shepherd’s pie with a difference

I serve my shepherd’s pie with steamed cauliflower

This shepherd’s pie is a bit different as half of the meat is substituted for lentils. Lentils are healthier and cheaper than meat so you save on the pounds in more ways than one!

I got the idea for this recipe from the BBC’s programme ‘Eat Well for Less’ (not something I would normally choose to watch but they have some very good ideas all the same!) I don’t think they have a recipe for this on their website so I thought I’d give it a go myself. 

The really good thing about shepherd’s pie is you can prepare it all beforehand, allow it to reach room-temperature, and then refrigerate it until evening when you want to cook it. It also freezes really well so I’ve made enough for six and will freeze two individual portions in disposable dishes. As a student I think it’s a great idea to freeze extra portions – it gives you a couple of ready meals for evenings when you’re too busy/tired to cook.

Ingredients to serve four (and make two portions for the freezer):

  • Bag of potatoes (King Edward, 1.75kg, £1.50, Tesco)
  • Bag of carrots (1kg, £0.60, Tesco)
  • Celery (250g, £0.69, Tesco)
  • Lean beef steak mince (250g, £2.50, Tesco)
  • Tinned green lentils in water (£0.55, Tesco)
  • Peeled plum tomatoes (£0.39, Tesco). Use chopped tomatoes if you don’t have a blender
  • Tomato purée (£0.50, Tesco)
  • One brown onion (£0.16, Tesco)
  • Cauliflower (£1, Tesco)
  • Mature white cheddar (220g, £1.50, Tesco)


  1. Weigh out roughly 1.3kg of potatoes. Choose the smaller potatoes as you can save the larger ones for baking. Peel them, chop them in half, then place into a large bowl of water.
  2. Next weigh out the carrots, roughly 400g. Peel and chop them into small chunks. Then scrub two pieces of celery and cut into similiarly-sized chunks.
  3. Chop one onion into small pieces and put it into a saucepan with a little oil on a low/medium heat. Allow it to brown for a couple of minutes. At the same time, empty the lentils into a sieve and rinse through completely.
  4. When the onions have browned, add the meat to the same saucepan, and break it up gently using the wooden spoon. Once there are no more red or pink bits left and no lumps, let it cook in the saucepan for roughly 2 more minutes.
  5. Although this is a fairly lean mince, it is still worth draining any fat away. Place a sieve over a glass bowl, and put the meat and onion mixture into the sieve. Carefully push down on the mixture with a spoon, until no more liquid drains though. Make sure you do not throw this fatty liquid down the sink as it will block it! If you have an old ice-cream tub put it in that and in the bin, or any old plastic container.
  6. Empty the tinned tomatoes into a small glass bowl with a tablespoon of tomato purée. If you have a hand-blender blend the tomatoes until smooth. If not, using chopped tomatoes will mean you won’t need to blend it.
  7. Next put the meat and onion back into the same saucepan, adding the blended tomatoes along with the carrots, celery, lentils and half a tin of water.  At this point add seasonings such as basil, oregano, thyme and ground pepper (if you read my last post hopefully you will have stocked up!) Stir this all together and allow it to reach boiling point, before reducing the heat, covering, and allowing to simmer for around 10 minutes.
  8. Whilst the sauce is simmering you can prepare the mashed potatoes. Boil a large saucepan of water, and when it is boiling, add the potatoes. When it has come back up to boiling point set the timer for roughly 20 minutes. This is a good chance to clear up but keep an eye on both saucepans as particularly the potatoes have a tendency to boil over!
  9. After the sauce has simmered for 10 minutes, try a piece of carrot and see if it is fairly al dente (it will get a bit softer when you cook the shepherds pie in the oven). If you think it’s not done, give it a few more minutes. When the sauce is done divide it into a large oven-proof dish and two smaller dishes that are suitable for freezing.
  10. You can test to see if the potatoes are done by putting a knife through them – it should go through fairly easily. Then, strain them completely, and put back into the saucepan with a dash of milk. Mash them with a potato masher until it is smooth with no bits.
  11. Use a spoon to place blobs of mashed potato onto the meat and vegetable base. Don’t worry about it not being smooth yet – you can sort that out at the end. Evenly distribute the potato between the three dishes, and then use a fork to gently level out the surface, and add some texture with the fork edge. Finally, grate some cheese on top and it’s ready! If you want to cook it straight away it will take roughly 30 minutes on 7. Otherwise, leave it on the work surface until it is really cool, cover in cling film and refrigerate for eating later that day, or pop on a lid and freeze for future consumption.

Cooking from refrigerated: take out of the fridge 30 minutes before you want to cook it and place on a work surface. Preheat oven to gas mark 7 and then cook for roughly 35 minutes until it is golden brown on top.

Cooking from frozen: defrost overnight in the fridge and then follow the same instructions as cooking from refrigerated

Preparation time: at roughly 1 hour 30, this is a more time-consuming recipe, however you can get it all done in the morning and in the evening all you have to do is pop it in the oven!

Total cooking time: roughly 30 minutes

Price per portion: at £1.57 per portion, it really does make the longer preparation time worth it

I’m really impressed with the addition of lentils – you can hardly taste them. If you want to save more money you could get rid of the meat completely and just use lentils – that would make it very cheap. This is a delicious meal for autumn and one that will carry you through winter – however cold it is!



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