Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lentil shepherd's pie

Eight or nine years ago when Amanda and I tried out the South Beach Diet for a brief time, we encountered the suggestion to make mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. It's literally the only thing I remember about the diet, as it's the only element we've kept in our repertoire.

I was all set to share my recipe when we ate a lentil shepherd's pie at a restaurant that used cauliflower for the mashed potatoes. So I made and am sharing that instead, because it makes the dish much more interesting. (As you might be able to tell, I have trouble letting plain side dishes stay plain side dishes.)

Ingredients for lentil layer:
1 cup dried lentils
2 cups water
1/2 tbsp vegetable bouillon (I use "Better Than Bouillon" brand vegetable base)
1/2 tbsp corn starch
3/4 cups diced mushrooms
1/4 cup diced carrots
1/8 diced onion
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp garlic powder

1) Rinse the lentils under running water, then add lentils, water, and bouillon to a large pot. (You could use just vegetable broth here, but I find the flavor of the bouillon to be much more powerful and it seasons the lentils all the way through.)

2) Bring to boil, turn the heat to medium-low and cover. Let lentils simmer for 35-40 minutes, until they are cooked all the way through but still have a crunch to them. (Older lentils can take longer to cook, so keep going if they're not yet done.)

(During this 35 minutes, you can prepare the cauliflower layer as detailed below, unless you have already prepared it in advance.)

Also during this 35 minutes, finely dice the carrots, mushrooms, and onion and chop the cilantro. (Note: this picture is from making a double recipe, so don't be alarmed that yours will look like less.)

3) When the lentils are ready, mix 1/2 tbsp corn starch with 1/2 tbsp cold water in a small bowl. Drain the remaining warm liquid from the lentils (do not rinse), and then mix in the corn starch. This will give it a little bit of sauce.

4) Then add the diced vegetables, cilantro, and garlic powder to the lentils, stir again, and let sit for 5 minutes (off the heat) to slightly cook the vegetables. (You could serve this as a side dish just like this if you're inclined.) Jump below for the instructions to combine the two into a shepherd's pie.

Ingredients for the cauliflower layer:
1 large head cauliflower
1 cup water
1 tsp vegetable bouillon
1 tbsp grated parm cheese
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1) Cut the florets off the cauliflower head and place in a large pot with the water and bouillon base.

2) Bring to the water boil, cover the pot, and cook on medium heat for 12-14 minutes until very tender and it flakes with a fork. (Note: yes, this is way overdone, and you would never cook it this long if you were to serve it on its own.)

3) Discard any unabsorbed liquid, then use an immersion blender to pulverize it to lumpy mashed-potato consistency.

4) Add your five dry seasonings (not the cheddar cheese – that's for melting on top) and stir well. You can set this component aside for now (or even make it a day in advance and reheat it) while you finish preparing lentils.

(If you were to serve this as a side dish alone, mix in 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp cream cheese while it's warm for a more creamy and substantial texture. I find its not needed when pairing it with the lentils.)

Instructions for shepherd's pie:
1) Spoon the lentil mixture into a 7-inch or 8-inch round glass oven-proof pan, then spoon the cauliflower on top and smooth flat.

2) Add the 1 cup cheddar cheese and broil in the oven for 5-8 minutes until cheese is bubbly and just starting to brown.

3) Attempt to spoon both layers simultaneously onto plates so it stays layered (adding the lentils that you'll miss to one side). Serves 3-4.

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