I mentioned in my last post that I would be following it up with another ill-timed one, but as I look out the window (at the faintly falling snow and steel-colored sky), I take that back.. While snow or low temperatures aren’t necessarily unexpected for this time of year in Wisconsin, it takes just one warm day to get my hopes up. Last week I packed away all the mittens and scarves to be replaced by sandals, raincoats and ‘this-is-your-last-reminder’ sunscreen by the front door. While, sure, it’s technically spring, it certainly doesn’t look or feel like it. All the more reason to enjoy this warm and undoubtedly comforting dish, it may be your last chance before it’s too warm (see, hopeful to a fault).
This recipe has a lot of ingredients (my tiny pantry has a Napoleon complex) but I don’t want you to feel like you have to use all of them or run out to the store if you don’t feel like it. Use what you have on hand and what you love; that’s the beauty of this dish. If you have a winter/indoor farmer’s market near you, most of what’s featured in this recipe will likely be available (likely all that’s available). Traditional shepherd’s pie is a bit of a mystery to me, partially because I’ve never had it (only vegetarian versions with lots of TVP. It was actually one of the first things I ever cooked!), and because why is there ground beef, and not lamb, in shepherd’s pie? Not that it even sounds more appealing, actually..
The star, in my opinion, is definitely the rutabaga (or ruta-lou bega as I like to refer to it, only in my head..). It’s part of my most frequently-used family of plants (Brassica, although I shouldn’t play favorites to avoid excluding others) and a cross between cabbage and turnips. Its outer peel is often waxed to preserve it for winter, but with a sharp vegetable peeler it comes off quite easily. Second place goes to the beet pesto, which is easily my favorite food-thing right now, as it seamlessly goes with an astonishing list of fares. Plus it’s really, really pretty.
- 3 medium sweet potatoes (such as ruby or garnet yams)
- 2 heaping tbsp fresh sage, minced
- 6 tbsp almond milk, plain unsweetened
- 1 tbsp oil of choice (walnut or olive would work well)
- 2-3 tbsp roasted beet pesto (recipe below)
- 3 leaves kale (I used lacinato), chopped
To make the mashed sweet potatoes, I roasted them in the oven at 300 degrees for 2 hours, until a fork goes in with no resistance. Remove the peels and put the potatoes in a large bowl. Heat up the almond milk and oil until simmering, then add the sage and kale, and continue cooking until the kale is soft. Add mixture to the roasted sweet potatoes and mash. I used a stand mixer, but a hand mixer or regular old fork would be fine as well (however I whisked mine on high for 2 minutes to get a fluffy texture, I imagine you’d need the brawn of a sailor to do that by hand). Once incorporated, slowly fold in the beet pesto.
You can make the mashed potatoes any way you want, but roasting will provide the best flavor. If you decide to boil them, consider saving the water after straining to water your plants with. Lots of nutrients are in that water, don’t let it go to waste! One of the most common ways to prepare spinach or swiss chard is to boil it, the water from which is rich in Vitamin E, a crucial part in plants’ nutrient transport system in cold temperatures. Perfect for the spring seedlings looking out the window and daydreaming of their days spent in the garden.
- half of a rutabaga
- 2 medium carrots
- 1 medium onion
- 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 leek
- 2 small yellow potatoes
- 1 tsp whole mustard seed
- 1 cup, or a handful, of snap peas
- 1 cup of corn
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
- 1 tbsp liquid aminos (or tamari, soy sauce)
- 1 cup of brown or french lentils
- 1 tbsp tapioca starch (or arrowroot powder, corn starch)
Begin by cooking the lentils. Put a timer on for 25 minutes and bring them to a boil with 2 cups of vegetable stock. Once boiling, turn down to a simmer but still hot enough to make all the lentils dance around. Start testing them around 20 minutes, you’ll want them a bit firm yet as they’ll be baked in the oven. Reserve about 2 tbsp of the broth, discard the rest, and dissolve the tapioca starch into it.
Meanwhile, peel the rutabaga and chop into small, ~1 inch sized pieces. Wash the carrot, leek and yellow potatoes and cut into similarly sized pieces. Dice the onion and saute in a dutch oven (or just use a large pot and add it to an oven-safe dish once it’s done on the stove). Add the garlic and leek, continue to cook until very soft, translucent and fragrant. I like to add the mustard seed and liquid aminos at this point. Next add the carrots, rutabaga and potatoes. Preheat the oven to 400 (now would be a good time to start the beet pesto!) Cook until soft, about 30-40 minutes on low-medium heat. Add the cooked lentils, corn, snap peas and parsley. Stir to combine along with the tapioca starch.
Top with the mashed sweet potatoes and roasted, uncovered, for 20 minutes. I garnished mine with cauliflower florets and sage then, halfway through, with hemp and sunflower seeds. Remove from the oven at your discretion, put the broiler on a few extra minutes if you want a crispier top.
Roasted beet pesto recipe after the break!
Roasting beets brings out their sweet, nutty flavor and gives them a downright creamy texture. If you typically avoid beets, do yourself a favor and still try this sauce! It’s great for you and tasting. I’ve used it as a pizza sauce, in granola, in hummus! It gives a beautiful magenta color to everything it’s shared with.
Roasted beet pesto:
- 2 cups red beets, washed well & chopped into small cubes (about 2 medium beets)
- 5 cloves garlic (omit if you plan to use the pesto as a sweetener as well)
- 3/4 cup walnuts
- 1 cup olive oil
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice
- Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roast for 40 minutes, until beets are soft and juicy. Allow them to cool before adding them to the food processor along with, except for oil, the rest of the ingredients. Pulse a few times before slowly adding in a stream of oil with the food processor running.