Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie – deconstructed (WHB#156 3rd anniv: thyme)

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summary: Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie recipe; information about thyme for Weekend Herb Blogging; (click on images for larger views and more photos)

Weekend Herb Blogging (WHB) #156
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

vegetarian hash This fantastic dish is vegetarian. But it’s not easy to tell!! We are dedicated meat-eaters but after having the three bean version of the hash, we will never again use ground meat. This bean version of ground meat is too good. Of course, it could be made like regular shepherd’s pie in a casserole with the potatoes on top. But we love separating the “meat” and potatoes.

With T’s spectacular onion gravy, containing thyme and a hint of cocoa powder, it has become one of our favourite dinners.

We love that we have discovered a really delicious Vegetarian dish that has some texture. Who knew that it would be so easy?! While I’m not ready to become entirely vegetarian, at least I can now more easily see my way clear to adhering to Michael Pollan’s (In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto) recommendation to eat mostly vegetables and some meat.

Here’s what T did to make our Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie:

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie – deconstructed
based on our recipe for falafel

“meat” hash

  • ½ c dried garbanzo, kidney and black beans
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • seasalt and pepper
  • crushed chili flakes
  • dried thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ Tbsp water
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
  • vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • corn and peas

onion gravy

  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • seasalt and pepper
  • dried thyme
  • water
  • stock powder (or less water and actual stock)
  • ¼ tsp cocoa powder

mashed potatoes

  • Yukon gold potatoes
  • seasalt and pepper
  • milk
  • butter
  • seasalt and pepper


  1. “meat”: On the evening before, sort, wash and rinse the dried beans well and place in a large bowl. Add plenty of cold water to cover by at least 2 inches. Cover the bowl and allow the beans to soak overnight in a coolish spot.
  2. The next day, remove any floating beans. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  3. Pour the drained, uncooked beans into a food processor. Add 1 Tbsp water. Whirl briefly til the beans are about the size of regular small peas.
  4. Add onion, seasalt, pepper, chili flakes, garlic, thyme, and oil. Process until blended but not puréed.
  5. Add some of the flour, and pulse. Add just enough flour so that dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Put the sludge into a bowl and refrigerate, covered for at least two hours.
  6. Lay a piece of waxed paper on the counter. Divide the mixture into three or four glops. Press and push it with your hands to form three or four patties about 1cm thick.
  7. Heat oil in a frying pan and fry the patties on both sides til they have some colour. Remove from pan and set aside.
  8. Add a little more oil to the frying pan. Add onions and carrots and cook til the onion is soft and almost caramelized.
  9. Break the cooked patties up into smallish pieces and add them to the onion mixture. Cook til browned.
  10. Add peas and corn. Remove from direct heat but keep warm.
  11. onion gravy: Heat oil in another frying pan. Add onions and cook til the onion is caramelized. Add water, thyme, stock powder (use vegetable stock if you are serving vegetarians), pepper, salt and the cocoa powder. Keep on a low simmer.
  12. mashed potatoes: Boil UNpeeled Yukon Gold potatoes til tender. Drain and mash. Add butter, milk, seasalt and pepper and mash a little more.

Serve on heated plates. Of course, you could put the hash into a casserole, place mashed potatoes on top and stick it in the oven to heat. Et, voila! Tastes AND looks like shepherd’s pie! Serve with steamed vegetable of your choice. Defy any meat eaters from identifying that they are NOT eating meat.

Thyme is the essential ingredient here to mimic the flavour of meat. Sage also works well but personally, I think thyme is THE herb to add. Don’t be afraid to use lots.

The hash is delicious at room temperature as well and is perfect to take for lunch if you do not have anywhere to heat something up.

Weekend Herb Blogging (WHB) #156: 3rd anniversary
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

weekend herb blogging - ©kalyns kitchen There’s a reason that thyme was included in the folksong “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”. Thyme is one of those herbs that are essential for just about everything. Fresh thyme is best but thyme is one of the herbs that dries well and still retains much of its original flavour. I always put thyme (fresh if we have it, dried if we don’t) in stock, rub it on chickens for roasting, sprinkle it on chops before grilling them, etc. etc.

(All fresh herbs can be dried but they are invariably better fresh. But if you do want to substitute dried for fresh, 1 Tbsp fresh herb = 1 tsp dried herb.)

I was really surprised to see that I’ve never featured thyme in a WHB post (even though thyme is used in many of the WHB posts and recipes here). For us, thyme is a bit like salt and pepper. It’s almost a given that it will be used in savoury dishes. It seems that I’m not the only one with this notion:

It would be false to say that it is easier to list the dishes thyme is not used in than the ones that it is, but in Western and Middle Eastern cuisine, thyme finds its way into the greater proportion of traditional dishes. This is because thyme’s distinct savory pungency brings an agreeable depth of flavor to soups, stews and casseroles an almost any dish containing meat.

– excerpt from the epicentre: thyme

Thyme has antioxidant properties; adding it to the diet not only adds flavour but it can help to boost one’s health.

Common Cooking Herbs Packed with Antioxidants
[H]erbs in the oregano family had the highest antioxidant activity. […snip…] [O]ther herbs also have antioxidant effects. Among the more familiar, in order, are dill, garden thyme, rosemary and peppermint.

– excerpt from American Cancer Society: Common Cooking Herbs Packed with Antioxidants

Thyme […snip…] can be used fresh at any time of the year, or it can be harvested as it comes into flower and either be distilled for the oil or dried for later use. Thyme has an antioxidant effect, thus regular use of this herb improves the health and longevity of individual body cells and therefore prolongs the life of the body. The essential oil is strongly antiseptic. The whole herb is used in the treatment of digestive disorders, sore throats, fevers etc. The essential oil is one of the most important oils used in aromatherapy.

– excerpt from Thymus vulgaris – Plants for a Future (PFAF) database report (please note that (PFAF) will not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants and stresses that one must always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.)

Thyme is a hardy perennial that loves the sun (will tolerate light partial shade) and well-drained fertile soil. And supposedly, thyme is easy to grow. And I know from visiting other people’s gardens that this is indeed the case.

But according to Plants for a Future, thyme “succeeds in dry soils, poor soils and tolerates drought once it is established [but] dislike[s] wet conditions, especially in the winter”.

Inexplicably (or perhaps not), in our garden, thyme planted in the ground gets eaten by creatures (not sure what kind but I think it’s snails) and thyme planted in pots grows well but does not proliferate (likely, there is not enough sun in our small shady garden). I’ve never managed to get thyme to overwinter outdoors.

Thyme grows easily from seed started indoors about a month before the last frost date; set out a month later, late May in our garden, the herb vecomes a usable bushling by midsummer the first season. Good thing too, because this Mediterranean native […snip…] does not take kindly to a four-month spell under soggy snow and has proved short-lived in our garden. Gardeners on the milder West Coast, however, will have little trouble keeping cooking thyme flourishing all year long.

– excerpt from Harrowsmith Illustrated Book of Herbs by Patrick Lima, who lives in Ontario

Read more about thyme:

Weekend Herb Blogging - 3 years 3 cheers Kalyn’s fabulous weekly event, WHB, is celebrating its third anniversary! Many many thanks to her for continuing the wonderful tradition of celebrating the use of herbs in the kitchen.

As part of the 3rd year anniversary celebrations, Kalyn has asked us to name our favourite herb, vegetable and fruit. After much deliberation, here are my favourites:

The deadline for entering WHB#156 is Sunday 2 November 2008 at 15:00, Utah time (GMT-6). For complete details on how to participate in Weekend Herb Blogging, please see the following:

Please remember that this week’s celebrations are hosted by Kalyn but the new headquarters for Weekend Herb Blogging is Haalo’s lovely blog “Cook (almost) Anything“.


edit 3 November 2008: Kalyn has posted the WHB 3rd anniversary roundup! Take a look at all the wonderful entries (and find out who are the lucky winners of the prizes).

This entry was posted in anniversaries, crossblogging, food & drink, main course, posts with recipes, vegetables, vegetarian, WHB on by .

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5 responses to “Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie – deconstructed (WHB#156 3rd anniv: thyme)

  1. Kalyn

    I’m also trying to eat more vegetables and less meat, and finding that it’s not really that difficult. This dish shows how a veggie option can really be delicious! Love the addition of thyme, which I agree is one of the most versatile herb flavors.

  2. Jeanne

    Cocoa powder in the gravy? Hello, you got my attention! I think if it weren’t for my rabidly carnivorous husband, I’d eat a lot less meat. I’d find seafood harder to give up though… Love the sound of this as I am a huge fan of beans – thanks for the interesting recipe and post.

    I knwo I owe you abotu a million answers to questions you’ve asked in my comments – the only one I can think of right now is that you pronounce my name the French way – like Jeanne d’Arc! Promise I will eventually get round to complete answers!

    In the meantime I’ve tagged you for something fun – have a look:

  3. ejm Post author

    The cocoa powder adds a dark slightly bitter quality that rounds out the sweetness of the onions. You’ve got to try it, Jeanne. (Perhaps our husbands are long lost brothers. Mine is also a rabidly carniverous man – yet he prefers this version of shepherd’s pie to one with meat!) But neither of us is likely to turn vegetarian. As one of my vegetarian friends said when I was apologizing for eating meat in her presence, “there’s a reason that we have these eye teeth and it’s not for splitting open pea pods”.

    Thank you, Dee, do let us know how your Vegetarian shepherd’s pie turns out. I hope you like it as much as we do.

    Susan, I was never a fan of shepherd’s pie either. It was always kind of dry. And meaty. But this version is wonderful!

    Yes, indeed, Kalyn, thyme has to be THE herb to have around at all times – there’s never enough thyme! I didn’t do enough research about sweet dishes using thyme but it has just occurred to me that peaches and thyme might be quite delicious.



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