March can be the cruelest of months. It can be so warm and sunny and gloriously beautiful that you want to pack away all your sweaters and boots and scarves and hats and just run your toes through the newly green grass while sipping mojitos.
And then the next day, it’s so bone-chillingly cold and rainy (or even snowy) that you can’t imagine ever being warm again. Oh Mother Nature, why are you such a tease?
After weeks of warmth and sunshine, right now, the weather in my area is doing a bit of a regression back to December (hellloooo, gray and rainy and cold Southern Indiana winters), and that means I’m back in the kitchen focusing on comfort food.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in our collective food history, the idea of “comfort food” became synonymous with “unhealthy food.” I’m sure it has something to do with the butter and cheese and heavy cream and sugar and all that goodness that most people associate with comforting eats. But I’m here to tell you, comfort food can be totally, completely, 100% healthy (and not just the emotional, “I really need this chocolate chip cookie today” kind of healthy—like, literally healthy—nourishing, even).
This Sweet Potato Lentil Shepherd’s Pie is healthy comfort food epitomized. It’s 100% whole food, plant-based—seriously, it’s nothing but plants—but it’s so hearty, so filling, so soul-warmingly awesome that you’ll never miss the butter or cream or meat. This is the dish I serve to people who are healthy eating skeptics. Because it’s somehow both totally satisfying and totally health food.
The key to getting this not-so-classic twist on a classic casserole to taste so rich is my current favorite ingredient—raw cashews. I’ve been ordering raw organic cashews by the case lately because I use them in everything. I have a whole post coming up next week about it, but this Lentil Shepherd’s Pie is a good little preview to wet your whistle.
Raw cashews are fatty, oily, and just a tiny bit nutty, but mostly mildly-flavored. And when soaked in water (either overnight or a quick soak with boiling water), they can be blended into the dreamiest, creamiest of plant-based sauces. It’s like a gosh darn Mother Nature miracle. Here, I mix cashew cream with mashed sweet potatoes to make a seriously rich and fluffy topping for this lentil-based casserole.
I can’t claim credit for the original idea to do a Lentil Shepherd’s Pie. I first saw Ashley from The Edible Perspective do it ages ago, and her recipe is wonderful (really wonderful) – I’ve been making it and tweaking it into my own version ever since.
I know some folks out there aren’t the biggest fans of lentils (hi, Dad!), but I think you’ll come to the lentil side of life if you try them in this dish. The lentils are packed with so much flavor and they have just the right texture to feel meaty and hearty in the filling.
And hey, mushroom haters, I know you see mushrooms in the filling down in the recipe and are immediately dismissing them, but trust me on this one—you want those mushrooms in there to give the filling a savory, earthy flavor that can be sometimes hard to replicate using only plants. I have you dice the mushrooms really finely, so if your issue with mushrooms is textural, you won’t even notice they are there.
Lentil Shepherd’s Pie is one of those dishes that you don’t really need a side dish to go along with —talk about the original one pot wonder. But if you do want to serve up some sides, my favorite way to serve this dish is with a nice garden salad and the biggest basket of warm Irish soda bread around. And probably a dark beer. Maybe winter still being around isn’t so bad. Enjoy!