Reflections on Turning 30, and a Mushroom and Lentil Cottage Pie That's Just Darned Good

4 years ago

Filled with meaty mushrooms, yummy lentils, and topped with a roasted garlic, sweet potato crust, this cottage pie is just as hearty as any meat pie, but so much healthier!

Image: Courtesy of the Suburban Peasant

Last year around this time, I wrote about the imminent arrival of aging with an ode to the passage of our twenties when my husband celebrated his 29th birthday last year. Here we are, a year later and my husband just celebrated his 30th birthday. A big birthday like this makes you reflect on a lot; successes and accomplishments, trials and tribulations, and all those little changes that you never really noticed until those two ugly digits, unwelcome as they are, appear on your birthday cake. Namely, just how out of the “loop” you really are.





It doesn’t matter how young you feel – because in my mind I still feel pretty young – you just can’t compete with the 18- to 20-something-year-olds when it comes to knowing what’s in. Maybe I should restate that, because more often than not, what is “in” really isn’t that good. It’s just that the young ones look at you like you sprung a dozen gray hairs before their very eyes when you tell them you’ve never heard of Swedish House Mafia or know what “fml” means (I had to ask my 17-year-old sister this recently).  Not that SHM (I don’t even know if they go by that acronym, I’m just trying to be cool and make it seem like I know what I’m talking about) isn’t good – I looked them up on YouTube and I’d buy their CD, I mean download their album off iTunes. It’s just that if you don’t like what they like, then you're automatically deemed old and out of it.




I suppose this age group really doesn’t know everything there is to know about the best music, the coolest places to hang out, or what’s fashionable. I mean, the pop charts will tell us that by some sort of magic, the likes of Katy Perry and Kesha, or wait, I mean Ke$ha, reign supreme. Then there’s the penchant of this age group to hang out at places where you can’t walk to the bathroom without some greasy guy grinding up against you, or the belief that short and tight make for the perfect skirt. Now, I don’t want you to think that I am taking on the holier-than-thou stance here, because I have been there and done all of that, trust me. I am just saying, maybe it’s time to acknowledge those days as fond memories and look forward to the many good things the 30s can bring.



Thirty doesn’t have to be so bad; in fact, I’ve decided to carry that badge with pride when I approach this milestone in September. I will be the first of my local girlfriends to turn 30 (I say local because my hometown girls are all turning 30 before me). The way I look at it, things can only get better from here on out. Those awkward 20s are out of the way. Gone are the days where you’re trying to find yourself but still worrying if people like you.  Meeting loser guys and then making yourself sick worrying if he’ll ever call you. I have a great husband and family who support me, friends who respect me regardless of my quirkiness, and a life that I am pretty darn thankful for. So bring it on 30 – I’m ready for you!



The little recipe I have here for you today is an example of the kind of meals I love eating when it’s cool, damp, and yucky outside. It has that hearty, comfort food feeling that often only high-fat meals will give you, but without the guilt. It’s a lovely vegetarian dish, filled with healthy, fiber-rich lentils, meaty cremini mushrooms, and my favourite superfood: sweet potatoes! I love this meal because it’s just as satisfying as a shepherd’s pie but so much healthier, not only because you’ve cut out so many calories by taking out the meat, but you’re replacing it with nutrient-rich food. You’re probably thinking, "Was Ana kidnapped by aliens and replaced by a health-conscious hippie?" I know, I am usually about the indulgent, traditional recipes but even I know you can’t eat like that all the time. (I did sneak in some butter and cheese, though, just so you remember where you found this recipe.) So here is a dish to add to your Meatless Monday repertoire that is both seasonal, comforting, and just plain good. Period.


Flashback to last year:  Red Lentil and Chorizo Soup

Mushroom and Lentil Cottage Pie

I had planned to call this recipe “Mushroom and Lentil Pot Pie” but then thought, “Isn’t a pot pie made with a pastry crust?”  So I did a little research and looked up “pies with a mashed potato crust” and just I suspected, these are not pot pies, but cottage pies – in case you’re wondering. ; )

For this recipe that I photographed, I used a mixture of sweet potatoes and Yukon gold (I didn’t have enough sweet potatoes to top the entire pie). I have also made it with just sweet potatoes and solely regular potatoes as well. Each way is delicious, so prepare it anyway you and your family will enjoy it.

For the mushrooms, any variety will do. If you’re going for a simple but still very tasty dish go with the cremini over button, they have more flavour. If you want to take it up a notch, add in some shiitake or oyster mushrooms, as well as some dried varieties, such as porcini. The possibilities are endless. Just be sure to soak the dried mushrooms in hot water to rehydrate before using.

The addition of little cubes of cheese that melt during baking is optional, but soooo tasty. I used a specialty local goat cheddar by Jensen that I purchased from my butcher, VG Meats. If you live in the Hamilton area, go to VG and buy it, or look for it in your specialty shops – it’s fantastic!  It has all the flavour of chèvre but the texture of a cheddar. It melts beautifully in the cottage pie and lends another level of earthy richness to this dish. If you can’t get your hands on this then a sharp cheddar or Gruyère would be very nice.  Whatever you choose, pick something that packs a punch!

Adapted by Mushroom Parmentier, by Laura Calder

Serves 4 to 6

3 pounds sweet potatoes (or a mixture of sweet potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes)

4 cloves garlic, peeled and kept whole

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons sour cream

1/4 to 1/2 cup milk (depends on how creamy you like your mashed potatoes)

1/2 cup cubed cheese, I used goat cheddar (optional)

1 cup brown lentils, rinsed

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 pounds cremini mushrooms, cleaned and quartered (or assorted fresh mushrooms of your choice)

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup stock or water (if you are using dried mushrooms, use the soaking liquid)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)

Peel and quarter your potatoes and boil until fork-tender, along with the 4 cloves of garlic (this will give you the roasted garlic flavour in your mashed potato topping, without having to take the extra step and roasting it in the oven). Drain and mash until creamy, with the butter, sour cream and milk (or however you like to make your mashed potatoes). Season generously with salt and stir in the cubed cheese. Set aside while you prepare your filling.

Cook the lentils in 2 cups of water until tender. Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large pan, melt the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes without stirring. You want to brown the mushrooms.  After 3 minutes, toss and cook for another 3 minutes without disturbing. Continue cooking until all of the moisture has evaporated. Add the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant.  Pour in the wine and reduce until about 1 tablespoon remains, then add in the stock.  Bring to a simmer. In a small bowl, knead the flour and butter into a thick paste, until the flour is fully incorporated into the butter Add in little bits of the paste to thicken the sauce.  Add as much or as little as you like.  If you find that the sauce has become too thick, loosen it with the addition of a little water. Toss in the lentils and season with salt and pepper.

Pour the filling into an ovenproof dish and top with the mashed potatoes. Smooth out the top and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano if you like. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden and you can see the filling bubbling up the sides. Serve warm.

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