Kitchen Classics: Shepherd’s Pie

Vegan Shepherd's Pie from Diet, Dessert and Dogs

Some things just never change.  As a result, there are certain aspects of our lives upon which we all tend to rely.

For instance, you expect that Wile E. Coyote will tumble down the mountainside (an anvil in hot pursuit), only to re-emerge the following week without so much as a scratch–and start all over again.  You can reliably presume that if you wear a white shirt on a first date, you will likely spill red wine on it. You depend on David Letterman to deliver a Top Ten list (and for there to be ten items on it). When you look in the mirror, you assume you will see your own reflection staring back at you (and not your mother’s, as I have been seeing lately). And if you’re Elsie and Chaser, you count on Mum to feed you at precisely 5:00 PM, or else feel justified executing the “border collie stare” and butting her thigh with your cold, wet nose. [“Yeah, so, and what of it, Mum? A gal’s gotta eat.“]. You just rely on certain things to always be. . . well, reliable.

One of the most reliable aspects of winter is that I will hate it  my whingeing against the cold and sleet  Ricki dreaming of the tropics comfort food. And one of the most common forms of comfort food in winter is shepherd’s pie.

Vegan Shepherd's Pie from Diet, Dessert and dogs

[Almost makes it worthwhile to endure another winter. . . . almost.]

Interestingly enough, while my mom wasn’t a great cook, she did, on occasion, tackle this multi-layered dinner casserole.  When it came to ground beef in general, her usual plated meal was grey hamburgers with a side of insipid mashed potatoes (eat up, everyone!).  The burgers were always the color of lead, with a thick, tough crust on the exterior and dry, nubby bits inside; eating one felt like taking a big bite of a thick packing box filled with styrofoam chips.

But then, perhaps once a year, she’d go wild and make the shepherd’s pie. Her version involved cooking half a bag of frozen peas and carrots along with the meat, then plopping the mixture in the bottom of a square pan and topping the whole mess with homemade mashed potatoes (which were reliable as well: always full of lumps). As you can imagine, I wasn’t a fan of shepherd’s pie.

Of course, I wouldn’t have been a fan of the dish even if my mother had been a fabulous cook. Authentic shepherd’s pie, I learned with great dismay, contained ground lamb (because, well, they were what the shepherds were shepherding).  Personally, I’d much rather see shepherds train their sheep to do this.

[“Oh, sure, Mum, those sheep may look impressive, but don’t forget that it’s actually the dogs who did all the real work. I think they deserve some food for that.”]

Once I left home for university, I completely forgot about shepherd’s pie.  It wasn’t until my 30s here in Toronto that I encountered a stellar vegan version of the dish at a restaurant called le Commensal that I fell in love. Their shepherd’s pie featured buckwheat (one of my favorite “grains”) and a topping made with fluffy sweet potato mash. (These days, it seems, the place is no longer a vegan establishment and has added some “flexitarian” options to their menus. . . so who knows? Maybe they’re serving lamb-based sheperd’s pie after all now.)

When I began to crave comfort food, I decided to create my own riff on that buckwheat pie and soup it up a bit with lentils for additional protein. Having tried both sweet potato and regular potato, I decided to go with the regular mash as a more traditional topping. The result is a sturdy, full-flavored–dare I say, meaty--pie that will fill your belly with flavor and comfort.  Because after all, when you eat shepherd’s pie, you want to be able to count on it to be just what you expect, right? Some things never change. . . .

This recipe is being shared on Slightly Indulgent Tuesday.

Vegan Shepherd's Pie from Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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© Ricki Heller, Diet, Dessert and Dogs

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  1. This looks so good. I love the use of buckwheat, something I don’t often use past breakfast 🙂
    We always had shepherd’s pie growing up (the meat kind :() so great to see a vegan take on it.

    • I find that buckwheat is one of those grains that has a really robust flavor, and makes a great stand-in for meat in many dishes. We loved this one! I do love buckwheat for breakfast (pancakes especially!), too, of course. 🙂

  2. I am so impressed! When I looked at the picture I thought for sure that was a meaty shepherd pie. then i read on… I love the idea of lentils and buckwheat. Great idea to use the groats I never know what to do with. I have a favorite vegan pot pie that i make a lot… You’re making me crave it! (Although I might have to make your shepherd’s pie first!)


    • Thanks, Sea! I wasn’t aiming to imitate meat, but glad to know that this is appealing to omnivores, too. 🙂 I’m a huge buckwheat fan, but mostly use it in breakfast dishes, so this was a bit of a leap for me, too. What’s your favorite vegan pie?

  3. Wow, I’ve never even made a regular shepherd’s pie let alone a vegan one – this looks delicious Ricki!

  4. Oh, yum. And, I love your story. While it sounds like my mom was a better cook than yours, we definitely had meals like you described, too. Lovely photos too!

    • Thanks so much, Stephanie! I know it sounds like I’m always dissing my mom’s cooking. . . but honestly, she was just a much better baker than cook! 😉

  5. I can’t even tell you how good that looks right now! Though admittedly, I’m not a real fan of kasha… I’m sure this dish could win me over. Coconut oil-mashed potatoes on top just seals the deal.

  6. Fascinated by the buckwheat here! I used to make a lot of shepherd’s/cottage pie-style dishes as home for my family, but never the original because lamb was too expensive to use as mince, and mum’s allergic to beef, dairy, and tomatoes, so I’d make alternative versions with rosemary and balsamic instead of tomato in the filling, and sweet potato mash or a flavoured (like with horseradish) potato or parsnip mash. Thank you for the memories, Ricki! 🙂

  7. I fell in love with shepherds pie when I was a little girl scout 🙂 Of course it was the cheesey variety! Thanks for making this version Ricki! Pinning for future use.

  8. I love buckwheat and walnuts so this sounds great – I find myself craving it as soon as the weather gets cold – it is something that my mum made regularly and I always loved though of course I too don’t eat it with meat any more – so much nicer with veg legume and grain fillings

    • Glad you like the sound of it, Johanna! I’ve never craved it before, but this year just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I think it will be a winter staple from now on! 🙂

  9. Oh, I absolutely love a shepherd’s pie. This one looks fantastic! I’m thinking barley might be fantastic in place of the buckwheat, too.

  10. Hi Ricki. Your dishes and sweet treat sound delicious. I am not allowed sugar,dairy,gluten and flours, so i am looking forward to cooking your recipes sooner than later. Thank you for making it easier for some of us, if not all. Because i have pre- cancer, am looking for idea’s, as i am sick of not finding some kind of sweet for myself, without sugar, and i thank you for that.

    • My pleasure, Mary! I hope the recipes are helpful. Let me know when you try something–and how it turns out! And best of luck with your new diet (it does get easier). 🙂


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