Vegetarian Lentil Bake

This lentil bake has been a family favourite for goodness knows how many years now. Most recently, my 5 year old boy cub declared this to be the ‘most delicious dinner ever‘. Yay!

At this time of year when it is cold outside, this is comforting, warming and all-round wonderful. But that doesn’t stop at the taste – it’s also fantastic to prepare in the morning or even the day before and then quickly heated up just before dinner: which makes it great to feed guests without having to disappear into the kitchen for long periods of time while trying to entertain!

I’ve made this dish with a myriad of different vegetables, and they all worked well. Depending on what is in season, or indeed hiding in your fridge, you can use anything at all, and still this dish never fails!

Successful vegetables used in the past include: leeks, mushrooms, sweetcorn, peppers, peas, carrots, butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, courgette… see? There really are no limits!!

Being the time of year it is though, and having a husband whose list of contraband foods includes mushrooms, peas and courgette, I went with earthy pumpkins and sweet potatoes this time.

Many of our friends have asked me for the recipe before, and ususally were met with the same answer: ‘I just cook it, there is no recipe.’ Which is true – I cook these things as I go along. There is a pattern though and it’s always cooked the same way, so I’ve written down what I put in and how much the last two times and even though the vegetables slightly varied, the rest stayed the same.

Here we have the chopped up vegetables, where I snuck the end of a broccoli head into (which doesn’t feature in the ingredients list, so don’t panic, I just used up something and the amount of pumpkin by weight is same as my pumpkin/broccoli together) As you can also see, this was all chopped rather small so it’s all perfectly bite-sized.

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I’m getting ahead of myself though. The first thing you do, is set the lentils to boil in a small pot. You can use either green or brown lentils. I like to use the brown ones as they keep their shape after they’re cooked as you can see here:

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While the lentils merrily do their thing in their pot, peel and roughly chop the potatoes and boil them in a separate pot. Once boiled, set aside for making the mash. The mash will top this lentil bake and is best when it’s quite firm. I used a little milk and nutmeg to make it and it’s still quite firm.

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I used nutmeg that I grate myself. Hard to give estimates on how much, but I would say roughly 1/4 teaspoon. Best to taste it yourself while making this, to be sure you like it.

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Mmmmhhhh love the smell of fresh nutmeg ❤

While both the lentils and the potatoes were cooking I chopped all the vegetables. In a large frying pan, I then first sauteed the onion/celery/garlic until a little softened, then added all the dried herbs and vegetables. I stirred them up well so everything was coated in the now flavoured oil and let it cook like this for a couple of minutes while stirring constantly.

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Only then did I add the stock to the pan, and as you can see here, the stock will not cover all the vegetables. If it did, you’d be left with much too much sauce at the end. Don’t worry though, your veggies will still cook through perfectly, without being turned into mush. All will keep its shape 🙂

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Then I turned down the heat and let it do it’s thing, stirring it occasionally. While it does it’s thing, I made the above featured mash out of the potatoes, before adding a few more bits and bobs to the vegetables in the pan to make the sauce out of the stock.

Once this was done, the lentils are added and everything mixed through before transferring the whole lot into a large oven-proof dish.

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Then I topped it with mashed potatoes, finished it off with a thin layer of grated cheese and done! Now you could leave this dish until you need it, even overnight (keep it refrigerated after letting it cool down if you are keeping it for the next day) and when you’re ready, bake it in the oven for approximately 30-40 minutes to re-heat it and brown the cheese on the top!

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If you are using it immediately, you could just stick it under a hot grill to brown the cheese as the dish is completely cooked through already.

I was going to have a lovely picture of the finished and out of the oven bake, but… well… we were hungry.

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Oops! This dish fed 4 very hungry adults and 3 hungry children. It normally feeds 2 hungry adults, 4 hungry cubs and we still have leftovers for the next day. It all depends on the appetite, but I’d say it easily feeds 6-8 people. It could also be vegan – simply make the mash with vegan margarine or substitute milk of your choice and use vegan cheese substitute or simply leave the cheese out! 🙂

Vegetarian Lentil Bake (6-8 portions), by cubs’n’coffee

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lentils – boiled in 2 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 750 g potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped – for the mash
  • a little milk and ground nutmeg for the mash
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 350 g pumpkin, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed/finely diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp each of rosemary, thyme, marjoram (all dried)
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp vegemite
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • black pepper, freshly ground

Method:

  1. In a small pot, add 2 cups of cold water to 1 cup of lentils. Bring to the boil and then let simmer on low until all the water has been absorbed and the lentils are cooked. Set lentils aside.
  2. For the mash, boil the peeled and chopped potatoes in water, drain and use a little milk to make a firm mash, season with nutmeg to taste.
  3. While the lentils and potatoes are cooking, chop and prepare the vegetables.
  4. In a large, heavy pan, heat the olive oil, then sauté the celery, onion and garlic for a couple of minutes until softened.
  5. Add the dried herbs and stir for another few seconds to flavour the oil before adding all the vegetables. Stir thoroughly to coat all the vegetables and keep stirring for another couple of minutes.
  6. Add 2 cups of vegetable stock to the pan. The vegetables will not be covered. Turn down the heat to a simmer and let the vegetables cook through, stirring frequently to ensure they all get to be in the stock.
  7. At this point, the lentils should be cooked and ready to be set aside. Same with the potatoes – at this point I usually finish them off to make the mash.
  8. Once the vegetables are softened (this usually takes 10-15 minutes in the pan, depending on how small you cut the veggies), add the soy sauce and vegemite and stir until the vegemite has dissolved. Then add the tomato puree to thicken the sauce; again, stir until the puree has dissovled.
  9. Add the lentils to the pan and mix with the vegetables.
  10. Transfer the lentil-vegetable mix into a large oven-proof dish, cover with the potato mash and sprinkle over the cheese.
  11. Bake in the pre-heated oven (200C) for 30-40 minutes until the cheese has browned and the bake is heated through thoroughly, if you’re re-heating it at a later date. If you are serving this bake immediately, simply grill the cheese on top under a hot grill and serve.
  12. Best served with a crisp salad and a lovely glass of red wine 🙂