This is comfort food with a surprise nutritional kick! Bam! Just when you say, “oh I’d better not eat very much of that”, I say “gotcha!”. There is NOTHING “bad for you” in there. B-b-but….where’s the heavy cream? No buttah?! And that is where I smugly tell you that you can, rather must, eat more and be comforted, without the cloud of self-inflicted guilt over too much of this or that. These are vegetables people! Eat, drink and be merry! My house, my rules.
These little pies would be perfect for a holiday meal, Sunday dinner with the family, or any other time you want to see a vegetarian turn helplessly giddy. This recipe is sans the lamb, of course. If you have the kind of person at your table that doesn’t consider it a meal without meat, you could go one of two routes: First, entrance them with the balanced flavors of the white wine and tarragon vegetable stew and see if they even give a second thought to the “missing” ingredients—I play this game all the time. If I’m intently staring at you while you take your first bite, it’s usually because I’ve tricked you in one way or another into eating something healthier and better than you ever expected.
If you’re really sure your dinner companion isn’t going to be happy without some meat on his or her plate, you could add a little to the mix. Traditional shepherd’s pie is topped with fluffy mashed potatoes. My version is crowned with a golden whip of roasted cauliflower and garlic. Have you ever whipped cauliflower? To me, it tastes like a more flavorful version of garlic mashed potatoes. I have nothing against potatoes. I know some would argue with me on this, but I don’t stress excessively over the naturally occurring starches, sugars, etc in fruits and vegetables. Obviously, I’m not advocating to eat a truckload of potatoes and nothing else. The key for me is to vary the types of foods I eat throughout the day and week to make sure that I have a good balance of carbohydrates, fats, and protein, and a large variety of fruits and vegetables.
I’ve been thinking about this because a couple weeks ago, I went to Cancer Con, a young adult cancer conference put on by Stupid Cancer. I spoke on a panel to 700 people (yikes!) about how I support my mind and body through cancer with nutrition, meditation, yoga and other physical activity. I also attended a talk with an integrative oncology nutrition specialist. The speaker, Mark Cohen (a clinical oncology specialist) advocated for eating a diet of a diverse variety of foods that are warm, whole, and cooked.
I know some are convinced of the benefit of a raw diet, but I know that my body digests foods better and therefore absorbs nutrients more readily when I cook them. If you eat real food, you don’t need rules, Michael Pollan explains in his book Food Rules. This philosophy feels right in my gut (pun intended). It’s not a new idea, but with so many fad diets, with lists of dos but mostly do-nots, it’s easy to get confused.
Spring is officially here, and when the weather inevitably swings toward the cold and damp, I hereby invite you to “indulge” in this veggie loving shepherd’s pie.
Spring Veggie Shepherd’s Pie with Roasted Garlic-Cauliflower Whip
Stew adapted from Feasting at Home
Makes 4 to 6 Servings (Four two-cup pies or one 8×8 casserole dish)
For the cauliflower whip:
- 1 large head cauliflower, broken into 1 1/2 inch florets
- 3 large cloves garlic, in their skins
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 cup vegetable stock
- 3 tablespoons regular or vegan butter
For the stew:
- 1 lb diced waxy potatoes (yukon gold, red or fingerling)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup diced yellow onion or pearl onions
- 4 cups any combination of the following: diced carrots, celery, fennel and crimini mushrooms (*see footnote for more details)
- 1/3 cup dry white wine or vermouth
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 1 1/2 tablespoons gluten-free (or regular) flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoons arrowroot starch (or use additional flour)
- 4 cups flavorful vegetable or chicken stock, homemade or store-bought
- 2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
- 1 cup fresh or frozen shelled green peas
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
Special Equipment Needed:
Immersion blender, blender, or food processor
2-cup pie dishes or 8×8 casserole
Preheat oven to 425˚F.
Cover the potatoes by 1 inch water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add a tablespoon salt to the water. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are on the firmer side of being tender.
Make the Cauliflower Whip:
Toss the cauliflower and garlic in the olive oil, salt and pepper on a large sheet pan. Roast in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender and deep golden in places. Pop the garlic out of their skins into a large bowl with the roasted cauliflower (or into a food processor or blender if not using an immersion blender). While hot, add the vegan butter and stir until melted. Add the stock and blend using an immersion blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Make the stew:
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Sauté the onions for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat, until translucent. Reduce heat to medium and add the carrot, celery, fennel, mushrooms, and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté until the carrots are crisp-tender, about 8-10 minutes. Pour in the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze, cooking for about 3 minutes until most of it evaporates. Add the potatoes, nutritional yeast, and arrowroot starch and flour. Stir to coat. Add the stock and mustard, and stir until it comes to a boil and thickens. Add the peas, tarragon, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 10 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Fill the pie dishes or casserole dish with the stew. Spread the cauliflower whip in a layer on top.
Reduce the oven to 400˚F. Bake the pies for 20 minutes. Turn oven on low broil, and cook an additional 5-6 minutes until the top is spotted a deep golden color (watch closely while broiling to avoid burning). Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Spoon the stew into an oven safe, freezer safe dish and top with potatoes. Cover with saran wrap and put inside a large freezer bag. When ready to use, thaw in the refrigerator for 2 days. Bake in a 400˚oven for about 30 minutes until hot and bubbling. Broil the top over low for 5 minutes to achieve a speckled golden top.
*Note: I used 3 large carrots, 2 large ribs celery, 1 medium fennel bulb and about 3 oz crimini mushrooms.