
- 1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper
For the Topping:
- Place 1 tsp of salt, garlic cloves and potatoes in a large saucepan. Cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are fork tender; about 20-25 minutes. Drain and allow to set uncovered to steam off excess water for about 10 minutes.
- Add the apple cider vinegar to the milk and whisk. Let stand for 5 minutes. (this is a shortcut to buttermilk).
- To the pot of potatoes and garlic, stir in remaining 1 tsp of salt, nutmeg, pepper, butter and milk mixture. Mash until potatoes are smooth and creamy. Adjust seasoning as needed. Set aside.
For the Filling:
- Meanwhile, In a medium sauce pan, add lentils, 2 C (460g) water, bayleaf and 1/2 tsp sea salt. Bring lentils to a simmer and cook on medium heat continuing to simmer, uncovered for about 30 minutes. They should be tender when done. Set aside.
- While the lentils are cooking, boil the remaining 2 1/2 C (690g) water in a tea kettle. Place dried porcini in a bowl and pour the 2 1/2 C (690g) of very hot water over the porcini. Cover and rehydrate for about 30 minutes. Through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheese cloth or coffee filter, drain the porcini pushing/squeezing the porcini and excess broth through the strainer, reserving the broth into a large 2-4 C measuring cup. Set the broth aside, remove the cheese cloth, and put the porcini in the strainer. Rinse the porcini under cold running water over the sink. Squeeze out excess water through the strainer and into the sink.
- Rough chop the porcini mushrooms. Set aside. Preheat oven to 375F (190C).
- If the mushroom broth does not reach the 2 1/2 C mark, add enough water to yield 2 1/2 C broth total. Pour 1/2 a cup of the broth into a separate container and add the flour (or cornstarch). Whisk throughly. Set aside.
- In a large saute' pan or Dutch oven, add the coconut oil. Heat to shimmering. Turn heat to medium and add the onion, parsnip, celery, carrot, all mushrooms, and remaining 1/2 tsp sea salt. Saute' for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. The veggies should be tender.
- To the saute' pan or Dutch oven with the veggies, add the sherry, tamari, tomato paste, fresh thyme, reserved celery leaves (optional), ground pepper, 2 C of mushroom broth and lentils. Heat through on medium heat just to a simmer. Add the flour/broth (or cornstarch) mixture and simmer, whisking gently, until mixture thickens, for about 2-3 minutes.
- Taste the lentil mixture for seasoning. Adjust to taste.
- Spoon the lentil mixture into a 2 quart casserole or if using a Dutch oven, simply keep the lentil mixture in place. Gently spread the potatoes over the top of the lentil mixture (gently here because you don't want the potatoes to fall into the lentil mixture!). Spread with an offset spatula if desired (like spreading icing on a cake) and use a fork to make decorative marks if desired. Optional: If opting for browning on the potatoes (as seen in the pictures), drizzle a bit (about 2 T) of olive oil over the top of the potatoes, then follow the *directions below for broiling.
- Bake at 375F (190C) on a parchment lined sheet pan for 30 minutes or until the interior is bubbly (or bubbling over) and mashed potatoes have a nice golden hue. *Optional Broiling: To get a bit of browning on the potatoes (as seen in the pictures), set oven on broil just before the end of baking and move the cottage pie to the top rack broil for about 4-5 minutes or until desired. Let rest for 10 minutes and serve with a garnish of fresh thyme and chives.Store in a lidded container or cover casserole in foil and refrigerate for up to two days. Gently reheat in a 350F oven for about 15-20 minutes. Or freeze for up to two weeks. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.