This vegan shepherd's pie is a hearty comfort meal perfect for the holidays, featuring lentils, quinoa, and tons of vegetables topped with smooth and creamy sweet potato puree. Serve this up for Thanksgiving as a delicious plant-based side dish or entree!
Traditional shepherd's pie was never really my thing. Now, vegan shepherd’s pie—well, that’s a different story. Hearty lentils and protein-packed quinoa make for a filling that’s so much more flavorful than the usual ground beef.
As I was thinking about plant-powered meals you can serve for the holidays, this vegan shepherd's pie popped into my head. It's definitely not a standard Thanksgiving (or even Christmas) meal, but it totally works this time of year. It's comfort food at its finest, it can serve a crowd, and it’s simple to make ahead.
This healthier version gets some other changes from the traditional recipe. Instead of mashed potatoes, this vegan shepherd's pie is topped with light and fluffy sweet potatoes. I also work some extra veggies into the filling, with mushrooms adding lots of umami flavor.
This casserole takes less than an hour to make, and it's mostly hands-off. I recommend making the whipped sweet potatoes first, followed by the lentils. Then finish the filling in a skillet, assemble the pie in a baking dish, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
Why You’ll Love This Vegan Shepherd’s Pie Recipe
Here’s what makes this vegan shepherd’s pie a standout:
- A vegan main that doubles as a side for everyone else. Because let’s face it, no one other than the vegans at the table want to eat turkey made of seitan or tofu. This shepherd’s pie is a dish everyone will want to dig into.
- Easy to make ahead. We all need this for the holidays! A main dish that you can prep in advance means more time to spend with friends and family.
- Healthy and filling. There are a lot of filling dishes on the table for the holidays, but how many of them are actually good for you too?
What You’ll Need
Here are all of the ingredients you’ll need when making this vegan shepherd’s pie. Make sure to check out the recipe card at the bottom of the page to see the exact quantities for each ingredient.
- Sweet potatoes – Peel your potatoes before you cook them for the smoothest and lightest mash. Sweet potato skin is a lot tougher than regular potato skin, so it’s best to remove it.
- Milk – Use any non-dairy milk you like.
- Vegan butter – I like Earth Balance brand.
- Lentils – You can use green or brown for this recipe
- Quinoa – This mimics the texture of ground beef or lamb; I like rainbow quinoa for the nutty flavor.
- Thyme and Bay Leaves – Use fresh thyme if you can find it!
- Vegetable broth – Make your own or use store-bought low-sodium broth.
- Mushrooms – I use button mushrooms in this vegan shepherd's pie, but you can use any kind you like.
- Onion – White or yellow onions both work.
- Celery – For crunch. You'll sauté celery with the other veggies for the filling.
- Carrot – For sweetness to complement the savory flavors from the other ingredients.
- Garlic powder – You can also use fresh minced garlic cloves.
- Balsamic vinegar – This adds a touch of sweetness and acidity to cut through some of the richness in the dish.
- Arrowroot powder – This is a gluten-free thickener that's optional. If you're not gluten-free, regular flour will also work.
- Sea salt and black pepper –To taste.
Can I Use Regular Mashed Potatoes?
Certainly! If you prefer a more traditional vegan shepherd's pie, feel free to use an old-fashioned mashed potato topping. Use Russet potatoes and cook them on the stove until they're fork-tender. I still recommend whipping the potatoes with an electric mixer, rather than using a potato masher for a light and airy texture.
How To Make Vegan Shepherd's Pie
You can make this recipe in phases—make either the sweet potatoes or filling ahead of time, or prepare them both in advance, assemble the casserole, and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake it.
- Boil the potatoes. Add the sweet potatoes to a pot with water. Bring to a boil, then cover and cook for 15 minutes.
- Cook the lentils and quinoa. Add the lentils and quinoa to a small saucepan with 2 cups of broth, the thyme, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed.
- Whip the potatoes. Drain the potatoes, then add the non-dairy milk, butter, salt, and pepper to the pot. Whip potatoes with an electric mixer until they’re smooth and creamy. Cover and set aside.
- Prepare. When the lentils are done, start preheating the oven to 425ºF and warm the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven set over medium heat.
- Cook the vegetables. Add the mushrooms, onion, celery, carrot, and garlic powder to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper, then cook for about 10 minutes, or until the veggies are tender. Stir in the lentils and quinoa, followed by the balsamic vinegar and broth.
- Finish the filling. Whisk the remaining broth with the arrowroot powder in a small dish. Stir this into the filling mixture.
- Assemble. Transfer the filling to a baking dish, smoothing it into an even layer. Spread the whipped sweet potatoes on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Bake and serve. Bake the vegan shepherd's pie for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the potatoes have browned slightly. Cool for 5 minutes, then serve!
Tips for Success
These hints and tips will help you make a perfect vegan shepherd's pie:
- Use red or orange sweet potatoes. I love purple and white sweet potatoes, but they are starchier than orange and red varieties, which means they’re not as creamy when whipped.
- Don’t overcook the lentils. If you do, they’ll begin to fall apart, which will give the filling a mushy texture. You want them tender, but still with a little bit of bite to them.
- Make it your own. There’s definitely room to customize this vegan shepherd's pie recipe! Try swapping the quinoa for another grain with a similar cooking time, make the topping out of butternut squash instead of sweet potatoes, add rosemary instead of thyme, or try parsnips instead of carrots for more sweetness.
What To Serve With Vegan Shepherd's Pie
Planning a vegetarian holiday menu? Here are some must-have Thanksgiving side dishes to serve family and friends:
- The Best Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad
- Kale Quinoa Salad with Pomegranate
- Pear and Arugula Salad
- Vegan Cornbread Stuffing
- Green Bean Almondine
How to Store
If you have leftovers, you can store vegan shepherd's pie in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Reheat it in the microwave or a 350ºF oven.
Can I Freeze This Recipe?
You can also freeze the vegan shepherd's pie for up to 3 months. Defrost the dish in the fridge overnight, then reheat in a 350°F oven until warmed through when you're ready to serve.
More Thanksgiving Recipes To Try
- Creamy Chili Roasted Pumpkin Soup
- Easy Quinoa Stuffing
- Roasted Veggie Quinoa Salad with Toasted Spice Vinaigrette
- Maple Roasted Butternut Squash with Pecans
- Roasted Brussels Sprout Quinoa Salad
Vegan Shepherd's Pie
for the sweet potatoes
- 2 lbs sweet potatoes peeled and cut into 1
- 1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
- 2 tablespoons vegan butter
for the filling
- 3/4 cup green/brown lentils
- 1/4 cup quinoa I used rainbow
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth divided
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cups chopped button mushrooms about 1 container
- 1 cup diced white onion about 1/2 a medium
- 1 cup diced celery about 3 stalks
- 1/2 cup chopped carrot about 1 medium
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder optional
- Add the sweet potatoes to a pot and top with water. Bring to a rolling boil then cover and let cook for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, add the lentils and quinoa to a small saucepan. Cover with 2 cups of broth, the fresh thyme and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes until the water has been absorbed.
- When the potatoes are done cooking, drain the water and add in non-dairy milk, butter, salt and pepper. With an electric mixer, whip potatoes until smooth and creamy. Cover and set aside.
- When the lentils are done, preheat the oven to 425ºF and heat the olive oil in a large skillet (or dutch oven) over medium heat.
- Add the mushrooms, onion, celery, carrot and garlic powder to the hot skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cook until veggies are tender, about 10 minutes. Add lentil-quinoa mixture and stir to combine. Stir in balsamic vinegar and 1 cup of broth.
- Whisk the remaining 1/2 cup broth together with the arrowroot powder and in a separate dish. Once smooth, stir into the filling mixture.
- Transfer the lentil mixture to a baking dish (I used a 2 qt, but 9×13 will also work). Smooth with a spatula and top with whipped potatoes. Spread the potatoes out in an even layer and smooth over with a spatula. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 15 – 20 minutes until potatoes have browned slightly.
- Remove and let cool for 5 minutes then serve!