This Vegan Shepherd’s Pie (or Vegan Cottage Pie) is true comfort food for fall and for winter with rainbow carrots, zucchini (courgette) and eggplant (aubergine) topped with creamy vegan mashed potatoes. If you are looking for a Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie recipe for Thanksgiving or for Christmas with a light veggie stew filling (no lentils, no grains, no soy, and no nuts), this is the one to check out.
It is a classic fall/winter comfort food. When it is grey, wet and cold outside, all you need is a warm, filling and homemade meal such as a steaming bowl of hearty Vegan Jackfruit Beef Stew, or a rich and warm Vegan Bean Chili, or a plateful of veggie-loaded Vegan Pot Pie. But for me, winter also means lots of baking. I love it when my house smells cinnamon while I am making Apple Crisp Pie or Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingerbread Pie Crust.
What is Shepherd’s Pie?
Originally, it is a meat-based pie with a mashed potato topping. They call it Shepherd’s Pie if the meat in it is lamb, but Cottage Pie if the meat is minced beef.
We first ate Shepherd’s Pie when we were living in the UK. It was ages ago, but definitely way before we discovered the benefits of plant-based eating. I don’t think that we tried the traditional one, as we have never been very keen on the lamb. So, I believe it was rather a Cottage Pie with minced beef, which we ate back then. This dish became quite popular in our kitchen for several reasons:
- First, easy to make.
- Second, great for batch cooking.
- Last but not least, we love the flavor that thyme brings to this dish. My wife firmly believes that the main ingredient of any version of Shepherd’s Pie or Cottage Pie vegan, vegetarian or meat-based should be thyme.
Ingredients for the veggie stew
In this recipe, we opted for a light veggie-packed filling without any legumes, grains, soy or nuts. So the ingredients are the following:
- zucchini (courgette)
- eggplant (aubergine)
- rainbow carrots (yellow, orange and purple)
- tomato paste
- vegetable stock
- fresh thyme
- bay leaves
What else can you add?
I would happily add mushroom, or any of the root vegetables (parsnip, rutabaga, celeriac). You can certainly add legumes like peas, kidney beans, lentils or sweet corn to make the stew loaded with extra protein.
I wouldn’t add potatoes or sweet potatoes as you will have them as a topping. I also would stay away from broccoli or cauliflower or leafy greens. They just don’t scream shepherd’s pie to me.
Vegan ground beef substitutes
As the classic Shepherd’s Pie relies heavily on ground beef, you can also find great vegan substitutes you can use.
- TVP* (textured vegetable protein) – This is the closest you can get to the real ground meat texture and taste without the fatty and greasy part is if you choose TVP. You can see them in our Vegan Moussaka recipe or check out our guide titled “What is TVP?” if you want to know more. It is simple to prepare and add.
- Walnut and cauliflower mince – It is another plant-based alternative. We use them as vegan ground beef in our Vegan Spaghetti Bolognese recipe. Cauliflower gives the minced texture, while walnut adds some meaty richness aka protein boost. This combination is also a yummy whole-foods plant-based option, but the mince is a bit smaller and less convincing in texture.
- Tofu crumbles
- Store-bought vegan crumbles
How to make Vegan Shepherd’s Pie?
Prepare the vegetables
- Wash, peel and dice carrots and eggplant. We always peel eggplant as its skin can be bitter. See for more info in our Guide to Cooking with Eggplants.
- Wash and dice zucchini (no need to peel them if it is young so its skin is thin).
- Peel and chop onions and garlic.
Cook the veggie stew filling
- Heat a stockpot or a Dutch oven to medium heat and add olive oil.
- Sauté chopped onion for 1-2 minutes, then add the chopped garlic and cook for a few seconds.
- Add diced carrots. Stir and cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Add diced eggplant and season with salt, black pepper, and thyme. Stir well and cook for a few minutes.
- The last veggie to add is diced zucchini and the bay leaves, as zucchini needs a shorter time to be ready. Stir well and cook for a few minutes.
- Add tomato paste and mix it well before pouring in the vegetable broth. I usually only add half of it first, and the other half only when the excess water is evaporated.
- Bring to boil and then simmer on medium heat until veggies are tender. It already smells amazing. Check the carrots as they will need the longest to soften. If they are soft, all the other veggies are good as well. See how nice and thick this rich veggie stew turns out in the below picture.
Stockpot vs Dutch Oven
We made this recipe several times both in a stockpot and in the Dutch oven. Both of them makes delicious veggie stew.
The Dutch oven is made of thick cast iron so it distributes and keeps the heat more evenly. And due to its enamel coating, it is more unlikely that anything is sticking to the bottom or burning down. While the stockpot is usually made of stainless steel or aluminium thus it is thinner. Therefore, you need to watch the heat more carefully.
Two things to pay attention to if you are making this recipe in a stockpot are
- do not let the liquid evaporate and
- stir more frequently.
How to make vegan mashed potatoes?
- Peel and dice potatoes and cook them in boiling water until tender.
- When the potatoes are soft, drain the water and transfer the cooked potatoes into a large bowl.
- Add a bit of vegan butter and milk (we usually use our unsweetened homemade cashew milk).
- To mash the potatoes we use a hand mixer. In this way, you will get a very smooth almost foamy texture at the end. If you prefer oil-free mashed potatoes, use the potatoes’ cooking water instead of butter. More top tips here on how to make vegan mashed potatoes.
If you would like to turn your vegan mashed potatoes up a notch, make our Vegan Mashed Potatoes with Celery Root instead. Your guests will never guess why your mashed potatoes have more flavor than their usual version.
Top tips to make it perfect every time
- Chop vegetables evenly – We added carrots first as they need the most time to be cooked, then zucchini and eggplant.
- Cook the veggies until soft – Contrary to Vegan Pot Pies, where you shouldn’t cook veggies until they are soft as pot pies need time in the oven to get the top crust baked. However, with Shepherd’s Pie, we recommend cooking the veggies until they are soft and only broil the top of the mashed potatoes in the oven.
- Thickening the stew – You can evaporate the excess water if you cook them longer. However, if you feel that your stew has too much liquid, you can thicken it starting with one Tablespoon of flour or starch and repeat if needed. It can happen if the zucchini releases a lot of water or you add other veggies that behave similarly like mushrooms.
How to layer a Vegan Shepherd’s Pie?
To layer your Veggie Shepherd’s Pie, first, take 4 mini ramekins or alternatively a large oven-safe glass baking dish*or casserole dish if you want to make it in one batch. We prefer to use a glass pot as in this way we get to see exactly how the stew is doing in the oven.
- The bottom layer should be the veggie stew.
- The top layer should be the creamy mashed potatoes.
- To make it even more decadent, you can add an extra layer by sprinkling it with some shredded non-dairy cheese before popping it in the oven.
Take your ramekins or large oven-safe dish and fill them with the boiling veggie stew leaving 1 inch (1-2 cm) empty. Make sure to add from the liquid sauce not only the veggies. Cover them with vegan mashed potatoes and bake them in a pre-heated oven or broiler of 400 Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius) for 15 minutes.
As everything is already cooked and ready to eat. You don’t need much time to bake this Meatless Shepherd’s Pie in the oven. It just needs to get a nice light brown color on top and the stew should be a little bit of bubbling up around the sides.
What to serve with it?
The best to serve this Vegan Shepherd’s Pie is right out of the oven. But don’t be mistaken here, it also makes glorious leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Your future self will thank you for it.
As Shepherds Pie is topped with mashed potatoes, we can call it a one-pot meal. You might not even need any other side dish than mashed potatoes and that is totally fine. However, along with the principle of eating the rainbow, let us introduce you to some other side dishes that would pair well with this Vegan Shepherd’s Pie. Wouldn’t they be lovely on your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner table next to it?
- Roasted Asparagus and Mushrooms
- Sauteed Mushrooms in Soy Sauce Glaze
- Sauteed Carrots in Maple Thyme Glaze
- Shredded Brussels Sprouts, Kale and Apple Salad over at Emily’s (This Healthy Table),
If we make Vegan Shepherd’s Pie during a weeknight, we pair it with one of 30 Deliciously Creamy Vegan Soups for example:
- Creamy Spinach Soup
- Creamy Cauliflower Soup
- Simple Hokkaido Pumpkin Soup
- Roasted Broccoli Sweet Potato Soup
- Vegan Cream of Mushroom Soup
FAQs and substitutions
No, the traditional Shepherd’s Pie recipe has ground beef and the mashed potatoes on top is likely made of dairy products.
Yukon and Russet potatoes are the ones that are used the most.
To make a cottage pie vegan, you need to leave out the ground beef or substitute it with a vegan alternative, like TVP (textured vegetable protein), lentils or other legumes, crumbles tofu, or walnut-mushroom-cauliflower mince.
Yes. It is a perfect recipe for batch cooking. It keeps well in the fridge and also perfect after you reheat it.
Cover it with a wrap and keep it in the fridge for 3-4 days. I don’t like to freeze mashed potatoes though as after they thaw the consistency and the texture alters a bit to my taste.
This Vegan Shepherd’s Pie recipe is meat-free, dairy-free and egg-free. It is also suitable for vegan, vegetarian, nut-free and gluten-free diets. It can also be WFPB-friendly (whole foods plant-based) if you cook the onion and the garlic in water or in veggie broth.
More vegan dinner recipes
- Vegan Spaghetti Bolognese
- Vegan Lentil Loaf
- Vegan Mushroom Risotto
- Vegan Cabbage Lasagna
- Vegan Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
Vegan Shepherd’s Pie or Vegan Cottage Pie
Vegan Shepherd's Pie Veggie Stew Filling
Cooking Veggie Stew Filling
- Peel, then chop onion and garlic into fine pieces. Peel, then dice carrots and eggplant into smaller cubes. Dice zucchini with skin on, also into smaller cubes.
- Preheat the frying pan to medium heat and fry onion and garlic first. Once it's sauteed, add diced carrots. Stir well and cook for a few minutes.
- Add diced eggplant and season with salt, pepper, and thyme. Stir well and cook for a few minutes.
- Add diced zucchini and bay leaves at last, as zucchini needs a shorter time to be ready. Stir well and cook for a few minutes.
- Add tomato paste and mix it well before pouring in the vegetable stock. I usually only add half of the stock. I only add the other half when the excess water evaporated.
- Cook until all vegetables are soft. When ready, take them off the heat.
Vegan Mashed Potatoes
- Peel and dice potatoes. Cooked them in salted water until soft. The smaller you dice the potatoes, the faster they will be ready.
- When the potatoes are soft, drain the water and transfer the cooked potatoes into a large bowl. (Reserve cooking water if you want to make oil-free mashed potatoes.)
- Add dairy-free butter and milk (we used our homemade vegan cashew milk) and season with some salt.
- For mashing the potatoes, I use a hand mixer. In this way, you will get a very smooth almost foamy texture at the end. For more tips see our vegan mashed potatoes recipe.
Baking Vegan Shepherd's Pie
- Preheat the oven at 400F (200C).
- Take 4 ramekins (8-oz) or 1 larger oven-safe pot (8×8) and add the vegetable stew filling first. Spread it evenly before topping it with creamy vegan mashed potatoes.
- Bake for 15 minutes under a broiler or until it gets light brown on top and the stew bubbles up around the sides.
- Chop vegetables evenly – We added carrots first, as they need the most time to be cooked, then zucchini and eggplant.
- Cook the veggies until soft – Contrary to vegan pot pies, you shouldn’t cook them until they are soft as pot pies need time in the oven to get the top crust baked. However, with Shepherd’s Pie, we recommend cooking the veggies until they are soft and only broiling the top of the mashed potatoes in the oven.
- Thickening the stew – If you feel that your stew has too much liquid, you can thicken it starting with one Tablespoon of flour or starch and repeat if needed. It can happen if the zucchini releases a lot of water or you add other veggies that behave similarly to mushrooms.
- Extra safety – As the stew is bubbling up, we usually put a sheet pan below the oven-safe pot to capture any liquid pouring over the sides. Easier to clean the oven as you only have to wash the sheet pan, not your entire oven.
UPDATED: This recipe was originally posted in October 2018, but was rewritten and republished with detailed instructions, and tips in October 2021.