French Onion Shepherd’s Pie with Lentils & Creamy Cauliflower Potato Mash

Created by Laura Wright
4.97 from 99 votes

French onion shepherd's pie with lentils & cauliflower potato mash is a hearty and flavourful main course that will satisfy all eaters.

Overhead shot of a French onion shepherd’s pie in a skillet.
This post is sponsored by All-Clad
A single serving of lentil shepherd’s pie in a bowl topped with mashed potatoes and cauliflower.
An overhead shot of ingredients for a vegan shepherd’s pie.
An overhead shot of onion skins in a bowl.
Image shows a lot of sliced onions on a cutting board.

Another great holiday entertaining recipe for you! This French onion shepherd’s pie is a total knockout. Super comforting, hearty enough to serve as a plant-based main, make ahead-friendly, and just so flavourful from all of the caramelized onions. We top it with a creamy and satisfying cauliflower potato mash for a little extra vegetable goodness.

This recipe takes some extra time because of the caramelized onions. They’re combined with French lentils and other aromatics to form the base of this pie. Once all of that’s squared away (and you could definitely make the base portion several days in advance), we steam some cauliflower and potatoes and whip them up into fluffy clouds to dollop on top. This is about 2 hours of cooking when all is said and done, but that’s what holidays are all about, right? A little extra effort for all of your favourite people :)

I cooked all of these components, and even did the final bake on the pie itself, in pieces from the All-Clad Essentials Nonstick Set. While this post is supported by All-Clad, I have to say that I love cooking with these pans so much (and basically everything else that All-Clad makes). These pans have all the ease of nonstick (so much easier to clean), they can go straight from the stove to the oven, and they’re easy to store in your cabinets without getting scratched thanks to the tidy nesting capability. I’ve been working with All-Clad since the summer, and as someone who used to have a total mish mash of pots and pans, it definitely inspires cooking confidence to have all the right tools for the job.

With all that said, I hope that you give this cozy recipe a shot for your next gathering! If you’re in the throes of planning your holiday meals, I have all my best recipes rounded up right here. Is it too early to get a Christmas tree? Asking for a friend :) Have a great week!

Image shows caramelized onions being stirred.
A deep brown caramelized onion and lentil stew is shown in a pot with a ladle.
Cooked potatoes and cauliflower are being mashed with vegan butter.
Image shows creamy mashed potatoes and cauliflower being spread on top of a lentil stew mixture.
Image shows a shepherd’s pie before baking.
An overhead shot of a vegan French onion shepherd’s pie in a skillet on top of a beige tablecloth.

French Onion Shepherd’s Pie with Lentils and Creamy Cauliflower Potato Mash

French onion shepherd's pie with lentils & cauliflower potato mash is a hearty and flavourful holiday main course that will satisfy vegans AND omnivores.
4.97 from 99 votes
An overhead shot of a vegan french onion shepherd's pie topped with a cauliflower potato mash.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours
Servings 6 -8

Ingredients

FRENCH ONION & LENTIL FILLING:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra
  • 3 lbs yellow onions, peeled and sliced into half moons
  • sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 ½ cups French lentils, rinsed
  • 1 ½ tablespoons sherry/balsamic vinegar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons gluten-free tamari soy sauce
  • 5 cups vegetable stock, plus extra

CAULIFLOWER POTATO MASH:

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 ½ lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cups cauliflower florets (from approximately ½ a large head)
  • 4 tablespoons vegan butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Notes

  • Depending on sides, this recipe serves 6-8 people.
  • You could do an all cauliflower mash if you’re avoiding potatoes. Just substitute another 4 cups of chopped florets and start with only half the amount of non-dairy milk. Add more as needed until you reach a creamy consistency.
  • To make ahead: thoroughly cool the French onion/lentil base in your serving dish. Once cooled, cover the dish and store it in the fridge. Make the cauliflower potato mash and let it cool before storing in a separate sealable container in the fridge. On the day that you’re serving, evenly spread the cauliflower potato mash over the French onion filling. Drizzle the top with olive oil and bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Instructions

  • Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Pour in the olive oil and swirl it around. Add all of the sliced onions to the pot. You should hear a moderate sizzle. Sauté the onions, stirring often, until they are just starting to soften on the edges. Then, lower the heat slightly.
  • Keep cooking and stirring the onions occasionally until they are light golden brown, jammy, and super sweet. Not quite in the caramelized state, but getting there. This process will take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Add splashes of water if the onions start to dry up/stick.
  • Increase the heat back to medium. Add the thyme, bay leaf, and garlic to the pot and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and stir. Cook for about one minute. Add the lentils to the pot and stir. Then, add the sherry vinegar and tamari to the pot. Scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Season everything with salt and pepper. Add the vegetable stock to the pot and stir once more. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and then cook until lentils are tender, about 25-30 minutes. There should be just enough liquid to surround the onions and lentils. Add more vegetable stock if necessary.
  • Remove the bay leaf from the pot and allow the French onion base to cool slightly before transferring to a large (12-inch), oven-safe skillet or other baking dish. Set aside.
  • Make the creamy cauliflower potato mash. Pour the water into a large soup pot and bring it up to a boil. Pop the smashed garlic cloves in the water. Place the potatoes and cauliflower either directly into the pot or in a steamer insert. Keep the water at a strong simmer and close a lid on top of the pot. Steam the cauliflower and potatoes until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 20 minutes.
  • Drain the vegetables and return them to the pot. You can keep the garlic or toss it, your choice! Add the vegan butter, non-dairy milk, nutritional yeast, and lots of salt and pepper. Using a hand masher, mash the cauliflower and potatoes until smooth and creamy. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Smooth the French onion and lentil base out. Then, dollop the creamy cauliflower and potato mash on top. Carefully spread the mash out over the surface of the French onion and lentil base. Drizzle the top of the mash with olive oil and some extra pinches of salt and pepper.
  • Bake the French onion shepherd’s pie for 25 minutes, or until bubbly and totally heated through. You can broil the top for extra browning if you like. Remove the pie from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes before serving in shallow bowls.
13/11/2019 (Last Updated 18/03/2024)
Posted in: autumn, earthy, gluten free, holidays, lentils, main course, nut free, refined sugar-free, salty, sweet, umami, vegan, winter

100 comments

Recipe Rating




  • Amanda

    5 stars
    This recipe definitely takes a while on account of caramelizing the onions, but I made it for Easter dinner this year and it was fantastic!

  • Donna

    Hi . Can I use coconut milk ?

    • Laura Wright

      Hi Donna,
      I don’t recommend the flavour of coconut milk with this recipe unfortunately. Any other unsweetened milk is great or even vegetable stock will do well in a pinch.
      -L

  • Jean lavallee

    As I have chronic kidney disease, the protein value of nutrition values is most important.( Protein must be lowest)
    Does your recipes have the nutrition facts/values showing protein content…thanks, jean

  • Teresa

    4 stars
    I am a brand new vegan, I really liked this recipe. I made mine with all mashed potatoes and I used plant based cream instead of the plant based milk. I have to say that I believe these mashed potatoes are better than with regular butter and milk. Love love love the mashed potatoes. Still trying to get a taste for lentils.

  • Martina

    5 stars
    Oh my, this is delicious! I used whole red lentils (because that’s what I had on hand) and 4 cups of broth and let it simmer 20 minutes uncovered to reduce the liquid. Otherwise followed directions to a T – well worth the prep & cooking time. I will definitely be making this again!! Thank you for this wonderful recipe!

  • Renee

    5 stars
    This was delicious! My husband and I both loved it. I used brown lentils because that’s what I had but the meal was perfect. Thanks for sharing!

  • Lauren

    5 stars
    This is possible one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. My husband went back for not second, or thirds, but fourths. Cannot recommend enough!

  • Jaime

    Hi, I have dried brown lentils, can I use these instead of the french lentils?

    • Laura Wright

      Hi Jaime!
      Those should work just fine in this recipe. They might soften a bit more and “dissolve” slightly into the liquid, but they’ll still be great.
      -L

  • crowe

    can you sub beluga lentils for the French lentils?

    • Laura Wright

      Beluga lentils should be fine! They will hold their shape really well here and the cooking time is similar.
      -L

  • Melissa McCaskill

    When I make caramelized onions, I put them in the crockpot overnight on low with the pan sprayed thoroughly with pam and add 1 T oil. Stir until all onions are coated. Next morning place in fridge until cool, and When you start your dinner, take the onions and brown in pan until caramelized. It’s an extra step, but cuts down on the stove top time. Just a suggestion.

  • Maia O.

    Hi, are you using dries or canned lentils?

    • Laura Wright

      Hi Maia,
      They are dried lentils.
      -L

  • Barb

    Hi, I’ve tried to print several of your recipes. I hit Print and then my print dialogue box comes up, I select print, and then the recipe in the background disappears and the print on the pages to print disappear. I’ve checked my printer and it’s fine. Just wondering if you have any suggestions. Thank you!

  • Nicole

    Hi. Are you using fresh or dried thyme leaves? I’m assuming fresh because you write “leaves”, but I want to be sure. ;)

    • Laura Wright

      Hi Nicole!
      Yes I am using fresh thyme here. You can substitute dried thyme in a ppinch if you like though–just use 1/2 tablespoon instead as it is a bit more potent.
      -L

  • amy

    5 stars
    i brought this to a potluck where i was the only vegan guest, and this had great feedback! more important iiii am obsessed with it. i was apprehensive to take it on with the long prep/cook time but really, the “hardest” part is caramelizing the onions. i’ve made many variations of vegan shepherds pie and this is by far my favourite. SO GOOD, LAURA. i’m usually an all-potato kind of person but went with the mix of cauliflower here and i’m glad i did. thanks for sharing!!!

  • Christine

    5 stars
    Excellent! Time consuming but worth the effort. And the leftovers were just as delicious. Definitely a keeper.

  • Chele

    5 stars
    This sounds delicious!! Do you think I could add some cornflour to the lentil mixture as the picture looks as if it could be a bit liquidy and I’d like to serve it with a fresh side salad

  • MorningStar

    5 stars
    I made this last week for a potluck. Everyone liked it, even the meat-eaters, and I passed on the recipe to the other person there who’s being determined about plant-based. There were lots of leftovers, which made me happy. I don’t care for mashed potatoes much, so I’ve been scooping the lentils into the cavities of baked winter squash or into split sweet potatoes. I’m definitely making it again — thanks.

  • Cori Wheaton

    5 stars
    Holy moly!!! This is a warm hug in a bowl! I followed the recipe as instructed, except I used all potatoes for my mash. I didn’t bake it and just put the lentil stew on top of my mashed potatoes to enjoy. I can’t believe how good this was!! Definitely going to be sharing the recipe and making it again!

  • Andi

    5 stars
    This was absolutely delicious and well worth the prep time. Even my carnivore husband was delighted with the outcome. Thank you!!

  • Kiki

    5 stars
    Super delicious! I was able to complete it in 1.5 hours instead of 3. I started late in the evening so that was my only concern on the time. It made a ton of leftovers and this will be a repeat recipe!

    • Laura Wright

      So glad you enjoyed Kiki! And that you were able to complete it in half the time! :)
      -L

  • Sean

    5 stars
    I loved it even my meat eating husband enjoyed it. I did add a cube of no-beef bullion to the lentils but that was the only change. I will definitely be making it again.

  • Ruth

    5 stars
    I made your shepherd’s pie for dinner last night. It was delicious and my kids actually ate the leftovers for lunch, which was a first. I will be making this again for vegan Christmas.

  • marg

    i have made this twice and shared recipe to many people, its delicious to say the least and freezes well !!

  • Elycia

    I have made this before and it is absolutely delicious. I am hoping to make this again tonight and portion it in half, one to put in the freezer for a postpartum meal! Do you think the final product would freeze well?

    • Laura

      Hi Elycia! I have frozen and reheated this one with great success. You can bake it covered from frozen, just adding some extra baking time.
      -L

  • Barb

    All I can say is outstanding! Even the carnivore loved it. I added mushrooms otherwise exactly as written. I can’t wait to eat the leftovers!!!!

  • Michele Manuel

    5 stars
    Omg this is delicious.thank you

  • Yvonne

    3 stars
    The flavour of this dish is great and worth the time carmelising the onions but the consistency was another issue!  5 cups of liquid seems way too much and I ended up with French onion soup with my potato/cauli mash almost sinking.  I did put in just one cup of green lentils as I didn’t have French but even then I still had way too much liquid.  I had to add a tin of cannellini beans last minute but still ended up bailing out some liquid before baking.  I would make again but with less stock.  I make another vegan Shepherds Pie which looks just like your picture.

  • Cate

    5 stars
    TO DIE FOR! 

  • Hannah Broussard

    Perfection! Everyone wants the recipe. We just added some Cajun spiced corn on the side and mixed it together. Will definitely make again.

  • Sheila

    5 stars
    Wow! This dish is absolutely gorgeous and all the things, warm, comforting, fantastic flavours and SO delicious! A huge dinner party hit with the vegans and non vegans alike, will definitely 100% make again!

  • Cate

    5 stars
    Soooo good! I made a few adjustments. I eliminated all oil and vegan butter (don’t need) and didn’t have tomato paste so used tomato sauce and doubled the amount. I doubled the nutritional yeast and added spoon of onion powder to the mash. I also used cooked French lentils so eliminated the water and used 4 cups of cooked lentils. I also added mushrooms. It really is divine! I can’t stop opening the fridge and nibbling on cold leftovers! Thank you!