I've mentioned before that I'm all about budget grocery shopping and using coupons. For me, just the idea of saving money can be inspiration. And this recipe is the ultimate low budget dinner.
The whole shepherd's pie - which fed 4 of us and I ate for lunch the next day - only cost $5.17 (not including pantry items like spices, milk and butter). Seriously - 4 dinners and 1 lunch for $5.17. How amazing is that?! The asparagus I served with it cost almost that much!
One of my closest friends in DC is an old friend from summer camp. She happens to be a vegetarian/pescatarian, so I wanted to make a dinner that I could feed her. I loved the idea of taking an unhealthy, meaty comfort food and turning it into a healthy, low cost comfort food.
One of the major ingredients in the low-budget, high-nutrient version were sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are actually cheaper than white potatoes (at least at my grocery store) and they're full of great nutrients including carotene. Plus, they have so much more flavor!
The other alternative ingredient of course are the lentils. Lentils are $0.89 for a 16 oz bag at my grocery store. And I never thought I liked lentils - I'm not that into lentil soup - but they are SO good when you prepare them well!
I actually ended up mixing about 70% sweet potato and 30% white - but next time I definitely could go all sweet potato. I think this just made it a little more mild.
Also, I don't own a potato masher, so I used my pastry blender to mash the potatoes. I realize more people probably own a potato masher than a pastry blender, but if you love baking like me this is a great way to have more than one use for a single tool. And it worked great!!
I also got the frozen corn on sale for $1. I may have even used a little more than the recipe called for. I realize corn doesn't have the MOST nutrients - so you could replace with something like peas if you wanted to step up the nutrients. Still, I just love corn and it makes it taste like the Shepherd's Pie you remember from childhood.
I am absolutely obsessed with this recipe. It is so darn delicious I could have eaten the whole pan. It has tons of flavor - sweet, spicy, and salty - and I didn't miss the meat at all. It was even wonderful heated up the next day. Definitely as comforting as the original but I think I like it even better. The only complaint I might have had was that it wasn't as filling as the meat version (or maybe I was just starving from a long run) so I ended up eating a good amount of it. I think this also was because I made it in the flat dish rather than a round casserole so what looked like a portion was actually pretty small. I will absolutely make this again!!
Poor Man's Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
very slightly adapted (to be spicier) from Simple Bites
1 cup lentils, green or French, rinsed
2 lbs potatoes or sweet potato (I used 3 sweet potatoes and 2 very small white potatoes)
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried Herbs de Provence
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, divided
1 teaspooon apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon ketchup
5 drops hot sauce (I used Chulula)
1 cup frozen sweet corn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place lentils in a medium pot and cover with an inch of cold water. Add a pinch of salt, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 20 minutes until cooked. It is okay if they are not completely cooked, they will cook further later. Drain.
While lentils are cooking, peel and roughly chop potatoes. Place in a pot and cover with cold water. Add a teaspoon of salt to the water and bring to a boil. Simmer until potatoes are tender.
Drain potatoes and mash. Add butter and milk and season with 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and set aside.
Heat oil in a medium pot and add chopped onion. Sautée for a few minutes until soft. Add cumin, Herbs de Provence, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, cooked lentils, vinegar, ketchup, hot sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine.
Add 1/2 cup of water and bring lentils to a simmer. Cook for another five minutes or so, stirring often, to let the flavors come together.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Place seasoned lentils in the bottom of a medium baking dish. Spread to cover the bottom. Top with corn kernels. Add mashed potatoes on top and spread evenly. Bake for about 30 minutes until heated through. Serve hot.