Shepherd’s Pie with Chard-Lentil Filling

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Recipe by Kim O’Donnel

My family has shifted to mostly vegetarian in the past couple of years. This has meant something new for us: meatless holiday dinners.  The key to this recipe is a great technique: braising lentils in red wine. This step adds a certain “meatiness” to the dish. Since I first made this dish, I now routinely braise lentils in wine for other dishes, too. Last year, we had the extended family for dinner last year, a group that includes omnivores. So I made two versions of this dish, one with red meat and the other with the lentils. Hands down, I preferred this version.

This looks long, but you can make the mashed potatoes and the lentils a day ahead and just assemble and bake before dinner. This pairs well with with a red with some bite, such as a Syrah or Zinfandel. It’s always great to drink the same wine with dinner that you used in the recipe. Makes about 6 servings.

1 cup wine-braised lentils (details below)
11/2 cups onion gravy (details below)

for the topping and the chard
2 pounds medium-size potatoes (4 to 5 potatoes; my favorites are Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn), washed, trimmed/peeled as needed, and cut into quarters

2 teaspoons salt
3 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
5 tablespoons olive oil
Ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups chard (from 1 bunch), washed, stemmed, and chopped finely into “ribbons”
1 clove garlic, chopped roughly
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Here’s what you do:
Grease a 9-inch pie plate. Fill a medium-size saucepan with 4 cups of water, and add the potatoes and salt. The water should just barely cover the potatoes. This is important.

Cover and bring to a boil. Add the whole garlic. Return the lid and cook until fork tender, about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer the potatoes and garlic to a large mixing bowl and mash with a hand masher. Stir in the reserved cooking liquid as necessary to moisten the potatoes. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and stir in vigorously with a wooden spoon. Taste for salt, pepper, and texture and season and stir accordingly; mashed potatoes should be smooth and well seasoned.

In a large skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat and cook the chard with the chopped garlic, until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes, regularly tossing with tongs to cook evenly. Stir in the nutmeg and season with more salt to taste, if needed. Transfer to a medium-size bowl.

Portion out 1 cup of the lentils (the rest is cook’s treat) and stir into the chard until well combined.

Assemble the pie: Transfer the chard mixture to the greased pie plate. Top with the mashed potatoes, and with a rubber spatula, smooth the mash so that it’s evenly distributed and completely covers the surface. Top off with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Place the dish in the oven and heat through, 20 to 25 minutes. During the final 2 minutes of cooking, set the oven to the broil setting to brown the cheesy-mashed top.

Remove from the oven, slice into wedges, and eat hot with a ladleful of onion gravy.

Wine-Braised Lentils
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/4 cup carrot, peeled and diced
1 sprig fresh thyme, or
1/2 teaspoon dried
1/2 cup dried brown or green lentils, rinsed (the smaller French lentilles du Puy, with a more refined texture, are my preference, but they’re not always available. Use what you can find in your local market.)
2 tablespoons red wine you enjoy drinking
3/4 to 1 cup water
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

Here’s what you do:
In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion, carrot, and thyme. Cook for about 5 minutes, until slightly softened. Add the lentils and stir to coat. Add the red wine (if using) and bring to a lively simmer. The wine will reduce a bit. Add 3/4 cup of thewater, return to a lively simmer, then lower the heat, cover and cook until fork tender, about 40 minutes. Check and add a little extra water if need be, to keep the lentils from drying out completely. Stir in ¼ teaspoon of the salt, taste, and add the remaining salt, if needed.

Makes 11/2 cups. If you love these lentils, amounts may be doubled for a big pot that will keep for days and pair up seamlessly with your favorite grain.

Onion Gravy
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups onions, sliced thinly into half-moons
1 or 2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce

Here’s what you do:
In a deep skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add the onions and thyme. With tongs, toss to coat the onions with the butter and cook over medium-low heat, until softened, reduced, and jamlike, about 25 minutes.

Add the balsamic vinegar, stir, and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Add the water and bring to a lively simmer. Reduce by half, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook for an additional 5 minutes; the gravy will continue to reduce. Stir in the salt and sugar, and taste. Finish off with the soy sauce.

Turn off the heat, cover, and gently reheat at a simmer, just before serving with pie. Makes approximately 11/2 cups

Who Wrote This Recipe
Kim O’Donnel is a trained cook, food journalist and cooking instructor. She trained at the Institute for Culinary Education in New York City and earned an English degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She was the creator of What’s Cooking, an interactive weekly chat on The Washington Post’s web site. She shifted her life to the author world. This recipe appeared in her first book, The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook. Her most recent book, The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations.  

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.


  1. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and really enjoy it, along with your books.


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