Shepherdess Pie with Champ and a Cornmeal Crust (Vegan)


I’ve no idea how some bloggers make their food look so good, especially if said food involves squidgy layers of brown lentils and mushed vegetables like this Shepherdess PIe does. Not that I’m making any sort of case against squidgy brown food, squidgy brown food is often the best kind (after all isn’t gravy brown – I just don’t trust gravy that hasn’t been Bistoed into a ubiquitous brown ooze), It just isn’t terribly photogenic. Well, not unless you happen to have tiny magic pixies living in your camera anyway, or at least that’s my theory!

Still, I do try to add a little colour to this dish in the form of fresh chopped spring onions running through the mash (known as ‘champ’ to the Irish) and a deep golden crust of dusted cornmeal and paprika.

I’m sure every veggie has their own version of lentil shepherds pie; it’s a British vegetarian classic, maybe even theΒ classic British vegetarian dish. And while I can’t promise that this is “the best ever” or in any way definitive, we love it! Served simply with garlicky greens and gravy (I usually cheat and use bought Onion Gravy Granules, Shhh..) it’s a big warm woolly-jumpered cuddle of a meal.

I probably don’t need to mention that this dish is about as frugal as it gets, making great use as it does of the humble spud and of equally unpretentious lentils.

If you have any personal twists or tricks for making a great lentil shepherdess pie by the way, please share!

This recipe happily feeds six people with an appetite.

Shepherdess Pie with Champ and a Cornmeal Crust (Vegan)


  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 sticks of celery, sliced
  • 1 – 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 8 oz / 250 g whole lentils (brown, green or speckled – just not the red split variety)
  • 1 & 1/2 pints / 900 ml boiling water
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp yeast extract, Vegemite or Vecon
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary or 2 tsp dried
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp brown sauce
  • 2 & 1/2 lbs / 1 kg potatoes
  • a bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
  • 2 oz dairy-free margarine (and a little extra to dot over the top of the mash)
  • A splash of non-dairy milk to let down the mash
  • 2 tsp course cornmeal / polenta
  • 1 tsp paprika


  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan and add the chopped onion. Once softened add the sliced carrots and celery and continue to saute for a few more minutes.
  2. Add the lentils, water, black pepper, tinned tomatoes, rosemary and brown sauce.
  3. Bring to boil, lower the heat, put on lid, and simmer for about 45 minutes or til most of the liquid is absorbed and the lentils are tender. Remove the rosemary stalks and tip into an ovenproof dish.
  4. While the lentils are cooking peel and chop the potatoes. Add to a large pan with plenty of boiling water, bring back to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked through and soft when pierced with a knife.
  5. Strain the potatoes and mash them well with the spring onions, margarine and a splash of non-dairy milk.
  6. Spoon the champ over the lentils and fork the surface.Β Sprinkle the paprika and cornmeal evenly over the mash, add a sprinkle of salt then dot the surface with a few teaspoons of dairy-free margarine.
  7. bake at 190C for 30 – 40 minutes, until the centre is piping hot.

28 thoughts on “Shepherdess Pie with Champ and a Cornmeal Crust (Vegan)

    • It goes great in lentils! I was trying to think of something with the savoury kick of worcestershire sauce, but without the anchovies. I reckon jerk sauce would be good too.

  1. Looks amazing! I love a huge dollop of sweet chilli sauce alongside my shepherdess pie – a slightly unusual but delicious accompaniment

    • Thankyou! Mmm, can’t beat a bit of chilli. We get Encona and put it on almost everything πŸ˜€

  2. This looks delicious, I love the touch of a crunchy top on there. You pictures are also very colourful, never has a beige lentil shone so brightly. Peace, lee

    • That’s very kind πŸ™‚ I probably shouldn’t be comparing to those professional looking blogs, there’s some seriously slick looking food photography out there :-/

  3. This looks lovely. I like the idea of the cornmeal crust. I can’t believe you have revealed the secret of adding brown sauce (this was my secret ingredient in making a good shepardess pie)! I also sometimes add tomato sauce but don’t tell anyone…

    • >in hushed tones< Don't worry I won't tell.. Bottled sauces are so useful in veggie food, I use them all the time in stuff.

  4. I think you’ve made it look really nice! How do you do your photography?

    And I love the idea of using champ to top it instead of plain potatoes!



    • Taking pics of food is a lot more tricky than I imagined, I’m in awe of some of the images that people produce out there! As for me, I use a DSLR with a zoom and take a whole bunch of quick snaps from slightly different angles etc. most of which are complete duds. The ones I like I then cheat edit on iPhoto – which means cropping the image to edit out peripheral detritus and brightening if necessary as my kitchen’s really dark. Regarding champ I’d have it everyday instead of ordinary spuds!

  5. Hmmm, I have a decent camera and use photoshop, but somehow it just doesn’t come out nicely! I think it’s party because I actually eat all the food I cook pretty quickly, so I don’t have the patience to stand around taking photos before dinner!

  6. I’ve convinced the carnivore to try this. πŸ˜€ Oh yes, now I just have to buy the lentils you say brown, green or speckled but do you have a preference, I’m thinking the brown ones. This will be my first attempt at trying out the lentils, but it looks so yummy I want to give it a go.

    • I usually use the plain brown ones myself. Here’s hoping the carnivore approves >pulls nervous face< πŸ˜€ If in doubt you could bung some grated cheese on top..

      • Does vegan parmesan not taste like normal cheese? I probably will be doing this. His only stipulation was the mash without the spring onion. But I don’t think that is a terrible compromise. Thanks for your help, I’ll try the brown. πŸ™‚

  7. This is a very interesting idea! So interesting that it went on my menu of things to cook. I am not a vegetarian but I am always looking for vegetarian dishes, to keep the veggie/meat ratio in our household in favor of the veggies side. Lentils are one way to do it and this is a great alternative to a shepherd’s pie that makes its way to our table now and then with a side of salad.
    Thanks for stopping by on our blog πŸ™‚

  8. I run into the photo problem all the time. Such a challenge to make dishes composed completely of whole foods/grains looking as appealing as a big juicy steak with butter-glazed, cheese covered potatoes ;).

    • You do a nice job with it though – but yes indeed, wholegrains do have this overwhelmingly brown effect! Even if you get a decent bit of light..

    • Yeah, my bf loves a cheesy breadcrumb topping on baked gratins and other savoury dishes, so I had to find a vegan way of getting a similar result and it works pretty well!

  9. I feel the same way about my photos! So much of what I make just ends up looking like badly-lit paste.
    And here’s a question for you (forgive my American ignorance): What on earth is “brown sauce”? Soy sauce, hoisin, barbecue? All of those are brown…

    • Hi Penny, Brown Sauce must be a UK thing, it looks brown and that’s it’s name – not too imaginative! It’s been around forever over here and is a thick goopy tangy sauce, made with vinegar, dates, tamarind and spices. It’s often eaten with rich meaty foods like sausages. Jerk sauce is possibly close or you could use BBQ instead πŸ™‚

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