Snow!!! After months of teasers, we finally have some snow here on the island. Just as we are packing up to move to South Lake Tahoe. Very timely.
It’s a perfect day for comfort food; a hot bowl of stick-to-yer-ribs goodness. I must have known this when I made dinner last night.
J loves “pub food”. He’s a reformed meat and potatoes guy, after all. I once witnessed him order shepherd’s pie at an “Irish” pub in Singapore with a stout beer to wash it down. Despite the fact that it was 4:00 in the morning Pacific Standard Time. Despite the fact that it was 80 degrees and humid outside. Did I mention that we were in Singapore, which is located practically on the equator? But, J is a predictable guy no matter where his travels take him: I have also seen him order cottage pie and stout at an “English” pub in Dubai. It’s even hotter there, but less humid (as if that matters when the thermometer reads 100 degrees). Myself, I couldn’t find enough ice to make me comfortable and meanwhile J is scarfing down winter stews!
I made my first shepherd’s pie–or cottage pie, depending upon whom you ask–after going vegan, so I can’t rightly compare my version to the meat-eater’s version. But we love this dish; it’s hearty and filling and it tastes even better the next day after it sets up, as all good comfort food should. This dish is perfect for Thanksgiving…or Saint Patrick’s Day.
My version is adapted from a vegetarian recipe passed on to me by a friend years ago; I think the original recipe came from Gourmet magazine.
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Vegan Shepherd’s Pie
3 medium leeks (white and pale green parts), sliced 1/2 inch thick and halved
1 pound small mushrooms, quartered
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (optional)
3 to 4 peeled garlic cloves, minced
4 medium carrots, cut into half moons
4 smallish parsnips, cut into half moons
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 750-ml bottle of red wine (I use Our Daily Red; it’s what I always have on hand)
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3-1/2 cups no beef base (preferred) or vegetable broth
1 pound beef-style seitan, rinsed and cut into stew-size pieces (I use 2 9-ounce packages of Gardein Beefless Tips, the pieces cut in half)
2 cups frozen baby peas
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2-1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered
1 pound (approximately) celery root, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) non-dairy butter (optional: can be omitted for lower fat)
1/2 cup plain soy milk
1/2 cup non-dairy cream (or equal amount of plain soy milk for lower fat)
1 teaspoon sea salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Warm a splash of broth over medium heat. Sauté the leeks, mushrooms and the salt, if using, until the leeks are soft and the mushrooms just begin to give off liquid. Next, add the garlic, carrots, parsnips, black pepper, thyme and rosemary and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are just tender. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl or platter.
Add the wine to the pot and boil until it is reduced to about 1 cup (about 10 minutes).
Add the broth to the reduced wine and bring it to a brisk simmer. Whisk in the flour and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened. Add the seitan pieces, peas, and the cooked vegetable mixture to the pot and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the parsley.
While the stew is simmering, cover the potatoes, celery root and the garlic cloves with cold water in a 4 to 5 quart pot and bring to a boil (I use a steamer insert in a large pot). Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes and the celery root are very tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water (especially if making this dish ahead), then drain in a colander.
Meanwhile, bring the non-dairy butter (if using), soy milk and cream (if using), and salt/pepper to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the butter has melted and the mixture is steaming. Stir in the parsley and remove the pan from the heat. Or, microwave the soy milk, cream (if using) non-dairy butter (if using) and salt/pepper just until the butter is melted and the mixture is steaming. Stir in the parsley.
Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Coarsely mash the potatoes, celery root and garlic cloves with the hot milk mixture. Use the reserved potato water, if necessary.
Spray a large, shallow (I use a a 3 quart and 2 inches deep glass baking dish) baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and place on a larger 4-sided baking sheet. Transfer the stew from the pot to the baking dish. Spoon the potato mixture over the stew and spread evenly to cover. The decorative parsley shamrock is strictly optional!
Bake at 375F for 30 to 45 minutes, until bubbling. Turn the broiler on and continue baking (keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn) until the potato topping is a lovely golden brown, about 5 to 10 minutes longer.
Note: The stew and the potato topping can be made 1 day ahead and chilled separately; be sure to reserve an extra cup of the potato-cooking water. Reheat the potato topping slowly, adding just enough cooking water to reach the desired consistency. Bring the stew to a simmer over low heat before topping with the warm potato mixture. Bake according to directions.