Vegan Cottage Pie, Indian Style
Vegan cottage pie was my first taste of a dish that was successfully adapted from its carnivorous cousin by vegans. Before I went vegetarian myself, my vegan friend brought most of her own food to our Friendsgivings as I was busy preparing a ham as a centerpiece. She often made enough for herself and shared just our company, but once she decided to bring vegan cottage pie, all bets were off. We all – vegan, vegetarian, and meat-eaters alike – wanted a piece of it. When the British challenge came up for #52WeeksofCooking, I knew I wanted to make it myself. But this time, I gave it an Indian twist.
Because of a long and painful colonial history, people from South Asia make up a significant minority of the British population. At an estimated 1.4 million people, British Indians make up the largest visible minority in the United Kingdom. The cultures are so intertwined that many dishes that Westerners consider “Indian” are in fact British in origin. Things like butter chicken and chicken tikka masala were created by Indian and Bangladeshi immigrants to the UK, who wanted to serve food that tasted like their homeland but was softened for the British palate. I wanted to pay homage to the Indian presence in British culture by injecting some of their flavors into the classic British cottage pie.
Cottage pie (or shepherd’s pie, if it contains lamb) is a baked dish consisting of minced meat, vegetables, and gravy, topped with mashed potatoes and broiled until the top of the potatoes browns and crisps. I made a quick and easy vegan version by using soy crumbles, frozen veggies, and added spices such as turmeric, garam masala, and cumin to give it an Indian flair. The mashed potatoes are garlicky and dyed yellow with more turmeric; the perfect topping to this comforting and filling meal. Though I added more potatoes to the filling, you can easily use lentils instead, which are a staple for many versions of vegan cottage pie.
Time means nothing anymore and St. Patrick’s Day snuck up on me this year, so I’ll say I always intended this to be a recipe to celebrate it. Yes, it’s yellow. Sure, Ireland isn’t in the United Kingdom. But Northern Ireland is…and anything you can buy in a pub has “St. Patrick’s Day” vibes to me. Cottage pie in a pub? Sure, why not?
I’m sorry to all my Irish friends. I’m really reaching this year. I’ll plan better next year, I swear it.
Whether you’re vegan, veggie, or downing burgers for every meal, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this twist on a classic dish. This vegan cottage pie is proof that you don’t need animals to impart huge flavor on a recipe. Plants are powerful, and we don’t give them enough credit! Now if you’ll excuse me I have second and third helpings to give myself of this. Until next time, here’s to good drinking, great eating, and even better living!
Vegan Cottage Pie – Indian Style
For the mash
- 2 lbs gold potatoes
- margarine, vegan butter, or non-dairy heavy cream substitute
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp onion powder
For the filling
- 2 Tbsp canola oil
- 1 medium yellow onion (diced)
- 4 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 lb golden potatoes (you can substitute 1 cup raw lentils, prepared according to package instructions)
- 1 bag frozen carrots
- 1 bag frozen peas
- 1/2 bag frozen soy crumbles (8 oz)
- 1 14-oz can full-fat coconut milk
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 1 1/2 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- salt and black pepper, to taste
For the mash
- Fill a large pot with water and salt it heavily. Add the potatoes and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-high and continue to boil until potatoes are fork tender – about 20 minutes depending on the size of your potatoes.
- Drain and add back to the pot. Add the plant-based butter or cream and the spices, then mash it all until smooth. Set aside.
For the filling
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute more, until fragrant.
- Add the potatoes (skip this part if using lentils). Cook the potatoes until they are almost tender, then add the frozen vegetables, the soy crumbles, the coconut milk, the spices, and the cooked lentils (if using). Stir to incorporate the spices, then cover and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables are fully defrosted and cooked.
- Transfer the mixture to a 9×13 baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes. Make sure the potatoes cover the whole filling, but it's ok to have peaks that stick up – those will get extra brown in the oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the tops of the potatoes are lightly browned. Alternatively, you can broil it to make the potatoes more crisp (I have a bad relationship with my broiler so I didn't do this, but feel free to do so). Serve hot and enjoy!