Hey e’erbody, it’s been a while! Here’s one of Cass and my go to recipes that I made again the other day. This is an awesome recipe for cold winter nights, it’s a super hardy stick-to-yer-ribs type affair. We learned the recipe for this mushroom gravy in the early days of our zero-waste transition, and it was a really welcome addition to what was then a somewhat bleak culinary landscape XD
ZERO WASTE VEGAN Shepherd’s Pie
Potatoes – A big pot full (if you want to be adventurous you could also mix in some more exotic root vegetables, say rutabagas or turnips?)
Carrots – 4
Bell pepper – 1
Mushrooms – 3 big handsful
Tomotoes (roma) – 4
Spinach – a medium bunch
Peas (if available)
Nutritional yeast – a big handful
Pickle juice – We occasionally splurge on pickles when we figure we can make use of the jar. I just started experimenting with fermenting my own… Stay tuned on that!
Flour – 1/4-1/2 a cup.
Oil (we’re currently able to get either coconut oil or olive oil, either will work)
Salt and Pepper
– soup stock (powder or homemade)
Rough chop the potatoes and get them on first. Put them in a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Cook until nice and soft.
Whilst the potatoes are cooking dice the onion and carrot and get them into a big pot to simmer in just enough water to cover them. Dice the bell pepper and put it in there once the onion and carrot get a little soft.
As the onions/carrots/peppers are softening chop the mushrooms and spinach. Make sure the spinach is washed because when you get it without packaging it often has dirt caked in between the leaves. Get them in once the onions/carrots/peppers are mostly cooked and then add enough water to the pot to keep everything covered (if you’re on top of it here you can use the discarded water from the boiling potatoes, but it’s not totally necessary). Turn that down low enough to simmer gently for a while on its own. Add some of the soup base and a handful of nutritional yeast (henceforth referred to as “Nooch”).
At this point the potatoes should be pretty much cooked. They should be soft enough to break apart easily. Drain them, but set the water aside to use later (either in the previous step when topping up the simmering veggies, or later when we make the gravy). Add some of the potato water back to the potatoes in order to mash them. Also add in a big handful of nooch, a few generous glugs of oil, some garlic or garlic powder, some salt and pepper, and maybe some dill. Mash that with a potato masher or an immersion blender until it’s a uniform consistency without any lumps.
Let’s check in on the veggies… The onions should be soft enough not to squeak when you chew them, the carrots shouldn’t crunch at all. The mushrooms should have coloured the water a nice rich earthy colour and the broth should be pretty mushroom-y. If this is not the case let it keep simmering until it is, maybe another 5-7 minutes or something. Once this is looking like an appetizing not-creamy mushroom soup of sorts, we’re going to thicken it into a gravy such as has never been seen by the eyes of man. Come along now, I’ll tell you how…
Take your flour (say a half cup, more if you’re making a big batch or you like especially gloopy gravy), and mix it with enough oil to make a thick paste. If you’re using coconut oil you’ll need to melt it first. With olive oil you’re good to just mix away, but you won’t need to use much in order to get your paste (this mixture of fat and flour is called a roux, or technically it’s a “buerre blanc” because it’s not cooked, but whatever. We’re not French chefs we’re zero-waste revolutionaries. Basically, the fat coats the flour particles so they don’t make lumps when you mix it into the broth). Use a whisk (or just a fork if you’re a batchelor) and make sure that you’ve worked all of the lumps out of the roux. Once this is done take a ladle and spoon some of the broth into your roux (enough broth to maybe triple the roux in size). Stir this together until it’s smooth, then stir the mixture back into the mushroom/veggie pot. Add some salt and pepper. Put a bunch of dill in there (don’t be shy!), and add a pinch of sage and a pinch or rosemary (seriously, don’t overdo those guys they’re very pervasive flavours). Also add some oil. Taste it! How does it taste? Not rich enough? Add some more oil and some more nooch and maybe some more garlic. Not flavourful enough? Add some more dill, or garlic or a little more sage/rosemary. Or whatever spice you want, really. It’s your shepherd’s pie. It’s probably not quite zingy enough yet, but we’re going to deal with that once the gravy has thickened. This will take 10-15 minutes simmering on low. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon when you dip it in and take it out. It should look like your typical thanksgiving gravy. If it’s not thick enough after 10-15 minutes of simmering stir in some of the mashed potatoes until you get the consistency we’re after. The potatoes will take a few minutes to thicken too. Don’t settle for it being too thin or it’ll go all to heck when you combine everything in the last step. And don’t worry if it takes a while to get the thickness really dialled. The longer you simmer it at this point the more flavours are going to come out and party together, so it’s all good. Patience young grass-hopper.
Once the gravy is thick chop your tomatoes and toss those in there. Stir in a couple of glugs of pickle juice as well. I know, I know… you’re thinking the pickle juice is crazy, but seriously it makes all the difference. Bringing just a hint of zing to balance out the richness and the starch is what takes it to the next level. We add the tomatoes and the pickle juice now because they’re high in acid, and that would prevent the flour from gelatinizing and thickening the gravy.
OK! Set your oven to broil and get it heating to 350, and by this time hopefully your potatoes have cooled a fair bit. You’re going to pour your gravy into the bottom of a baking pan (preferably glass, depending on how much you’ve made and how big your pans are you might need to use two), and then use your hands to make flat discs of potato and gently lay them on top of the gravy. If all goes according to plan the potato will sit right on top of the veggy/gravy mixture. Then stick that in the oven for 7-12 minutes to brown the top of the potato. Once that’s done, it’s time to eat my friends! Or rather… “It’s time to eat, my friends!” Please don’t eat my friends. I need them.