Vegetarian Cottage Pie is a total winner. This is a kind of adaptation of various recipes, which have been collectively forgotten and then remembered in a new way together.
I’ve been making this now for at least 5 years and it is always a hit with meat eaters and vegetarians alike. It even made it onto the menu in Sally’s restaurant in Peru for people who needed a yummy taste of home.
This vegetarian cottage pie changes a little bit each time I make it, but the recipe is pretty forgiving and adaptable, so feel free to adjust it to suit your tastes.
If you don’t have lentils you can also use quorn mince, just adding it at the softened vegetables stage, but I think the lentils are overall more satisfying in texture and flavour.
As well as being great for veggies, it would be easy to make vegan by making olive oil mash or using dairy substitutes in the mash and gluten free by keeping an eye on the stock/gravy stuff you use.
It’s very tasty, comforting, has a great texture and feels like a proper treat on a chilly grey January day. Plus it’s super cheap – ideal for post-christmas-skintness.
It is pretty similar to a meat cottage pie or shepherds pie, only with a softer texture to the gravy section and a bit more effort needed to inject flavour into the lentils. My advice with this is to keep tasting it throughout and adding more spices/herbs/pepper/wine as needed.
Give this plenty of time – it takes at least 2 hours to make, but you’re not busy doing things all that time, just getting things on the go and leaving them for 30 mins, an hour and so on. Serves 4 hungry people or 5/6 smaller eaters. Saves well for leftovers too.
Last thing to say before we get on with the instructions… make a big batch, it freezes well. I often just freeze the base, because I don’t have enough pie dishes to leave a ready-made one in the oven, but you can freeze the whole thing if you prefer.
The recipe doubles up really well, so just make as much as you like and save it for another rainy day.
If you’re going to freeze it, make the gravy section a bit runnier than normal because freezers dry things out.
Vegetarian Cottage Pie
- 110g / 4oz Yellow split peas
- 175g / 6oz Green/Brown Lentils (or Puy Lentils)
- 2 Carrots
- 1 Onion (two if they’re small)
- 2 sticks of Celery
- 2 cloves Garlic
- 6-7 Bayleaves
- Spices – I like to use a bit of paprika, cayenne and whatever else takes my fancy (optional)
- Fresh Herbs – I like rosemary & thyme but either/or will do
- Wine (red or white – use up whatever you have left over)
- Potatoes (milk & butter)
- Marmite (optional – could also add worcestershire sauce, mushroom ketchup, tomato puree or Henderson’s Relish. Essentially this is just a flavour-booster for the lentils, so taste & add what you like/what you have to hand.)
- Preheat oven to Gas 5 / 190 degrees.
- Wash your lentils & split peas and put them in a pan with:
– 1 pint hot water
– 1 garlic clove – leave it in it’s skin but give it a little bash to let the flavour out
– 4 bayleaves (if dried/small add in a couple more)
– A sprig of fresh herbs (rosemary/thyme)
– Some spices (1 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp cayenne, sometimes a little cumin, mace or nutmeg)- A drop of wine – a good slosh will do, less than a glass
- Simmer the mixture gently for 45 mins to 1 hour. The lentils & split peas will absorb all the water in this time.
- While the lentils are simmering, chop all your vegetables up into small dice – say 1/2 cm. It seems fiddly, but it’s better to have everything small & uniform and because they are all the same you can get into a good rhythm with it.
- Add all the vegetables to a pan with a big knob of butter, a dash of olive oil, 2 bayleaves and a little pinch of salt & pepper. Also add in the second garlic clove – crushed.
- Cook the vegetables very gently, with the lid on, until they are all soft and translucent. This takes a while – probably at least 30 mins. This part is crucial to a good end result – taste them & make sure they are all totally soft.
- When both the lentils & the veggies are cooked, combine into one pan (whichever is bigger!) and stir in a flat teaspoon of marmite (or more if you prefer) to add in some more good vitamins and a savoury taste. This is down to preference so add as much of your chosen condiment as you like, but remember the next step is to add gravy, so don’t make it too salty now.
- Mash – make some yummy mash. I go for floury potatoes boiled quickly, drained well and then mixed with lots of butter and a good dash of whole milk. Sometimes in this recipe I add an egg yolk to the mash for extra richness and because it’s nice when baked in the oven. Note: When making the mash, save a mug of potato water for your gravy.
- Gravy – you have two options here… you can make some yummy homemade veggie/vegan recipe (I think this Jamie Oliver recipe looks good). If you’ve got plenty of time this is a lovely option and you can also get on with it during the prep for the rest of the pie. Or, if you’re like me you can take the quicker wine & gravy powder option! I usually take a big glass of wine & heat it til it bubbles in a frying pan, then pop in a mug of potato water (see above), some bayleaves & herbs and a bit of gravy powder (check it’s vegetarian!) to taste, then thicken with a little cornflour, if needed. Often at this point the Henderson’s Relish makes an appearance again.
- When you’ve got a gravy you’re happy with, add it to the lentil mix. If it’s going in the freezer pop in more water now – say half a mug. It will seem liquidy, but that’s ok. Note: I like to save some gravy for drizzling over the top when the cottage pie is cooked, because I’m from Yorkshire and we love gravy.
- If it’s going in the oven then now is the time to add in the rest of your fresh herbs – I use lots as they really boost the flavour. Pick your thyme and rosemary leaves, chop finely and mix through. I think you need at least a tablespoon of finely chopped herbs, but this is personal preference, so add as much or as little as you like.
- Time to assemble! Put the base into your pie dish (I’d recommend a big one – perhaps 3 pints) and leave it to settle for 10 mins if you have time, this makes putting the mash on easier.
- Spoon the mash on gently, bit by bit so it doesn’t get messy. Fork the top to get some spiky bits to go brown.
- Put into the oven on Gas 5 / 190 degrees for at least 20 mins. It usually takes longer to brown the top on mine – more like 40 mins.
I hope you enjoy this delicious meal, it’s a staple in our house – and the houses of quite a few friends! – and has seen us through many a damp, chilly English winter.
Give it a try and let us know what you think and any adaptations you made!