So, you don’t know what a cottage pie is? I didn’t either, but now that I do, I don’t want to live in a world without it.
My dad has always been what one would call a meat and potatoes kind of guy; preferring that every meal to contain meat in one form or another. When meat’s missing from his dinner or lunch he says, “You know what would make this really great? Some (insert your choice of meat here)!” It drives me crazy.
Being his daughter, I grew up with chicken or ground beef in my dinner almost every night, so it astounds him that his only daughter could be a vegetarian (most recently turned pescatarian because of the goodness that is bagels and lox), simply because I don’t like the taste of meat.
The first time I made this mushroom and leek cottage pie, my dad was dumbfounded. He couldn’t believe it was vegetarian, “I can’t even tell there’s no meat in this!” When he uttered these words, I know it sounds dramatic, but I was shocked. I’d never gotten a response like that from him when I’d cooked dinner in the past.
Since then, I’ve been scouring the internet for ways to get that meat-like sensation into foods to make my cooking more appealing to meat-lovers. The secret, I’ve found, is mushrooms. LOTS and LOTS of mushrooms.
Mushrooms have this meat-like taste because, like meats and broths, they have a strong umami flavor. Umami is a Japanese word which translates to “pleasant savory taste.” So long story short, if you want to make vegetarian food that your non-vegetarian friends and family will love, the key is to throw in all the mushrooms you can to whatever you’re making. Oh, and soy sauce and tomatoes too.
Soy sauce and tomatoes are two more of those sneaky, ninja vegetarian foods that pack a killer punch in the umami department. So that’s just a thought for all you people out there, mushrooms, soy sauce and tomatoes.
Now back to the real star of the show, the mushroom and leek cottage pie. A cottage pie (sometimes called a Shepherd’s pie and even more rarely called a hachis parmentier, thanks Wikipedia) is usually made with a ground meat of some kind that is cooked in a sauce with onions, smothered with a layer of yummy mashed potatoes on top, and then thrown in the oven to bake. It’s a very wintery and comforting kind of dish that makes you feel all warm and cozy on the inside.
The recipe I use substitutes out the ground meat for creamy mushrooms and leeks. While there’s no meat, this pie still has a rich, thick sauce, with a nice carroty crunch. The garlic mashed potatoes dolloped on top are by far the best thing about this pie. I personally don’t like big lumps in my mashed potatoes. I prefer a nice, smooth mash, but the consistency of your mashed potatoes is entirely up to you, no potato police here.
Once the pie’s in the oven, the top of the potatoes will crisp up giving you a little bit of a crunchy texture to combat the softness of the mushroom and leek mixture below.
I found this recipe on the New York Times Cooking website and made a couple of tweaks to it by adding in some carrots for crunch, lots of garlic to the mashed potatoes and some spice for a little extra kick. It’s a really easy dinner to throw together; who doesn’t love some mashed potatoes?!
Here’s the Mushroom and Leek Cottage Pie recipe: