Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie  Recipe
Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

By E.A. Hanks

I have such a fear of being that vegetarian: the one who shows up at a dinner party or holiday feast and realizes that there is nothing for me to eat. That is also known as the "Starving Vegetarian," or the "Really Quite Put Out Vegetarian." I try to do my due diligence, and let hosts know ahead of time about my dietary restrictions; I even offer to provide my own dish if they don't have the time or inclination to provide one for me. This is known as being the "Not Completely Obnoxious Vegetarian."

When a host does ask me to bring my own dish, I'm not too annoyed: it's another excuse to make my Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie. While I have very fond memories of my mother's corned beef and cabbage, I'm not sure what would happen to my insides, and subsequently my outsides, if I ate it again after nearly two decades of abstaining from meat, which led me to concoct Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie, what I consider to be a happy medium between traditional fare and a dry cleaners bill.

It embodies everything I like about seasonal food: It's cozy, it's savory, and it involves potatoes. I believe all food should involve potatoes. That might be why I turned vegetarian: the hope that all meat could one day eventually be substituted by potatoes and the unshakeable belief that it certainly should be.

The starchy goodness in this recipe means that it never feels like a substitution -- such a flimsy word with such flakey connotations. Rather, it feels like a bona fide celebration. When I eat it, I can hear past pale generations sighing with relief that I'm upholding their ancient, sacred tradition of carbohydrates.

With this number wafting cozily from your table, and maybe a sharp Irish cider to sip on, you'll never be that vegetarian.

E.A. Hanks' Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

Serves 4-6.

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

6-8 potatoes, peeled

Olive oil to saute vegetables and add to meatless ground, about 2 cups in all

6 carrots, chopped

5 celery stalks, chopped

1 red onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

Salt and fresh-ground pepper

2 packages meatless ground (I prefer Yves Vegan Cuisine Meatless Taco Stuffers, but you can use any soy or corn based products available in the deli section of most grocery stores)

2 cups red wine

Pinch of garlic salt

Pinch of cinnamon

2 cups frozen green peas (optional)

3 cups of milk or soy milk

5 tablespoons butter or soy margarine

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Wash and peel your potatoes, and cut into quarters. Add potatoes with a little salt to the boiling water. Boil until tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop carrots and saute in a frying pan on medium heat with a little olive oil.

Add chopped celery, onion and garlic to your carrots, adding a little more olive oil and salt and pepper, when carrots are just beginning to brown.

Add the faux meat and bring the heat up a little. Most faux meats can be really dry, so add a touch more olive oil, and red wine. Add salt, pepper and garlic salt as you see fit. Judiciously add a pinch of cinnamon. Cook for 10 minutes, making sure that it doesn't dry out. Stir in peas, if using.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

When potatoes are tender, drain in a strainer then replace them in the pot. Add about 3 cups of milk and 4 tablespoons of butter. Mash until desired level of lumpiness.

In a Pyrex or other casserole dish, make thin layer of the meat mix, followed by potatoes, and repeat until you run out. Potatoes should form the top layer. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and brush over the top layer.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the top layer of potatoes is slightly browned and crispy.

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