When you think of your favorite comfort food meals, what are the first recipes that come to mind?
One-pot wonders and casserole meals like mac and cheese, chunky beef stew, and spicy chili are all popular to feed the tummy and warm the soul.
Shepherd’s pie is another favorite.
This rustic casserole dish is a traditional English comfort food. It’s typically made with ground lamb, mixed with gravy and assorted vegetables, and topped with a thick layer of buttery mashed potatoes.
Although many hungry mouths adore the taste of this dish, there is no doubt that the meat, gravy, and fats are very heavy.
To avoid the artery-clogging ingredients, yet still enjoy this comfort food classic, make our recipe for a vegetarian version.
We include heart-healthy substitutes like lentils, garlic, bulgur wheat, and an assortment of veggies.
Layered with just a bit of mozzarella cheese and butter-free mashed potatoes, omnivores and vegetarians will all savor this comforting casserole. And it’s easy to swap out the mozzarella for a dairy-free version if you like.
Take a look at the recipe below, and make this healthy option for dinner tonight!
|4 people||15 minutes|
Want a nice bit of comfort food, but don't want to eat any meat? Try our vegetarian version of shepherd's pie, made with bountiful veggies.
- 4 medium yellow potatoes peeled and cut
- 8 oz uncooked brown lentils soaked overnight in water and rinsed
- 2 cups water or vegetable stock
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 cup Bulgur Wheat
- 2 cups boiling water or vegetable stock
- 2 large garlic cloves minced
- 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
- 2 medium onions diced
- 3 roma tomatoes diced
- salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- vegetable oil for greasing the baking dish
- chopped fresh chives for garnishing
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the cubed potatoes and boil them until they are tender enough to be easily mashed. Mash the potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
- In a large skillet over high heat, combine the soaked lentils, 2 cups of water or stock, and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer until the legumes are tender, approximately 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- While the lentils are cooking, combine the bulgur wheat and minced garlic in a medium bowl. Pour 2 cups of boiling water or stock over the mixture. Let it sit, covered with a kitchen towel, for the next 10 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed and the bulgur is fluffy. Mix with salt and pepper to taste.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a deep baking dish with vegetable oil.
- Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of the bulgur wheat mixture, followed by a layer of lentils, then shredded mozzarella, then a mixture of diced onions and tomatoes. For the final layer, spread out the mashed potatoes and compact it as much as possible.
- Place the baking dish in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 40 minutes, until the mashed potato layer is lightly golden. Sprinkle with chopped chives and serve.
Recipe by Felicia Lim.
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Gather the Ingredients
Measure out the lentils, water or vegetable stock, bulgur wheat, and mozzarella.
Set out the bay leaves, garlic cloves, onions, Roma tomatoes, potatoes, chives, and salt and pepper.
Step 2 – Cube, Dice, Mince, and Chop
Peel and cube the potatoes. Dice the onions and tomatoes, mince the garlic, and chop the chives.
Be sure to use a sharp knife and a sturdy cutting board for the best results.
Step 3 – Boil and Mash
Fill a large pot with generously salted water, and then bring it to a boil. Once boiling, add the potatoes. Let them cook until they are tender enough to be easily mashed with a fork. This should take about 30 minutes.
Drain in a colander. Mash the potatoes well, making sure there are no lumps, and then mix with salt and pepper to taste.
If the potatoes are too dry, add a little vegetable stock or oil, one tablespoon at a time.
Step 4 – Cook the Legumes
As the potatoes are cooking, combine the lentils with 2 cups of water and the bay leaves and bring to a boil, either in a deep skillet or in a medium pot. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for the next 25 minutes until the legumes are tender.
Step 5 – Cook the Bulgur
Meanwhile, mix the bulgur wheat and minced garlic in a medium bowl. Pour over 2 cups of boiling water or stock, then cover the bowl with a kitchen towel.
Let it sit for 10 minutes, allowing the bulgur wheat to soak up the water until it becomes fluffy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Step 6 – Layer
Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a deep baking dish with oil.
While the oven is preheating, start off by creating a base layer with the bulgur wheat.
Next, create a layer of lentils and a layer of shredded mozzarella cheese.
Add a layer of tomatoes and onions.
Finally, top the casserole with the mashed potatoes, making sure to compact it as much as possible with the back of a slotted spoon.
Step 7 – Bake and Serve
Bake for the next 40 minutes, or until the top of the mashed potato layer starts to turn slightly golden. Top with fresh chopped chives and serve.
A Taste of Vegetarian Comfort Food
Sure, we may be putting the shepherd out of a job with our meatless shepherd’s pie recipe, but this vegetarian update is so delicious!
We won’t miss him. Or the meat.
With endless layers of healthy ingredients, and a topping of naturally creamy mashed potatoes, you’ll definitely be satisfied with our alternative to the classic.
Need some equally healthy (and equally tasty!) desserts to serve after your comfort food feast? Try our recipes for zucchini bread or paleo chocolate chip cookies.
What are your favorite ways to update meaty recipes with vegetarian versions? Tell us your best ideas in the comment section below!
Don’t forget to Pin It!
Photos by Felicia Lim, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published February 18th, 2015 by Lynne Jaques. Revised and updated October 31st, 2017, with additional writing by Felicia Lim.
*Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is a full-time cheesemonger and specialty foods buyer living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.
30 thoughts on “The Most Comforting Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie”
Did you know that it’s only a shepherds pie if it’s made with minced lamb? Think about it, how many shepherds do you see looking after beef cattle? If it’s made from ground, or minced beef, it’s called a cottage pie.
Missbishi, that makes sense. However, in the USA, at least in the by gwad South, if it has tatters on top it’s Shepherd’s. We don’t really have much of sheep/mutton/lamb culture. I suspect that derives from ranges wars that were conducted in the late 1800s between large cattle ranches and sheep outfits. The sheep outfits mostly lost.
What a healthy recipe. As a vegetarian I enjoy a hearty shepherds pie and I always add peas and carrots to mine to make it healthier. It’s also traditional as sometimes I have used soya mince to or another quorn substitute to make the dish higher in protein, but adding lentils is a great way of making the pie, but I do get concerned that it might be too windy
Bella, I have a lot less of a wind issue with lentils as compared to beans. Try them. I suspect you will find the same is true.
In Quebec, we have a similar dish — layer of ground meat, layer of creamy sweet corn, then layer of mashed potatoes. Call it “pâté chinois” (Chinese pie). Just a thought since you mentioned adding different veggies — the corn cream does a good job of adding flavor and texture to the dish!
This looks amazing and it sounds really good too. We are not vegetarians but we are eating more vegetarian meals of late. Who can afford meat anymore? 😉 I have never cooked with Bulgar wheat before, but I am willing to give it a go.
Using a piping bag makes this dish incredibly adorable. When I make a traditional Shepard’s pie I always use that method. It helps me evenly distribute the potato &, again, makes it adorable!
I’ve been looking for a recipe to minimize my meat eating through the week & this one is perfect. I love the addition of flax seeds.
It looks delicious!! I can’t wait to try making this for my husband. He’s a die-hard vegetarian but he’s always interested in the variety of non-veg foods. I’m going to try omitting the onion from the recipe and see how it comes out! I also like the additon of flax seed. I often use it as a replacement for eggs in baked goods.
Huh, I’ve never heard of a vegetarian shepherds pie before, but hey, there’s a first time for everything. Looks like a good recipe for a healthy and hearty meal.
The pie looks splendid and the recipe is different then what I expected. The lentils and Bulgar will certainly make it flavorful and filling. That is an interesting point on the origin of the pie being the lamb. As a vegan, my version of shepherds pie has been with potatoes and sietan gluten and soy cheese. I like the comment to add peas and vegetables too. This is eating rich and healthy! The lentils add a new dimension of nutrients to the pie.
This looks delicous! I love shepard’s pie and have made several vegetarian types. Most of the time, people create a thick vegetable stew base with potatoes on top, but I would have never thought of lentils and bulgar. Sounds great!
we always make meat in ours. However even though I am not a vegetarian I would love to try this dish and it looks fairly simple to make. I think I will be adding this to my dishes to try and see how it goes.
Well, if the meat is non-optional for you, maybe you’d want to have it half-half or any other proportion? It really makes the meat stretch, so it makes for a cheaper meal, with as much nutrition and as much wonderful tasty treat!
I have never eaten or made Shepherd’s Pie. It sounds quite easy and very appetizing. Although not vegetarian, I think I’m going to try your recipe before trying the tradition way. I am trying to get away from as much meat as possible, not in a hurry, but hopefully by 50 I’ll be well on my way to becoming vegetarian.
I remember finding out about Shepherd’s Pie on a t.v show. It peaked my interest, and I got a recipe out of a cook book. I made it the first time, and wasn’t to impressed. Then I added my on little twist to it. Then I had a winner it really was more moist, and seasoned so just doctoring it up for ones taste is key.
I love your bio (because I use parenthesis way too often as well).
I am always looking for new vegetarian recipes, because I have a friend who visits, and I like to cook for her.
This dish looks so beautiful that I’m tempted to try it myself, even though I generally prefer meat for dinner.
@Missbishi I never thought about the proper name being only for the dish when made from lamb. It makes sense, but I do think Lynne’s explanation of how it’s been adapted makes sense too.
Baking pies isn’t really common at home these days. I hadn;t heard of Sheperd’s pie before. Anyway, the beautiful picture first caught my attention. I was about to ask what ingredients were used that comes out looking like that in the picture. It’s just mashed potatoes! Well, it isn’t so much the ingredient, after all, but the way it was done – use of frosting dispenser! Clever, clever! Totally made the whole pie so tempting to eat!
I guess in life so far i have been missing out on the best delicacies that the kitchen has to offer, thanks to the article, i now have my own recipe… to making my very own ‘stellar’ shepherd’s pie…on another note i had no idea flax seed is that beneficial..am leaning towards body fat reduction information especially now that i have goals to meet in that arena 😉
It’s interesting that I just read an article on here on lentils and why they are so beneficial. I usually make recipe’s like this with a soy-based ground beef replacement but I’m going to try it out with lentils, because it looks really good!
Brilliant recipe. Shepherds pie is one of my favorite meals! I always find using paprika in the mix gives it a much more intense flavor, which is what I love! This meal is also very good for you! You can add pretty much anything to a shepherds pie too, but I always find that a vegetable option does taste much better! Thanks for sharing this recipe!
I like the idea of using lentils and bulgur wheat in a veggie shepherd’s pie. My husband really likes bulgur wheat but I have never been that ‘convinced’ with it by itself so in something like this seems like a really good compromise. I would just need to omit the mozzarella to make it vegan and we would be sorted. I’m thinking perhaps a tablespoon of tomato concentrate and a teaspoon of sugar will counter the winter tomato blandness.
Did you use brown or puy lentils so they held their shape because red lentil would disintegrate and form a paste?
This looks so much healthier than the traditional dish being served. This recipe could cut down some major calories and also fully satisfy a family of four. My family and I will definitely be trying this dish out in our near future.
Oh, this looks like the perfect comfort food indeed! And I’m glad it doesn’t use a soy substitute, especially since I love lentils. I’ll have to give this a shot when the weather cools off and I’m in need of a hearty meal.
I was once watching Master Chef Junior with chef Ramsey. He had the kids make this dish. Some did a great job, while others not too well. I’m glad that there is a vegetarian version so my vegetarian friends don’t have to miss out on anything. Besides, there is nothing wrong with going meatless for a meal or two.
This seems like an awesome dish to prepare when your vegetarian friends come to visit 🙂 I like that it’s made from easy to buy ingredients. I like the way it looks, too. I love the the idea to add ground flax – what awesome health benefits it has!
Shepherd’s pie is one of my favourite meals but I barely ever make it because, as you pointed out, it’s not exactly the lightest dish and it just doesn’t fit very well into my diet plan. Needless to say, I was excited to find a vegetarian version 🙂 I’m looking forward to trying this out, I love finding yummy but healthy substitutions for my less healthy favourites. I bet it would be good with chickpeas as well!
I have never made a shepherds pie but thinking of doing so this week. I love the piping effect with the mashed potatoes..looks very professional. I may want to add peas and make sure onions and garlic are infused as well. This is a simple cost effective comfort food, the weather these days is so perfect for this dish. Hopefully my three year old will eat it. The vegetarian version is very interesting.
Quite simply the best comfort food! I accompany mine with some roasted root vegetables – parsnip, carrot and beetroot for a hearty, warming supper. I’d probably add a good splash of Worcestershire sauce too, just to give the pie a bit of kick.
As a vegetarian I have cooked many variations of this recipe over the years. I love mashed potato on top of anything and I do favour the use of lentils.I like to keep the filling of the pie simple – maybe onions, lentils and mushrooms, and serve withe greens such as brussels sprouts or runner beans
This is the first time I’ve ever seen a vegetarian shepard’s pie and I’m definitely going to be bookmarking this recipe so I can make it in the very near future. Honestly, when I first saw the title of the post I was expecting it to contain some kind of meat substitute since that seems to be how a lot of vegetarian recreations of dishes that usually contain meat work. Personally, I’m not a fan of most of those options so to see that it didn’t contain them was a huge plus. Also, the piping detail on top of it is so pretty! It really takes something so simple and makes it look a little more fancy.