Vegan Sweet Potato and Lentil Shepherd’s Pie
November 17, 2015

Vegan Sweet Potato and Lentil Shepherd's Pie | A hearty, flavorful #vegan and #glutenfree main dish for the holiday season! | The Full Helping

I’m partial to shepherd’s pie. I think it dates back to childhood; my mom and I didn’t eat too many casseroles or bakes when I was growing up, but she was a great fan of shepherd’s pie, and so it was her meal of choice for special occasions or weekend meals. I inherited her love for the dish, though the shepherd’s pie we ate when I was little was very different from the vegan sweet potato and lentil shepherd’s pie that I’m sharing today!

The major difference, of course, is that this is a totally meatless spin on the classic. In place of meat, I use a hearty filling of lentils and mushrooms, which are simmered with onions, garlic, rosemary, and thyme. In place of traditional mashed potatoes, I include a mashed sweet potato topping that’s buttery and rich in spite of being entirely dairy free. For me, the potato layer of shepherd’s pie is what makes the dish, so you’ll see that there’s a pretty even ratio of lentils to potato here. The dish is filling, flavorful, and absolutely perfect for feeding a crowd.

Vegan Sweet Potato and Lentil Shepherd's Pie | A hearty, flavorful #vegan and #glutenfree main dish for the holiday season! | The Full Helping

In other words, it’s perfect for the holidays. So perfect, in fact, that I plan for it to be my own Thanksgiving contribution at a gathering with Steven’s family this year.

As with many holiday centerpiece dishes, this one requires a little bit of time and prep work. I highly recommend spreading the process out over two days, if you can, and preparing the potatoes and cooking the lentils on Day 1. Keep both in the fridge overnight. On Day 2, you can simply create the pie filling by sautéing the lentils with onion, garlic, carrots, celery, and herbs, then pour it into your prepared baking sheet. Cover it with the potatoes, and then it’s ready to go.

Vegan Sweet Potato and Lentil Shepherd's Pie | A hearty, flavorful #vegan and #glutenfree main dish for the holiday season! | The Full Helping

Prepared this way, the dish is actually very manageable. And if you do have to whip it all up in a single day, no worries: it’s a bit of a kitchen project, but each of the steps is very straightforward. Here’s how it all comes together.

Vegan Sweet Potato and Lentil Shepherd's Pie | A hearty, flavorful #vegan and #glutenfree main dish for the holiday season! | The Full Helping

Vegan Sweet Potato and Lentil Shepherd's Pie

Author - Gena Hamshaw
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Yields: 8 servings


For the mashed sweet potato layer:

  • 3 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil melted coconut oil, or Earth Balance

For the lentil layer:

  • 2 1/4 cups brown or green lentils
  • 1 tablespoon olive or grapeseed oil
  • 1 large white or yellow onion diced
  • 2 large shallots minced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 medium sized carrots peeled and diced
  • 2 medium sized stalks of celery diced
  • 10 ounces button or cremini mushrooms sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
  • 1 tablespoon sherry or balsamic vinegar
  • Splash of red wine optional, about 1/4 cup
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs optional, for topping


  • First, make the mashed potatoes. Bring a large pot of water to boil. While it's warming, peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into large cubes (about 1 1/2 inches). When the water is ready, add the sweet potatoes and boil for 15-20 minutes, or until they're very tender when pierced with a fork.
  • Drain the potatoes and add them to a large mixing bowl. Mash roughly with a handheld potato masher, and then add the salt, garlic powder, almond milk, and oil. Mash well, but leave a little texture. Season to taste and set the potatoes aside. You can do this up to three days in advance, storing the mashed potatoes in an airtight container in the fridge until you're ready to use them.
  • Preheat the oven to 350F and lightly oil a 9x13 casserole dish.
  • To cook the lentils, place them in a medium or large saucepan and cover them with 3 inches of water. Bring the water to a boil and reduce it to a simmer, then cover. Simmer the lentils for 20-25 minutes, or until they're tender but still have some chew; I recommend checking them at the 18 minute mark to be sure they don't get mushy. When the lentils are ready, drain them and set them aside. (This can also be done up to 2-3 days in advance.)
  • Heat the olive or grapeseed oil in a very large skillet or saute pan over medium high heat. Add the onions and shallots, along with a pinch of salt. Cook the onions for 5 minutes, or until they're becoming clear. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, or until it's very fragrant. Add the carrots and celery. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often, and then add the mushrooms, thyme, rosemary, sage, and vinegar. Give the mushrooms another generous pinch of salt, and then cook for 7-8 minutes, or until the mushrooms have released all of their juices. Stir in the wine, if using, and allow it to cook off.
  • Add the cooked lentils and broth to the pot. Heat everything and mix it together. Check the lentil mixture for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as needed (I add about a 1/2 teaspoon salt and about 1/4 teaspoon pepper).
  • Remove the lentil/mushroom mixture from heat, and then pour it into your prepared casserole dish. Top it with the sweet potatoes, and then gently use a spatula to spread them out over the lentil mixture. If desired, top it all with 1/3 cup bread crumbs.
  • Bake the shepherd's pie for 40-45 minutes, or until it's crispy on top. Serve.


Leftover pie will keep for up to three days in an airtight container in the fridge.

Vegan Sweet Potato and Lentil Shepherd's Pie | A hearty, flavorful #vegan and #glutenfree main dish for the holiday season! | The Full Helping

In addition to being very delicious and very satisfying, this dish is also very healthy. It boasts a ton of protein from the lentils and mushrooms, as well as iron and fiber. The sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, which may help to support eye health. All things considered, it’s pretty nourishing for a Thanksgiving meal.

I hope that you’ll make it and love it. Having enjoyed the leftovers two evenings in a row, I already suspect that this recipe is going to become a regular holiday and winter celebration dish for me. And, if you prefer a slightly more traditional shepherd’s pie, you can also check out my Food52 version from 2012. It also features lentils as a filling, but the top layer is a white potato and parsnip mash. Different, but also delicious.


I’ll be back on Thursday with another holiday-appropriate recipe — this time a kale and brussels sprout salad that’ll knock your socks off! And on Friday, I’ll check in with a quick roundup of my vegan Thanksgiving picks for the year. Till soon 🙂


Vegan Sweet Potato and Lentil Shepherd's Pie | A hearty, flavorful #vegan and #glutenfree main dish for the holiday season! | The Full Helping

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  1. Hi, would you be able to suggest a lentil alternative – I can’t eat lentils & would love to make one that resembles traditional shepards pie. thank you 🙂

    • Hi Shirley! I think a small legume, such as adzuki beans or black beans, would be good. You could also try a vegan meat, like vegan beefy crumbles, in place of the lentils. I hope you enjoy!

  2. 5 stars
    I made this yesterday and it was amazing! I will certainly be making it in the future.
    Soooooooooooh tasty

  3. Gina, this recipe looks DIVINE! I would love to try it, ASAP, but I can’t eat mushrooms, onion or garlic! Urgh!!! Any substitution suggestions?

  4. 5 stars
    I made this tonight and it turned out extremely nicely – for once, my version looked similar to the pictures in the post! I made this recipe exactly as written, with only one exception (substituted coconut milk for almond milk because that’s what I had on hand). The texture and flavor were excellent. I was expecting this to taste good but look awful, but it actually held together and looks as good as it tastes. Thank you for the recipe!

  5. I have this in the oven as I type this! Was short on sweet potatoes so I cooked and added some red split lentils to the sweet potato mash. Can’t wait to enjoy it!

  6. Can you use coconut milk instead of almond? My daughter is lactose intolerant and is also allergic to almonds. Thanks!

  7. I’m always looking for recipes that I’m ready to share with my nonvegan family during holidays and I’m really excited to share this one. Also, being in college and vegan, finding recipes that are cheap, healthy and flavorful are a challenge so this is definitely one I’ll be holding on to for a long time. Thank you!

  8. 5 stars
    Just made this for my boyfriend and I tonight and it was amazing! I served this with Oh She Glows vegan gravy and it was sooooooooo tasty.
    Thank you for the recipe!

  9. Looks very good. Can it be frozen? My son is vegan, and I cook him couple meals a week, and try to freeze the left overs for quick meals

  10. Hello! Longtime reader here but I’ve never posted a comment, I don’t think. I made this tonight because I had all the ingredients (except mushrooms) and it was delicious! I’m so looking forward to the leftovers. I’ve recently decided to give plant based eating a good effort and this was a sure winner. Yum!

  11. Do you think it would work not to peel the sweet potatoes? My family usually eats the peels (scrubbed well). Thank you!

    • Hey Kristina,

      That’s totally up to your personal preference. If you’re used to keeping the skins intact and you like the texture they give the mash, go for it! My only suggestion would be to use 3 or 3.25 lbs potatoes to compensate for the weight that would be lost after peeling. Enjoy!


  12. Stunning creation! Oh so excited to make this soon… Would black beluga lentils work in place of brown or green? Thank you thank you for the inspiration!

    • You’re so welcome! I hope you enjoy it. The beluga lentils will have a slightly more crumbly texture, but they’ll certainly work fine. I wouldn’t hesitate to swap them if that’s what you have — the pie will just be a little harder to scoop neatly 🙂

      • Thank you Gena! I went ahead with the beluga lentils- I even sprouted them first. I served this yesterday and it was an astounding hit. The contrast of the black lentils against the vibrant orange sweet potatoes was striking. And yes, a bit crumbly in serving but no complaints from anyone on that note. 🙂 Thank you thank you for this, I am excited to make it again! Blessings to you.

  13. This sounds so delicious. It is in face perfect for the holidays. I love this new spin on an old favourite – my dad used to make really great shepherd’s pie. I love the fresh herbs to really heighten the flavours.
    Oh and great tip on spreading it out over 2 days =)

  14. 5 stars
    I’m partial to shepherds pie too. I make mine with mushrooms and a cauliflower mash on top, but your sweet potato topping looks amazing. I’ll definitely be trying a sweet potato topping next time. 🙂

  15. Beautiful dish, Gena! I grew up on my mom’s shepard pie too, the dish carries so many comforting memories for me. I love that you’ve added sweet potatoes here, such a perfect combinations of flavors that everyone will love! Happy weekend to you x

  16. Yes, this looks perfect! We’re projected to get our first snow of the season this weekend so I’ll definitely be craving some comfort food like this.

  17. Looks amazing! I’ve never made Shepherd’s pie with sweet potato, but given how great of a combo sweet potato + lentils are, you can’t really go wrong here!

  18. As a german girl I only had sheperds pie once, long ago in an english pub. It was a vegeterian version and I loved it! Ever since I have promised myself to create a vegan version, but whom am I kidding, I know nothing about sheperds pie. Yours sounds so good anyways, why would I fiddle around with a recipe myself? Can’t wait to try it, it’s so festive!

    • Sonja, I’m sure this might be considered an affront to the original version, but it’s delicious and it’s so hearty! I hope you enjoy it.

  19. Gena, this looks fabulous, and I’m sure I’ll make it or something very much like it over the holidays, although I’m not in charge of the menu this year (which is wonderful!!)–I really love sweet potatoes as a topping on veggie shepherd’s pie, perhaps more than regular potatoes, so this really appeals to me. Thanks for sharing your wonderful version with us. I know Stephen’s family will love it!! xo

    • It’s a relief not to be in charge of the menu sometimes, Maria — glad you get a break this year! And so glad you like the pie. I totally agree about a sweet potato topping; regular potatoes just don’t have as much flavor (which may be why I’ve added parsnips to them in past versions of shepherds pie). Happy happy Thanksgiving, in advance xo

  20. This recipe is both a dream come true for me…as well as a nightmare for my husband. I’ve made it a life goal to get him to enjoy sweet potatoes as well as lentils. Maybe one day!

  21. Mmmmm. I might make this for a Thanksgiving potluck I’m going to this weekend. Haven’t decided what to bring yet, but if time allows, this may be it!