Often, in the colder winter months, we start longing for foods that are hearty, warm and filling to satisfy our yearning for heat and comfort. Unfortunately, many foods meeting these criteria are completely unsupportive, and usually not in line with how we would like to be eating to meet our health goals. Fortunately, I have found a way to combine the textures and flavours we are looking for with a ton of greens and nutrition to give the vitality you need to make it through the freeze with vigour, and in comfort. I hope you will enjoy this guilt free indulgence as much as I do!
Prep Time: 25 minutes.
Cook Time: 10 + 30 minutes.
Makes: 6-8 servings.
For the Pie (top layer):
2 large heads of cauliflower, cut into florets
2 tbsp olive oil
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 cloves of garlic
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 large onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 cup of mushrooms, chopped
1 large handful (about 1.5 cups chopped) green beans
1 large green bell pepper, diced
Handful of flat leafed parsley
Handful of young spinach
1 lb. ground meat of choice- I prefer small farm mutton, venison or bison
1 tsp dry mustard
1 ½ tsp cumin
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp paprika
1/8 tsp ground cloves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the gravy:
1 pound mixed mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, Portobello, morels and creminis make a nice mix) cleaned and sliced – separating the stems and tops
1 medium onion chopped
1 cup organic beef broth (can use chicken or vegetable broth instead)
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp coconut aminos
Several sprigs of fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
Sea salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp Coconut oil
Additionally, a food processor or potato masher, pie plate or casserole dish and blender
There are 4 steps in creating this dish- you will first make the top layer, then the second, and then combine the two and bake it- as standard pie making goes- and as it bakes you will prepare the gravy. The creaminess of the top layer of the pie combines well with the warm spices of the meat and vegetables, making this a hearty dish that you would never guess contains no major carbs or dairy! Topped with a luscious silky gravy and it is plant based decadence! Here is how to do it:
Begin by bringing a medium pot of water to a boil, meanwhile chopping the cauliflower into florets, and dropping them into the water until they are quite soft, about 10-15 minutes or so.
As the cauliflower is simmering, you can chop the remainder of the vegetables, starting with the garlic. Garlic is most potently healing for us when you first smash it, combining the juices in the two parts of the clove, then chop it finely and allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes, so the healing properties can become active.
Next, chop the veggies for the meat layer into small, bite sized pieces. Onion, celery, mushrooms, green peppers, spinach and parsley- keeping them separate, as you will cook them for different lengths of time. Shepherd’s Pie usually has peas, carrots and sometimes corn grains involved- sweet veggies that aren’t always helpful, depending on your diet goals. I have replaced them with green veggies that give flavor and moisture, however are helpful in digesting the meat in the dish and supporting your immune system throughout the cold months.
Once the veggies are ready, heat a large saucepan on medium-high, then add half the coconut oil, onions and meat for browning. As the onions begin to cook on the bottom layer, add the spices to the pan as well. Stir the spices into the meat to release the oils, bringing out the warmth and flavors. Turn the meat for several minutes, until it has browned evenly on all sides. Transfer to a dish or get another saucepan ready-it is time to cook the vegetables.
To a heated pan, add the celery, then the mushrooms, then green pepper, giving each a couple minutes in between to cook. Finally, stir in the spinach and parsley, allowing to cook down for a minute before removing the saucepan from the heat. Stir in the meat and onions. The mushrooms will absorb some of the moisture from the greens, and the meat will stay moist because of that too. Set the dish aside, allowing the flavors to meld.
Preheat your oven to 350F, at some point here. I prefer to save energy whenever possible, so I aim to have my oven ready exactly when I need it or only a couple minutes sooner. Each oven is different, but the recipe will take about 10 minutes from here, and that is about how long my oven takes to heat up.
Once the cauliflower has softened, you can drain it through a colander and pour the florets into the food processor, or back into the pot if you are mashing by hand. Add the olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Blend everything together, mixing until creamy and smooth. Finally, take the fresh sprigs of thyme and holding the stick by the top, pull back on the leaves down to the bottom, removing them from the stem. Once all the stems are bare, mix the leaves evenly into the mash. As the dish cooks, the leaves will warm, releasing their oils into the cauliflower and flavoring it nicely. If you don’t enjoy the taste of garlic or thyme, either can easily be left out- and the thyme is nicely replaced with rosemary, if preferred.
Choose a 9-inch pie plate or casserole dish and pour in the meat and veggie layer, smoothing it out evenly. Next, scoop the cauliflower mash over top in 8 or so dollops, and then smooth the layer out over top of the meat and vegetables. Create any design you like on the top; as any peaks you make will become golden in the oven.
Bake the dish for 30 minutes or so, until bubbly underneath and golden on top. Pull it out of the oven and let it cool and ‘set’ for about 5 minutes on your table before serving. It is delicious right away, but even better for leftovers as the juices soak into the dish, making it great for both family dinners or a few days of meal prep. You can also make the dish as a ‘casserole’ and keep it in the freezer, reheating before serving.
As the pie is baking, it is time to make the gravy. I list a variety of mushroom options to give depth and earthy flavour, but also added nutrient value. Those that have been grown outdoors or with exposure to high levels of ultraviolet B on the farm have huge stores of vitamin D- the only plant food that does that well for us. Combine that with large quantities of vitamin B and they become a metabolism powerhouse. Often thrown in as a side ingredient, explore the range of mushrooms available for sale in small markets including chanterelles, morels and oysters. Portobellos or creminis (baby portobellos) can also do the trick in a pinch!
You want to separate the tougher stems from the tops- both will be used, but the stems will be cooked for longer. Roughly chop them, as eventually they will be pureed anyway. At the same time, chop your onion to be cooked with the stems, and remove the leaves from the stems of the thyme sprigs, if using.
In a saucepan or frying pan that you know has a lid, plop the coconut oil and turn the burner to medium heat. Once the oil has melted, toss in the onion with the stems, stirring together and cooking for several minutes until softened. Add the tops and stir in to coat with oil. If you find the stems have soaked in most of the oil, add a bit more to the pan- it won’t hurt. Pour the vinegar and coconut aminos over the mushrooms and stir briefly before covering. After they steam for a couple minutes, pour in the broth and season with salt, pepper and thyme, stirring together. Allow to simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes until the liquid is slightly reduced and the mushrooms are quite soft. Turn off the burner and allow to cool a bit.
Pour the contents of your saucepan into a blender, or use an immersion blender to puree the mixture into a silky smooth gravy. Alternatively, if you prefer a more rustic sauce for something- or your blender shorts out- you can use the mushroom sauce as is- chef’s choice!
To serve, plate a welcoming piece of Shepherd’s Pie, and pour the warm gravy over the top. I doubt there will be many leftovers, but if you want to savour the deliciousness over the week, store the two separately in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Enjoy and stay cozy!