God bless lentils, the small nubbly saviours of my student years. Back when I lived in halls (which is longer now than I care to admit), I used to live off gigantic bags of red and green lentils that I’d buy from the local health food store for £1. They went in pretty much everything I cooked – curries, stews, and – on one notable occasion – into a sauce made out of half a jar of sweet-and-sour-flavoured ‘Chicken Tonight.’ (Pro tip: don’t ever do this. It was possibly the most disgusting thing I’ve ever made.) By the time I graduated, I never ever wanted to see a lentil again, let alone contemplate the idea of actually making something edible out of them.
However, now I am an adult with a job which provides me with enough income to stop living off 20p instant noodles and Strongbow, I have come to reappreciate these lovely, protein-rich little flying saucers. I’m trying to eat less carbohydrates at the moment, and puy lentils go with practically everything you have in your cupboards – from chicken thighs to rich tomato sauces. They’re the kind of thing that it’s always good to have on hand, particularly in these dog days of Winter where it feels as though the sun will never shine again.
While at first glance this Lentil, Butternut Squash and Carrot Shepherd’s Pie looks like something that you might find in a vegetarian cookbook from the 1970s, it’s actually a joy to both make and eat. Puy lentils are simmered with winter vegetables, oats, herbs and a good glug of wine until their innards turn creamy and pop in your mouth with a delightful hit of umami. The mixture is topped with a creamy roasted butternut squash and carrot mash which is velvet smooth from being combined with creme fraiche and a good dollop of butter. This is healthy comfort food at its finest, a meal which sticks to your ribs and hugs your insides. Lentils may be cheap, but they’re definitely not just for skint students.
LENTIL, BUTTERNUT SQUASH & CARROT SHEPHERD’S PIE (Makes 4 portions)
Adapted from The Kitchn
You will need:
For the butternut squash & carrot mash
- 1 large butternut squash, cut into chunks
- 4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks
- 4 tbsp creme fraiche
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- ½ tsp dried sage
- Salt & Pepper to season
For the filling
- 150g puy (green) lentils
- 50g porridge oats
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 punnet of chestnut mushrooms, sliced
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 medium carrot, diced into chunks
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 175ml vegetable stock
- A good glug of red wine
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- A large handful of chopped fresh parsley
- Preheat your oven to 400°C/Gas Mark 6. Drizzle the butternut squash chunks with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour until soft to the touch. (make sure you don’t get distracted by Pointless and forget about them like I did.) Leave to cool, then peel. Boil your carrots with a pinch of salt for 10-15 minutes until they are soft and slightly mushy. Drain, and mash with the peeled butternut squash chunks, creme fraiche and butter. Add the sage, season with salt & pepper and taste. Once everything is to your liking, put the mash to one side until ready to use.
- In a medium pot, combine the lentils, oats, bay leaf and a pinch of salt. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until lentils are soft (but not mushy!) Be sure to stir the mixture occasionally to ensure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan. Discard the bay leaf and drain the mixture into a sieve.
- While the lentils and oats are cooking, warm the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook until soft. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until everything begins to turn soft. Add the lentil and oat mixture, followed by the vegetable stock, wine, tomato paste, soy sauce, smoked paprika, and parsley. Taste and season if needed. Simmer the mixture for 5 minutes until it has thickened.
- Evenly spread the lentil mixture into large baking dish. Spoon the butternut squash and carrot mash over the lentils, and smooth with a fork. Bake at 200°C/Gas Mark 4 for 30 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling at the edges. Serve with green vegetables and a glass of red wine.