Meat-Eater Vegetarian Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie is one of those classic, cosy dishes, perfect for a night in. However, I’ve found that vegetarian versions of this dish tend to add a lot of vegetables high in water content, meaning the filling is slightly watery and unsatisfying. There’s no reason that a vegetarian filling can’t be as satisfying as a meat version, you just need to ensure you have a nice rich gravy to ensure maximum flavour.

In this recipe I have used a soffrito base, a combination of finely chopped celery, carrot, and onion. If you don’t like celery, don’t panic – you can’t taste it, it’s just a good base for flavour. To this, I have just added cupboard ingredients. These are things that we always keep in our cupboard, but if you don’t have these, feel free to experiment with other things. Vegetarian cooking is a great way to be a bit adventurous and try new combinations of flavours, so feel free to simply use this as a guide to create your own version.

If you do want to add more vegetables, or have that courgette at the back of the fridge that needs using up, there’s no reason you can’t. But I’d advise chopping it up and drizzling with a little olive oil, roasting it in the oven until golden, then adding to the sauce just before you construct the Cottage Pie. This way, you will reduce the amount of water that escapes into the sauce, as well as having nicely roasted vegetables in your filling. You can also, of course, make this into a real meat-eater’s Cottage Pie by adding beef mince instead of the lentils.

Depending on the size of your dish, you may end up with a little extra filling. You can have this on it’s own for lunch the next day, but you can also portion it up and keep it in the freezer for a later date.

Vegetarian Cottage Pie

Serves four, takes approximately two hours. You will need a roasting dish – the size doesn’t really matter, as you can always do it in two smaller ones, but I often use a 25cmx20cm pyrex dish.

You will need:

(For the lentil ragu)

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stick, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 tsp cumin powder
  • 2 tsp coriander powder
  • 2 x 400g tins green lentils (if you are using dried lentils, cook 200g and reserve the cooking liquid)
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp instant coffee powder/granules
  • 1 tsp marmite (if you can’t bear marmite, try 2 tsp soy sauce instead)
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp sugar

(For the mash)

  • 900g waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 1 knob of butter (or olive oil)
  • 150ml milk (semi-skimmed or whole milk is fine)
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 handfuls of grated cheddar cheese (or vegan cheese/breadcrumbs)

Start by chopping the onion, celery, and carrot, and frying on medium heat in the 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp cumin, and 2 tsp coriander for 15 minutes. Keep stirring the pan – you want to make sure the veg doesn’t brown, but becomes gradually translucent and soft. (If you are using beef mince, add to the pan once the vegetables are soft, and cook until browned – about 10 minutes).

Then, add the 2 tins of lentils along with their liquid, the 500ml stock, tin of chopped tomatoes, 1 tbsp tomato puree, 1 tsp coffee, 1 tsp marmite (or alternative), 2 tbsp worcestershire sauce, and 1 tsp caster sugar. Stir, season generously with salt and pepper, and taste – season more if necessary.

Once you are happy with the taste, turn up to a high heat and wait for it to reach the boil. Once boiling, turn the heat back down and leave to simmer for about half an hour – you want about half the liquid to evaporate, leaving you with a nice thick gravy. Make sure you stir every now and then so the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

At this point, preheat your oven to 200°C (180°C Fan/Gas Mark 6/400°F).

Meanwhile, prepare your mash. Boil the potatoes for 15-20 minutes until soft. Drain and leave the steam to evaporate off for a few minutes. Then tip back into the pan and mash with the knob of butter, 150ml of milk, and 1 handful of grated cheese until smooth.

At this point, your ragu should be nice and rich. Once ready, half-fill your roasting dish with the lentil ragu, and top with the mash potato. Top with 2 handfuls of grated cheese, and place in the oven for 30 minutes or until browned on the top (you can always place it under the grill for a few minutes to finish it off).

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