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Melissa Hemsley's 'Shepherdless' pie

This beautifully spiced vegetarian version of Shepherd’s pie uses lentils instead of mince.

If you do want to make this with meat, you can use a mixture of mince and lentils, which makes it cheaper than the classic version as well as reducing the amount of meat needed.

Spiced 'Shepherdless' pie

Serves 4 -6

Prep 15 minutes

Cook 1 hour


1 large onion or leek, chopped

2 tbsp butter or ghee

1 tbsp garam masala

1 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground cinnamon

A pinch of chilli flakes or chilli powder, to taste

2 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 large carrot, finely chopped

2 celery sticks, finely chopped

2 tbsp tomato purée

200g dried Puy, brown or green lentils, rinsed and drained or 2 x 400g tins lentils, drained and rinsed

400g tin of chopped tomatoes

600ml vegetable stock

Sea salt and black pepper


1.3 kg mixed root veg, such as carrots, parsnips, turnips, sweet potatoes, potatoes (no need to peel) or celeriac and swede (which need a peel)

2 tbsp butter


1. Fry the onion in the butter or ghee in a deep pan for 8 minutes while you get on with chopping everything else, stirring from time to time. Add the garam masala, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, chilli flakes or powder, garlic, carrot and celery and cook for a few more minutes.

2. Add the tomato purée, lentils, tinned tomatoes and stock, and let everything simmer with the lid on for 30 minutes until the lentils are tender, then season to taste.

3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to fan 220C/gas mark 9.

4. For the mash: Add the chopped root vegetables to a pan of boiling water with a good pinch of salt. Put the lid on and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender, then drain and pop the vegetables back in the pan to steam dry for a few minutes. Mash by hand (I like it chunky) and season to taste.

5. Transfer the lentil mixture to an ovenproof dish, top with the mash, roughly chop up the butter and scatter it over the top, then bake for 10 minutes. Switch the oven to a hot grill and brown the top for another 5 minutes. Let the pie rest for 10 minutes once it’s out of the oven. Serve with any green vegetables you have available.


If you haven’t got all the spices, you could use 2 tablespoons of curry powder.

Flexi swap - To make a more classic shepherd’s pie, use 250g lamb mince and 100g lentils. After the carrot and celery step, brown the mince for 5 minutes before continuing with the recipe. You could also switch out the stock for bone broth, but whichever you use you’ll only need 250ml as you’re using less lentils.

Feel free to change up the vegetables in your mash or do a mix, all will be delicious and creamy. For example - instead of the root veg mash, you could steam the florets and stalks of 1 large head of cauliflower for about 8 minutes before mashing. Make use of the leaves by chopping them finely and add to the filling with the lentils.

This is a great dish to make in advance for busy weeks and a great dish to freeze - make 2 trays worth and save one for a rainy day.

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