Red Lentil Cottage Pie

January 7, 2016

 

There are few things more comforting than a home cooked, potato-topped pie in the middle of winter. Most of us expect a dense, rich, saucy meat based partner to come together with the creamy potatoes in this heavenly union. However there really is not reason to restrict our pie eating experience to lamb or beef, especially when we are looking for cheaper, more sustainable recipes. The premise here is simple, combine the vegetable holy trinity - carrots, celery and onions - with some red lentils and herbs, top with potatoes and voila; a delicious pie that will not only hold its own amongst the more traditional meat based versions in the flavour category, but it is the clear winner in the environmental, health and budget categories!

This recipe can also be used to make a great lentil soup. Prepare all the veg as for the pie but add one diced potato along with the lentils. Then instead of adding 500ml of stock, add about 800ml of stock and cook for 30 minutes. This recipe freezes really well and is a great base for any soup. If you want to use up veg or just be more adventurous, add squash, parsnip or any other root veg, fresh tomatoes and if you have any green, such as cabbage, kale, broccoli or green beans, add them 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time. With a packet of red lentils and some Marigold vegetable stock in your cupboard, a delicious, nutritious meal is only half an hour away.

This is what the lentils looked like after 25 minutes, a bit more of the water will be absorbed when it bakes. Also, I didn't have any tomato puree, so don't be alarmed if your lentils appear significantly brighter at this stage.

 

We served the pie with Swiss chard but frozen peas are also a great accompaniment.  

Recipe (serves 4 or 3 hungry people)

2 good sized carrots

2 celery stalks

1 large onion (or leek)

2 cloves of garlic

160g red lentils

500ml vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

Thyme (fresh, a couple of sprigs or dried, 1 teaspoon)

2 tablespoons of tomato puree

500-600g potatoes (about 4 large potatoes)

Optional cheese topping

Dice the onion and cook over a low heat with about a tablespoon of oil. Whilst the onion cooks slowly, dice the celery and carrots then add to the onion. Sauté for about 5 minutes. Finally, add the lentils, crushed garlic, stock, bay leaf, tomato, thyme and seasoning.

Leave it to simmer for about 25 minutes with the lid off, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. (Most of the water should be absorbed after this time.) Whilst the lentils are simmering away happily, peel the potatoes and boil them in salted water till cooked and ready for mashing.

Whilst the potatoes are cooking, heat the oven to 190C. Once cooked, I like to add a blob of butter, a drizzle of olive oil or a good splash of cream to my mash - depending on what I have available.

Top the lentils with the potato, smooth over with a fork and either grate over any cheese that might be lingering in your fridge or, for a vegan option, sprinkle with sweet smoked paprika. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. If like me, you are starving and the cheese doesn't brown quickly enough, bake for 10 minutes and grill for 5 minutes!

WARNING: do not eat as soon as the pie comes out of the oven! The red lentils are like lava and will stay hot indefinitely, in fact I am sure the solution to energy storage for renewables will involve red lentils.

 

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