Shepherd's Pie, Chocolate Spice and Chilean Red

Tonight was a night of comfort food. I learned last night that Paul had never had shepherd's pie before. Can you imagine? I can't-- I still remember helping my mom whip the potatoes, having the back of my hand smacked when I snuck a few too many bites of them, and smelling that delicious, savory steam emanating from the freshly scooped serving on my green, ceramic plate (loved the green and red, mom did).

In my youth, shepherd's pie was a staple, usually topped with cheddar and bottomed in delicious ground beef gravy, but it is also something I just LOVED ordering at the pub when I was in England for a summer. There's nothing like a crisp cider and this yummy dish at about 3 in the afternoon-- overcast sky, a good book, etc. You can feel the picture I'm painting.

You can imagine, then, my excitement to see a veganized version in the most recent issue of VegNews Magazine. Knowing that my poor, poor husband had never experienced the joy of this dish, I whipped it up the first chance I got.

This recipe replaced the ground beef with French green lentils, and the gravy was thickened with barley flour. The base was olive oil, mirepoix with garlic,  mushrooms, celery seed, marjoram, paprika, thyme and some veggie broth. It also called for a little vegan worcestershire sauce, tamari and fresh italian parsley. While traditional shepherd's pie would add peas to the mix, I replaced those nasty little buggers with corn. This made for a very satisfying gravy base, and the lentils were just the right texture. This type of lentil keeps its shape pretty well, so no mushiness here-- just little pillows of peppery goodness.

The mashers for the top are pretty basic-- vegan, non-hydrogenated margarine and soy milk with yukon golds. The recipe doesn't ask for cheese on top, something my mom always added. Traditional shepherds' pie doesn't have cheese that I know of (it was, after all, a peasant's dish for the most part), but I imagine it could be good between the lentils and potatoes or on top if you wanted additional richness or texture.

This dish is obviously hearty enough to be served alone, but I always feel that a "meat" and potatoes dish can go over a bit like sweatpants at the salon when it's not served with a salad. I threw together some fresh spinach, roasted sunflower seeds and dried cranberries with an apple balsamic vinaigrette, and warmed up a seeded roll from Trader Joe's (these are delicious-- you have to try them). We topped the meal off with a recently acquired bottle of Chilean red from a shop in Birmingham, Talulah Too. A great deal for a delicious wine.

The pie recipe, written by Allison Rivers Samson, was a delicious adaptation of a family classic. I'll totally make it for family at Thanksgiving (because it's hearty enough to make turkey-eaters jealous), and I know my sister, equally Anglophiled, will love it.

As a post script to our dinner, I threw together some chocolate chunk spice cookies, a recipe from Eat, Drink and be Vegan. These turned out great-- like all her cookies seem to. A little sugar, a bunch of spice, some chocolate, chocolate chunks, maple syrup and a little oil to bind it together- primo!

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