Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lentil Loaf with Mushroom Gravy

Really this was all about the potatoes. Flying back from Pittsburgh yesterday, I of course was contemplating what to make for a nice welcome home dinner upon my return. Though my fridge is stocked with loads of veggies from my most recent episode at the farmer’s market, these little fingerling potatoes have sitting in their bowl patiently for 2+ weeks begging to be roasted. Red, purple, and white: olive oil, salt and pepper. They exude the simplicity of cuisine: colorful and delicious without much effort. The effort was in dreaming up something worthy of being paired with roasted fingerling potatoes.

My natural tendency is to think, “What would roasted potatoes be served with at a ‘normal’ meal?” Yes, I am at fault for relating my “unreal” vegan cooking with its “real” evil twin. After doing this for a couple of years and cooking for many skeptics, I have developed a sense of obligation to prepare meat analogues at most meals to win the hearts and stomachs of naysayers. There is a certain pressure, whether real or made-up, to produce a delicious version of something that a carnivore would have eaten were I not at the stove. Vegan analogues are a great demonstration of vegan cooking’s potential, but sometimes they are limiting and boring – I mean, really, I could make something MUCH better than a vegan burger or vegan taco casserole. To counter this pressure, I’ve been trying to be more creative than just making a “vegan version” of a common meat dish.

This however is not one of those creative deviations. When you think about roasted potatoes, they have to be served with something that will provide enough contrast to appreciate them – something hearty, warming and filling. While I tried to entertain the notion of creating something other than a meat analogue, none of the alternatives were good enough. Pasta or risotto…too starchy. Stew…too gloppy. So it had to be a hunk of protein. Since I’m not into making seitan steak right now (avoiding gluten), I went with meatloaf. Though I’ve read many vegan loaf recipes, I had not given it a serious shot until now.

I didn’t bother with a recipe, because I was trying to clean out a few things in the fridge anyway. The end result? The lentil loaf came apart easily because I didn’t use much of a binding agent, but it was absolutely scrumptious. The gravy was easy peasy, much healthier than its counterpart and perfectly flavorful. The potatoes – how could something so perfectly purple NOT be delicious?

Lentil Loaf with Mushroom Gravy
Makes 2-3 servings
Total prep time: 1 ½ hours


For the loaf
1 c. lentils cooked or ½ c. dry lentils
Cooking spray
½ medium onion, chopped
1 large celery stalk, chopped
½ large carrot, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
Pinch of salt
¼ - 1/3 c. walnuts
½ c. brown or white rice, cooked
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. oregano, dried
½ tsp rosemary, dried
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp. allspice

For the gravy
¼ c. dried mushrooms
1 ¼ c. water2 tsp. Earth Balance
2 tsp. Potato flour (or other)
½ T. Soy sauce or tamari
¼ tsp. black pepper
Dash of white pepper
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of garlic powder


(If you have precooked lentils – skip this step.) Bring dry lentils to a boil in 4 cups of water, reduce heat to a simmer and let lentils cook until tender, about 45 minutes. Drain and set 1 cup of cooked lentils aside.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and coat with cooking spray. Add onions, celery and carrots. Cooking until vegetables just become tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and a pinch of salt, stirring vegetables to coat. Cook vegetables another couple of minutes until starting to brown. Remove from heat and transfer to food processor with lentils.

Add walnut, rice and seasonings in food processor and pulse until mixture is crumbled. Processes until mixture clumps together well and press into loaf pan (this amount will not fill an entire loaf pan, so just pat into a shorty).

Bake in oven until loaf has set, 40-45 minutes.

While the loaf is baking, make the gravy. In a small sauce pan, bring the mushrooms and water a boil and cook until liquid is slightly reduced and dark brown, 7-8 minutes. Drain mushrooms, reserving liquid. In the same pan, melt Earth balance over medium-heat and add flour. Stir until butter is absorbed and cook another minute. Whisk in mushroom broth and reduce heat. Stir in soy sauce (tamari) and seasonings. Add water if gravy is too thick and additional salt to taste.

Serve loaf with gravy and go mmmmmm.