A cozy way to welcome autumn


Fall has arrived in the Midwest and brings with it a craving for comfort food for cool weather.

For many Iower, this means the return of soups, stews, and hot casseroles.

The casserole, an all-in-one meal baked and served in the same dish, is a Midwestern specialty. It tends to contain a mixture of meat, vegetables, and starches.

Its scope is huge and many countries have their own traditional one-dish recipes. A classic from across the Atlantic is the Shepherd’s Pie, sometimes called Cottage Pie.

Simple but popular, shepherd’s pie is believed to have become popular in England and Ireland sometime in the late 18th century. Made with ground beef, gravy, vegetables, and potatoes, the hearty dish was both affordable and filling. It was an easy way for family cooks to use leftover leftover food, but it also became a home touch in pubs and restaurants.

Today, shepherd’s pie is still a hearty staple in the British Isles. It has also become a hearty favorite in North America.

For vegans worldwide who love this cozy dish, as well as anyone looking for a healthier alternative, a few simple changes will get the taste and warmth you want without the cruelty and cholesterol. It’s easy to swap ground beef for lentils, which are high in protein, fiber, and vitamins.

A vegan version of the staple Shepherd's Pie.

Butter and milk can be exchanged for vegan butter and oat or almond milk. Worcestershire vegan sauce, an ingredient I personally like to use in my shepherd cake, is available at most grocery stores. Regular Worcestershire sauce often contains anchovies, an unnecessary additive.

This vegan shepherd’s cake recipe is more nutritious, budget-friendly, just as comforting, and doesn’t require animals to be killed or injured to please our taste buds. When the days get shorter and we comfort ourselves from cold nights in warm kitchens, a warm dish like this is a worthwhile way to welcome autumn.

Vegan shepherd cake

Yield: 6 generous servings


● 1 tbsp. Olive or rapeseed oil

● 1 small yellow onion, diced (approx. 1 cup)

● 1 tbsp. chopped garlic (or to taste)

● 1 cup of celery, chopped

● 2 heaped teaspoons. dried thyme

● 3 cups cooked green lentils, drained (1¼ cup dried green lentils cooked in 4 cups vegetable broth or water for 40 minutes; or 2-14 ounces lentils, drained)

● ¼ cup of tomato paste

● 1 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce (recommended: Annie’s brand)

● 2 tbsp. All-purpose flour

● 1 cup of vegetable stock (recommended: Better Than Bouillon No-Chicken Base, stock concentrate)

● 1 heaped teaspoon. Dijon mustard

● 20 ounces. frozen mixed vegetables, thawed (can also use about 4 cups of any combination of fresh corn, carrots, peas, green beans, etc. in place of frozen vegetables)

● Salt and pepper to taste

Potato Topping:

● 2½ pounds of rust-red potatoes, cut into cubes about an inch (2.5 cm)

● ¼ cup vegan butter (recommended: Earth Balance, Miyoko’s or Natural Grocer’s Organic Plant-Based Butter)

● ⅓ cup of unsweetened vegetable milk

● 1 generous teaspoon. Garlic powder or granules

● Salt and pepper to taste

If you are using dried lentils, cook them first. Peel and slice the potatoes and cook in salted water until tender and fall off the fork.

Once the lentils and potatoes are done, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

For the filling: fry the onion and celery in oil in a pan until soft. Add the garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the thyme and cook for a minute or two.

Add the cooked lentils, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and flour to the pan. Stir until the flour is incorporated. Add the vegetable stock, Dijon mustard, mixed vegetables and a pinch of salt and pepper. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring often. Add more vegetable stock, salt and pepper if you like.

For the mashed potatoes: Drain the boiled potatoes; Add vegan butter, plant milk, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Use a potato masher to mix all of the ingredients together. (For whipped potatoes, use an electric mixer.)

Prepare a 9 by 9 inch baking dish. Pour the lentil filling into the mold and smooth it out with a spatula. Carefully distribute the mashed potatoes on top. Spread evenly over the entire filling, making sure that the potatoes touch the edge of the pan.

Place the pan on a baking sheet in case it overflows while baking. Bake without a lid for about 30 minutes.

Note: This recipe is very versatile. Use whatever vegetables you have available for the filling. Lentils are an affordable ingredient that can be purchased in bulk from New Pioneer Food Co-op or Natural Grocers.

Sara Pinkham has been vegan for more than nine years. She lives in Iowa City with her husband and three cats. She works at the University of Iowa Libraries.

If you have any questions or comments regarding the Vegan Community of Eastern Iowa, email [email protected] or visit www.veganeasterniowa.org. Everyone is welcome to join the VCEI on Facebook and MeetUp.

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