Last week, despite my jetlag from Jackson Hole, I spent my Monday preparing vegetarian shepherd’s pie and playing hostess. Usually, the idea of getting friends together over good food is enough to motivate me beyond the worst post-wedding weekend fatigue. And this gathering was extra energizing in that the occasion was not just that I had 10 types of casseroles to test that day, but to raise money for a good cause.
A few months ago I was asked to help spread the word about Lauren Bush Lauren’s new FEED Supper initiative. Over the course of one month, leading up to World Food Day on October 16th, the initiative is trying to raise money for 1 million meals. Instead of a series of big benefit galas, the power of FEED Supper lies in community gatherings for good. To participate, all you have to do is host a dinner. Instead of bringing a bottle of wine, ask guests to give $11 to FEED, which amounts to 10 meals donated. The math is easy and empowering—with just a table of 7 girls (and a few other generous no shows), we were able to raise nearly 4,000 meals.
I had been looking forward to the dinner for weeks and wanted to design a menu that was easy to transport, since my friend Sophie volunteered her beautiful terrace as the venue (which is a lot more worthy of the price of admission than my coffee table). I also wanted to choose a main course that was affordable for people to replicate as hosts, leaving more money in the budget for donating meals or feeding additional guests.
I consider myself incredibly fortunate that hunger and food insecurity was not a reality of my childhood. In the spirit of sharing some of the pleasures and comforts from my mother’s table, I decided to do a vegetarian shepherd’s pie with lentils and mushrooms as the filling. Not only is it incredibly cheap to make (just ask the Irish peasants of yore), but you can easily prepare the dish start to finish a few days in advance.
I tested out this version prior to the event and then did a little creative spin the night of with a semi-sweet potato mash as the topping (another childhood favorite). For the meat eaters, I threw together some gluten-free meatballs and a radicchio salad with bacon vinaigrette. Stay tuned for those recipes.
We set up the buffet table inside with some of the craft paper placemats and conversation starters in the FEED Supper kit, and left the rest of the FEED flair for our outside seating in the garden. Best of all, I got my very own West Elm FEED denim apron to make me look like an official host, and ensure that I didn’t get shepherd’s pie all over my dress as I shoveled it towards my face.
If you’re thinking of getting some friends together over a meal, consider making your dinner into a FEED Supper! Let me know if you do by leaving a message in the comments and I’ll help spread the word about your meal. I promise that giving back in this way is 10 times more energizing and rewarding than 100 sugar packed slices of this eaten alone in front of the couch. To add to my FEED campaign, no spatula necessary, hop over here.
Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie with Lentils and Mushrooms
- Extra virgin olive oil
- ½ pound cremini mushrooms stems removed and diced
- Sea salt
- 1 medium yellow onion diced
- 2 medium carrots peeled and diced
- 1 large leek halved and thinly sliced
- 2 large cloves garlic minced
- ½ teaspoon red chili flakes
- 1 cup dried lentils soaked in water overnight
- One 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 quart vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 2 pounds russet potatoes peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Saute the mushrooms over medium-high heat until they’ve browned and released their liquid, 3 minutes. Season with salt and remove to a bowl.
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan along with the onion, carrots, and leeks and sauté until soft, 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and chili flakes and cook one minute more. Fold in the lentils, tomatoes, cider vinegar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are soft, 7 minutes. Pour in enough stock to just submerge the lentils (about 2 cups, depending on the size of your pan). Bring to a boil, then simmer on medium-low, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes, until the lentils are al dente, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a medium stockpot and cover with cold water by 2 inches. Season generously with salt and bring to a boil. Simmer the potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and return to the pot. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and ¼ cup of stock. Mash until the potatoes are smooth and fluffy, adding more stock as necessary to thin them to the desired consistency. Set aside while the lentils are finishing up.
When the lentils are cooked, fold in the mushrooms and taste for seasoning. Transfer to individual ramekins or a medium (8 x 8 or comparable) casserole dish. Top with the potatoes.
Cook under the broiler for 2 minutes to reheat and/or get a nice crust, or simply serve right away.
If you don’t presoak your lentils for at least a few hours it may take longer for them to cook than the recipe indicates. You may also therefore need to add more stock or water! If you’re using an ovenproof skillet, no need to transfer the lentils to a casserole or ramekins. Simply top with the potatoes!