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Posted on Wed, Dec 12, 2012 : 9:45 a.m.

Vegan Lentil Shepherd's Pie - perfect holiday entree

By Vicki Brett-Gach


Vegan Shepherd's Lentil Pie is hearty, homey, and delicious.

Vicki Brett-Gach | Contributor

Even vegans crave hearty, comforting meals this time of year.

A few weeks ago, I stepped up my game with this delicious Hearty Lentil Shepherd's Pie at our Thanksgiving buffet. It is an ideal choice for any cold night, but the ultimate plant-based entree for a holiday dinner. It was so good, I am making it again for Christmas too.

Since holiday meals are synonymous with "meat" to so many people, it's easy to feel overwhelmed when preparing a single meal meant for vegans and non-vegans to share. People tend to have strong opinions, and the word "vegan" can provoke a range of charged responses.

But this dish makes everyone happy. It skips the meat in traditional Shepherd's Pie, and goes right to the good stuff — mashed potatoes!


Vicki Brett-Gach | Contributor

First, a savory lentil stew simmers with onions, zucchini, and a dash of dry red wine.

Then the lentils and vegetables are smothered with a thick pile of rich mashed potatoes.

Into a piping hot oven the whole pie goes, and bakes until the potato topping gets crisp around the edges. Most recently I served this with warm whole grain bread, roasted butternut squash and steamed green vegetables.

This recipe does have a touch of oil, but also adapts beautifully to zero added fat, if you omit the oil as I usually do, boosting its nutritional advantages even further.

Hearty Lentil Shepherd's Pie takes just a little bit of time to prepare, and it's worth every minute. I like to assemble two and throw one into the freezer for next time. Just remember to wrap the filled pie dish very well for the freezer, and extend the baking time just about one extra hour, or until bubbling hot, and golden brown.


(adapted from Vegan Holiday Kitchen, by Nava Atlas)


1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs or panko bread crumbs

6 large potatoes

1/2 cup soymilk

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil *

1 large onion, minced

6 ounces zucchini, diced

2 15-ounce cans of lentils, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons dry red wine

2 tablespoons soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

4 tablespoons of prepared chili sauce

1/2 teaspoon cumin

dash of Cajun seasoning, or seasoned salt (optional)

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

8 to 10 ounces baby spinach or arugula leaves, chopped


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Have ready a 2-quart round casserole dish, or two deep-dish pie pans.

Scatter the breadcrumbs evenly over the bottom. Set aside.

Peel and chop the potatoes. Place in a large saucepan with enough water to cover. (Salt the water, if desired.)

Bring potatoes to boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover the saucepan, and cook for 20 minutes. Drain and transfer potatoes to a large mixing bowl. Add soymilk, plus salt and pepper to taste, and mash until fluffy and delicious. Cover and set aside.

While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oil* in a large skillet. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent. Add the zucchini and lentils, and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir in the wine, soy sauce (or Bragg's Liquid Aminos), chili sauce, and the seasonings. Cook gently for about eight minutes.

Add the spinach, a little at a time, cooking just until wilted. Remove from heat, taste, and adjust seasonings to your liking.

Pour the lentil mixture into prepared pan(s), and then spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the top. If using two pie plates, divide mixtures evenly between them. At this point, one of the two pie pans can be frozen for later use.

Bake uncovered for 35 minutes, or until bubbling hot, and potatoes begin to turn golden brown and slightly crispy. (If frozen, bake at 375 instead of 400 degrees, for a total of about 90 minutes.) Remove hot dish from oven, and allow to stand for five minutes. Cut into wedges, and serve hot.

* Note: To make this recipe without added oil, just use a nonstick pan to saute the onion, adding a splash of water or vegetable broth as needed to prevent sticking.

Vicki Brett-Gach is an artist, writer, wife, mom, and enthusiastic vegan, and loves to help family and friends discover that you do not have to be vegan to enjoy delicious vegan food. Vicki understands the challenges a new vegan can face, and welcomes your questions and comments at



Wed, Dec 12, 2012 : 3:20 p.m.

Mmmm, pie. This may finally fulfill my quest for a delicious and nutritious vegetarian/vegan substitute for Shepherd's Pie. From the article: "This recipe does have a touch of oil, but also adapts beautifully to zero added fat, if you omit the oil as I usually do, boosting its nutritional advantages even further." Omitting olive oil is unlikely to boost the recipe's nutritional advantages. On the contrary, some nutrients are only fat-soluble meaning that, without ingesting some fat with the nutrients, they will not be absorbed. The recipe appears to have little in the way of fat otherwise. For a pie of this size, 2 TBSP of olive oil is relatively trivial in terms of added calories, and the tradeoff the oil would offer for improving nutrient absorption would be well worth it.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 6:37 p.m.

I would want to see a comparison study done of his recommended diet with one group also being allowed to ingest plant-based sources of fat comprising, perhaps, 10-20% of total calories, to see how their mortality and quality of life compare. I also would very much like to see the results of how those participants on the two different regimens do on other health parameters. Three that immediately come to mind are the incidence of cancer, the incidence of eye disease (such as macular degeneration) and the incidence of cognitive or emotional impairment (which would include dementia and depression). My concern is that restriction of fat intake to levels promoted by him could have the unintended consequence of (for example) producing a group of depressed, mentally dull people at a higher risk of cancer and failing eyesight but with healthier hearts. If true, that would be winning the battle but losing the war. My natural inclination is to be very skeptical of such extreme measures unless they are, on balance, found to be beneficial. Moderation in all things, I think, is the most prudent default approach until and unless firm evidence suggests moving toward one extreme or the other. For another perspective on vegan diets, written by a vegan dietitian, please see: . Note in particular the content in her 3rd and 4th paragraphs. This has been interesting and educational. Thanks!


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 6:34 p.m.

Once again, Vicki, thanks for the information and perspective. I had not heard of the Esselstyns before, so any comments I make (really, just about the elder) are not based on having read any of their material, just on what you have written and a brief scanning of some references I found on the Internet. I have read Dr. Ornish's material through the years, and I have less of an issue with his approach, though according to my recollection (I haven't returned to him in some time) his suggested level of fat intake is about 10% of total calories, still a little low in my book. From my knowledge of chemistry (my major in college), my knowledge of human health (broadly, my occupation), and my knowledge of nutrition (an avid interest of mine over the past few decades), I think such draconian measures as suggested by the elder Esselstyn (no added fats, including that in foods) are potentially dangerous because of the difficulty in absorption of fat-soluble nutrients (as I noted in above comments) as well as because of the beneficial effects of fatty acids themselves on cell integrity and function. While his program may reverse or attenuate heart disease, we humans are more than our hearts. [Continued Below]

Vicki Brett-Gach

Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 3:20 p.m.

Hi DBH, That is such an interesting point. I think it's a common misconception among many that low calorie food is automatically better, or that high calorie food is necessarily bad. For example, diet soda is low calorie and walnuts are high in calories, but obviously walnuts are higher in nutrition. A person could eat licorice and potato chips all day long, and although that would be vegan we would probably agree that is probably not the most healthy diet in the world. Vegans agree on what NOT to eat, yet at the end of the day their plates all look pretty different. I do tend to think one size does not fit all, and each of us needs to listen to our own body as we refine our choices and focus over time. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic, recommends eating zero added fat (including nuts) to prevent and reverse heart disease. His son, Rip Esselstyn, who wrote the Engine 2 Diet, allows light use of cooking spray, plus adding nuts, plus artificial meats (which have added oil). Andrew Weil recommends a Mediterranean Diet with liberal use of salmon and olive oil. Dean Ornish allows skim milk and egg whites. Each of these (and many other) approaches can be supported. That alone is fascinating to me, but I think it may come down to trial and error for each of us, along with a liberal serving of open-mindedness because I suspect each of us may do well with slightly different choices based on our own chemistry, genetics, and preferences. Fun to tweak, isn't it? : )


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 2:20 p.m.

Thanks, Vicki, for your perspective. I think there was some confusion regarding what is nutritionally advantageous and what is lower in calories. While there can be overlap between the two categories (e.g., most saturated fats, all trans-saturated fats), they are for the most part two distinct categories. Foods low in calories are not necessarily nutritionally advantageous, and foods high in calories are not necessarily nutritionally disadvantageous. People often confused those points during the low-fat craze in the last couple of decades but, despite a proliferation of low-fat foods, body weights increased dramatically. Nutrient density is at least as important as calorie density and, of course, a proper balance of all of the nutritional food groups will provide an optimum diet. For a brief article on fat not being an enemy, see . It's not exactly the most definitive source of nutritional information, but it does summarize well what I have read and learned about this matter in the past several years. And thanks again for the delicious vegan recipes. Please keep it up.

Vicki Brett-Gach

Wed, Dec 12, 2012 : 4:31 p.m.

Hi DBH, You are not missing any ingredient that is naturally high in fat. in fact, this recipe is low in fat by design. I think many of us get more fat than we want (or intend) in our diets. The challenge is usually to find ways to have less - rather than more. But if that is not true for you, you are one of the lucky ones! Add as much olive oil as you wish - and enjoy! : )


Wed, Dec 12, 2012 : 4:02 p.m.

Thanks, Vicki, for your reply. I agree that a source of fat for fat-soluble nutrient absorption does not need to come from added oil (though, to address your comment about processed oils, in the case of extra-virgin olive oil the processing is minimal) but could, instead, come from the fat naturally contained within the other ingredients. However, as I noted in my original comment, I don't see a significant source of fat within the other ingredients in your recipe. Soymilk would have a little but, based on the carton in my refrigerator, 1/2 cup would have only 2 grams of fat. Am I missing an ingredient "naturally high in fats" within the recipe?

Vicki Brett-Gach

Wed, Dec 12, 2012 : 3:40 p.m.

Hi DBH, Although not everyone agrees on this topic, some people do try to eliminate processed oils from their diet, and instead try to get their fat from olives, nuts, avocados, and other plant foods naturally high in fats. Feel free to add the oil. It's great that way too!