Vegan Shepherd's Pie
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Lately, I've been having major cravings for some good ol' fashioned comfort food! To me, there's nothing that says "comfort food" more than mashed potatoes. That's why I absolutely love shepherd's pie! Before I was vegan, I could put down an ungodly amount of that meaty, potato dream pie, and since I've gone vegan, I've really, really missed it.
I've tried a number of different vegan revisions of this dish but nothing has been just right. I've used lentils, mushrooms (which I don't really love), sweet potatoes, and cauliflower, but to be honest, they all just tasted…well…vegan. Now, I'm obviously a die-hard vegan these days, but I wasn't always, and I won't deny that there was a time when I thought meat tasted good…I know, BLASPHEMY!
But, I think I've finally found the perfect vegan version of shepherd's pie that truly tastes "meaty" and delicious! I'd even dare to say that you'll be able to trick your non-vegan loved ones into devouring this dish before they ever realize that they're eating our "dreadful" vegan food!
To get started, throw some peeled and cut potatoes, along with some garlic, into a pot of water and place on the stovetop. You'll want the potatoes to be very soft, so let them start boiling and do their thing while you start preparing your "meat" filling. For a ground beef substitute, I used Smart Grounds by Lightlife, which provide some delicious results. If you can't find this brand at your local grocery, you can use any non-fruit-based ground beef substitute that you can get your hands on. Just make sure whatever you use does not have any additives like "Barbecue Flavoring" or "Italian Flavoring."
Start sautéing the grounds in a pan over MEDIUM heat with some finely chopped onions and garlic. With the Lightlife brand of Smart Grounds, you'll need to break up the grounds a bit and then cook them for 5-7 minutes.
Once they're just about done, add the spices, some peas and carrots, the vegan Worcestershire sauce, and the liquid smoke to the pan and sauté for another minute or so. These last two ingredients (Worcestershire and liquid smoke) will really help to produce that "stewy, meaty flavor" of a traditional, non-vegan shepherd's pie. After about a minute, add the vegan mushroom gravy, cover, and simmer it all on LOW heat for about 10 minutes.
While the "meat" is simmering, drain your potatoes, return them to the pot, add the remainder of the mashed potato ingredients, and mix with an electric hand mixer until smooth. The key to creating a great cottage or shepherd's pie is having really smooth and really creamy potatoes. But, if you don't have an electric hand mixer and are planning to use a hand masher, you may need to use a little more liquid and really take your time to make sure to get all of the clumps out.
When the potatoes and meat are fully cooked, layer everything in a ceramic baking dish with the "meat mixture" on the bottom. Smooth the mashed potatoes over the meat in a nice hearty, thick layer. I find that a rubber spatula works best for this. If you want to get fancy with your presentation, after you get a solid base layer of potatoes, you can use a baker’s piping bag to create a "potato icing." I recommend this step if you really want to ‘WOW’ your dinner guests! Get creative and add your artistic flare! If you're just cooking a quiet dinner at home for yourself and the hubs, then it's not entirely necessary. Either way, it tastes amazing!
Once everything is layered in the dish, just pop it in the oven on the center rack and let it cook for 15 minutes at 375°F. To get a nice char around the edge of the potatoes, kick it up to BROIL for an additional 5-7 minutes, but keep an eye on it because it will brown fairly quickly. Finally, bask in the beauty of your pie and dig in! P.S. Leftovers will keep (if covered) for about 3 days in the fridge.