Full of vegetables, earthy green lentils and well seasoned, herby lamb mince, this Shepherd’s Pie will happily feed a crowd. Just add salad. Shepherd’s Pie also freezes well, so make two and stash one in the freezer for an easy meal.
I am not a fan of a lamb roast. Never have been. Any lamb roast has to be well marinated, then so slowly cooked that the meat is falling off the bone, for me to even consider eating it. As a child, I would stare resolutely at the slabs of lamb congealing on my plate, wishing they would miraculously disappear. However, I was never happier at dinnertime than when mum had enough cold lamb left over to make a Shepherd’s Pie.
Mum would drag out her old, hand cranked mincer and screw it to the bench. I loved feeding the cold chunks of mutton through the small opening. The curly tendrils of minced lamb that fell from the mincer signaled good things to be had for dinner. Whilst I would never finish the original roast, I could be guaranteed to clean my plate when Shepherd’s Pie was on the menu. I have tried over the years to recreate that pie, with limited success. It is never as good as the one in my memory, so I now take a different route with my own Shepherd’s Pie.
Roast lamb is a very rare occurrence in our house, so lamb mince replaces the traditional leftover roast in my pie. Bulked out with vegetables, earthy green lentils and a lot of seasoning, this produces a pie that is different, but every bit as good, as the pie from my childhood.
I find lamb to be quite sweet, and the inclusion of cooked lentils in the filling balances out this sweetness. It has the added bonus of bulking out the dish without the inclusion of additional meat. It is not essential to soak the lentils, but they do cook much quicker if you do. Do not use tinned lentils in this recipe; they are too soft, and really have little taste. Lentils, unlike other beans and pulses, cook quite quickly, and freeze well. I often cook a large pot, then freeze the lentils in one cup portions to same myself time. I use lentils in main course salads, gently warmed as a side dish, or blitzed into fritters and patties for a quick meal.
This recipe makes quite a large Shepherd’s Pie. I prefer to make two smaller pies; one for dinner and one for the freezer. Even dividing the recipe in this manner, there are often leftovers for Mr Grumpy to take to work. Whilst my Shepherd’s Pie tastes nothing like the one from my childhood, I am more than happy to have it for dinner. Even if it does contain lamb.
Lamb & Lentil Shepherd's Pie
Soak the lentils overnight in a large bowl of water if you remember. This is not a necessary step, but will help the lentils cook faster.
I usually divide this mixture into two 2L dishes, then cook one for dinner and freeze the other pie. A 2L container is slightly larger than you will need, but it stops the pie filling overflowing onto my oven floor.
To cook the lentils
- 230 g small green French lentils Puy
- 1 bay leaf
For the filling
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil or ghee
- 2 onions diced
- 3 carrots diced, approx 300g
- 400 g mushrooms diced
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 2 Tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
- 500 g minced lamb
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons plain flour^ 30ml
- 400 ml vegetable or lamb stock
- 400 g tin crushed tomatoes
- 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 3-4 sprigs thyme sprigs
- 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
- Salt & Pepper
For the topping
- 1 kg potatoes peeled and roughly chopped.
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup milk plus extra, 60ml
- Salt & Pepper
To cook the lentils
If the lentils have been soaked overnight, rinse and drain them.
Place the lentils in a medium saucepan, add the bay leaf, and cover the lentils with cold water.
Bring the lentils to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 12 minutes (soaked) to 20 minutes (unsoaked), or until the lentils are just soft enough to be crushed between your fingers.
Drain the lentils, retain the bay leaf, and set aside.
To make the filling
Add the oil and onions to a large fry pan with a lid (or a large dutch oven) over a medium heat , and saute the onions for 10 minutes, or until softened and browned.
Add the carrots and saute for a further 3 minutes.
Add the mushrooms, and saute for a further 3 minutes, or until the mushrooms have softened.
Stir in the garlic and the chopped rosemary, and saute for a further minute.
Stir the lamb mince into the vegetables, and cooking for a further 3 minutes, or until the meat is lightly browned.
Sprinkle the flour over the meat and vegetable mixture, stir through, and cook for a further minute. It may be necessary to scrape the bottom of the pan if the meat starts to stick.
Gently pour in the stock, stirring it through the meat and vegetables, and simmer gently until the mixture slightly thickens.
Add the remainder of the ingredients, including the drained lentils and the reserved bay leaf.
Season with salt & pepper, and bring the mixture to the boil.
Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the mixture thickens too much, stir in a little water.
To make the topping
Whilst the filling is cooking, boil or steam the potatoes until quite soft. I prefer to steam my potatoes using a steaming basket in a large saucepan.
Drain the potatoes, and allow them to sit without a lid for two minutes to allow them to dry slightly.
Add the butter and milk to the saucepan, and season with salt and pepper.
Mash the potatoes together with the butter and milk. If the mixture seems too stiff, add a little more milk. You are aiming for a smooth mash that can be spread across the top of the pie.
To assemble the pie
Remove the thyme sprigs from the meat mixture. Discard.
Spoon the filling into the bottom of the casseroles dish(es).
Top the filling with the mashed potato. Smooth the top with the back of a spoon. At this point I like to rough up the top of the mash with a fork, which will brown in the heat of the oven.
The pies can be frozen at this point. *
If serving immediately, cook the pie at 200C (180C fan forced) for about 20 - 25 minutes, or until the top has browned and the filling is bubbling up the side.
Serve with a simple salad or steamed vegetables.
Recipe Notes* The pie can be cooked from frozen, however I prefer to defrost it first. If cooking from frozen, I would add at least an extra 20 minutes to the cooking time.
^ The pie will be gluten free if you use a gluten free plain flour.