Pastel de Papas, Comfort Food Part II

Since I was a child, I’ve always thought that if I had to choose one dish to eat for the rest of my life, it would be pastel de papas. Pastel de papas is an Argentine version of shepherd’s pie, a ground beef filling covered in mashed potatoes. My family always used the same recipe for Argentine empanada filling (the traditional beef pastry) to make pastel de papas. Or if we ever had leftover empanada filling, we would lay it down in a dish, cover it with mashed potatoes, and bake it until golden and bubbling. Now that I rarely eat meat, I follow the same recipe but sub the beef with lentils. I made a batch last night, and when I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep, the smell of cumin lingering in the room made me feel like I was back home with mamá y papá.

Pastel de Papas Vegetariano

Makes four to five servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg (2 lbs) potatoes, peeled and cut into equal-sized chunks
  • 1 ¼ cup (250 gr) dried brown or green lentils, rinsed
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 bunch of green onions
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • ½ cup chopped green olives, (the ones stuffed with red bell pepper)
  • 2/3 cup (160 ml) Greek yogurt or milk (see note)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Ground nutmeg, a pinch
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil, plenty

Steps

  1. Heat oven to 350°F (170°C).
  2. Place the peeled, cut potatoes in room temperature water, cover, and bring to a boil. Add salt, reduce the heat, and let boil until tender. 
  3. Place the lentils in a pot with 2 ½ cups water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until tender. About 20 minutes. Add more water and cook a touch longer if the lentils are still crunchy.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the green onions and onion with olive oil and a dash of salt until translucent. Remove from heat and mix in the cumin, paprika, and olives. Add the lentils and stir well. Pour in some more olive oil. Taste and add salt and pepper to reach the desired flavor. 
  5. Once the potatoes are done, drain the water from the pot and throw in the butter, yogurt (or milk), salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mash the potatoes to blend all the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. 
  6. Pour olive oil in the bottom of a large, oven-proof dish and spread to coat the bottom. Lay the lentil filling into the pan, followed by the mashed potatoes. You can melt butter and brush it on top of the mashed potatoes to add a golden crust, or just leave it as is if you can’t be bothered (like me on most days).
  7. Bake in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes, until the mashed potatoes start to turn golden. 

NOTES:

  • I HIGHLY recommend employing a helper for this recipe. It’s a lot of work to wash and peel 1 kilo of potatoes… so have your helper do that part!
  • I recently made mashed potatoes with Greek yogurt instead of milk and I really liked the tangy result. Now I only make mashed potatoes this way, but you can use regular milk or non-dairy alternatives instead. 
  • I have a tiny, little grater that I only use for nutmeg. I like to buy whole nutmeg nuts and grind them fresh whenever I am using them; they are much more flavorful this way. But you can use pre-ground nutmeg if that’s what you’ve got at home.  

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