Vegan Mushroom Shepherd's Pie

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

So am I, or am I not vegan? Not really. My daughter calls it 'plant based', which is a blanket term for trying to consume cruelty-free meals most of the time. I find that more honest, and definitely more convenient. So I'll stick to that. That means that when I go to my grandma's and she makes her killer Ikan Pepes, I shall not turn away in disgust. I'm going to sit down, devour it, and enjoy every single delicious bite, because she put her heart into it.

So while I'm not completely ready to walk on the 'clean' side (how can you expect me to? What with all that butter and eggs that are so detrimental to cakes and desserts!), I think we are making great strides in our meals.

It is so easy nowadays to turn your favourite dishes vegan, or vegetarian (lacto-ovo, that is), meat can easily be substituted with tofu, potatoes, and cauliflower in curries and stir-fries. And minced meat is a cinch! We've been using mushrooms and tofu in place of minced pork and minced turkey with a lot of success, especially in Chinese and Thai dishes, where a lot of fresh herbs and spices are used, you can, and should, let the flavouring do all the talking.

This Shepherd's Pie is just as easy to veganize. The mashed potatoes require just a bit of olive oil and nut milk to make it silky smooth. And the filling ... well, once you've got the usual suspects - Worchestershire sauce, rosemary and thyme, the vegetables itself can just be what you have in your fridge.

I used a whole lot of mushrooms, which are fabulous because they are earthy and rich. They mimic the texture of minced meat really well, and they have that great umami taste that is so meaty. I could have easily added tofu, chickpeas, or some beans to this as well. See? Easy!

So once you commit to going 'plant-based' or what I loosely call 'mostly-vegan', stock your pantry with 20 types of lentils and beans from your Indian store, cans of tomato pastes, purées and sauces, tetrapacks of veggie broths, all sorts of frozen vegetables available in the freezer section in Costco, and you're off to a good start. Ooh! And the most important part ... herbs (ok, dried is fine) and seasonings. Now subbing for meat has just become exponentially easier. This fueling with flavour thing is becoming more relevant by the minute ;) Ride along with me ...

For the mashed potato topping:
8 russet potatoes
120 ml (1/2 cup) cashew (or any other nut milk), warmed
60 ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
30 g (1/2 cup) nutritional yeast, for cheesiness
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

For the meat filling:
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and shredded in the processor
2 stalks celery, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, minced
680 g (1-1/2 lb) assorted mushrooms, chopped (I used button, cremini, and portabella)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
120 ml (1/2 cup) tomato paste
240 ml (1 cup) vegetable broth
1 cup frozen peas
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp freshly chopped rosemary leaves
1 tsp freshly chopped thyme leaves
1 tsp paprika powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder

A. Make the mashed potatoes
1. Peel the potatoes and cut into 2 cm cubes.
2. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water.
3. Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil.
4. Once boiling, uncover, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender and easily crushed with tongs, approximately 10-15 minutes.
5. Drain the potatoes in a colander and then place in a large bowl.
6. Mash the potatoes and then add the warmed nut milk, olive oil, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper and continue to mash until smooth.

B. Prepare the filling
1. Preheat the oven to 190C or 375F.
2. Pour the vegetable oil into a large fry pan and set over medium high heat.
3. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion, carrots, and celery, and sauté just until they begin to take on colour, approximately 4-5 minutes.
4. Add the garlic and stir to combine.
5. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper, and cook until browned and cooked through.
6. Sprinkle the filling with the flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute.
7. Push everything to the side of the pan, then in the middle of the pan add the tomato paste and vegetable broth, stirring them together until almost boiling.
8. Add the frozen peas in and stir to combine to make one hot mess.
9. Season with Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme, paprika, onion and garlic powders, and bring to a boil. Taste and adjust accordingly.
10. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 5-6 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly. If too dry, add a bit more vegetable broth or water.

C. Assemble and bake
1. Generously grease a 20x30 cm (9x13inch) baking pan.
2. Spread the mushroom filling evenly up to half the height of the pan.
3. Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up, then smooth with a rubber spatula. Don't forget to use your fork tines to create visual appeal ;)
Don't overflow the pan. If you have extras, get some ramekins and fill them up.
4. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet (in case stuff oozes out the sides and drips out) and bake for 30-40 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown.
5. Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.

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