Mushroom, Lentil and Ale Pie, 34p [VG/DF/V]

This pie came about because firstly, I adore pie. It was my pregnancy craving, steak pie followed by cherry or apple pie. I would buy packets of Mr Kipling and polish them off by the half dozen. Something about the crumbling, yielding collapse of the pastry, the hot-or-cold, sweet-or-savoury, the lingering lubrication, satiation, of a layer of fat and gravy disappearing down my greedy gullet. I make a pie most weeks, more so since cooking vegan food than ever before. This particular pie came from a longing for something ‘meaty’, but not meat, of course. A hearty, wholesome, dark and brooding pie that would fool even the hardiest of carnivores. And so I rolled up my sleeves, and I got to work. (For the record, my friend Phil, the only ‘man’ I call when I need heavy stuff hulking about and my erstwhile recipe guinea pig, sat in my kitchen and scoffed half of it in one sitting. Phil is absolutely, definitely not a vegan, but I’m working on him.)

Serves 6 comfortably, or 8 with sides.

For the filling:
120g dried green or brown lentils, 27p (£1.15/500g, Sainsburys)
6 fat cloves of garlic, 8p (40p/2 bulbs)
1 large onion, 9p (90p/1.5kg, Sainsburys Basics)
2 tbsp flour, 1p (55p/1.5kg, Sainsburys Basics)

2 tbsp oil, 3p (£3/3l sunflower or vegetable oil, Sainsburys)
300ml red or dark ale, 27p (£1.10/4x330ml cans, Sainsburys Basics bitter)
1 veg stock cube or a pinch of salt, 3p (35p/10 stock cubes, Sainsburys Basics)
2 tbsp tomato ketchup – or puree for the puritan palate – 1p (45p/460g, Sainsburys Basics)
2 large carrots, 10p (45p/1kg, Sainsburys Basics)
400g mushrooms, 85p (85p/400g, Sainsburys Basics)
1 tbsp meat-style gravy granules, 4p (£1.35/170g, Bisto)
1 tsp lemon juice or light coloured vinegar, 3p (55p/250ml, Sainsburys)

For the pastry (base and top, for that is the only kind of pie):
I confess to using ready made pastry more often than not these days, but if you want to make your own, I have a lovely recipe here. Anyhow, I use 350g Jus-Rol shortcrust pastry at £1.25/500g. Which works out at 87p per large pie.

1 tbsp cooking oil, to glaze, 1p (£3/3l)
First pop your lentils in a saucepan that will easily hold thrice their volume. Cover in cold water, but do not salt for they will seize. Bring to the boil at the back of the stove, where they can br forgotten for a while. Reduce to a simmer and roundly ignore them for around half an hour, only interfering should they start to dry out a little, by adding a splash of water.
In a separate pan, peel and chop your onion and garlic. Stir in the flour and oil – it will look dreadful, but give it a chance – and bring to a low heat, mixing well to a rough, chunky paste. Add a splash of the ale, which will fizz pleasantly, and mix to loosen it. Add a splash more, mix, splash, mix, until half of the ale is combined. Set the other half to one side. Crumble in the stock cube, and squeeze in the tomato puree, and mix well.
Dice or slice your carrots and mushrooms, and add them to the pot. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, until the lentils behind them have softened.
When the lentils have cooked and the pie filling is glossy and unctuous and reduced in volume, it is time to combine the two. Drain the lentils and rinse thoroughly to get rid of any residual white scum, and tip them into the pan that contains the mushrooms and ale. Mix well together – you may find you need to add a little more ale to the mixture, so do. Add the gravy granules and mix well, bearing in mind that they will thicken the liquid when cooked, so it can afford to be a little runny at this stage. Finish with a dash of lemon or vinegar to brighten it, as the ale can be quite a heavy, mouthfilling flavour.

At this point, if you are cooking the pie now, turn your oven on to 180C and ensure that there is a shelf in the middle of it for best results.

Roll out your pastry. Lightly grease a pie tin or similar receptacle – I find a loaf tin makes a very pleasing pie in an emergency, and a Victoria sponge tin creates a thinner one with a good pastry-to-filling ratio. Any leftover filling can always be frozen to make future pies, or eaten as a casserole, so the size of your tin is not prescriptive. Lay the pastry carefully in the tin, pressing it gently into the corners. The weight of the filling will do the rest for you. Spoon the filling in, working your way from the outside to the middle, and gradually so as not to overbear and thus tear your precious pastry. Fill it to the top – don’t be shy – underfilled pies have their own circle in Hell in my books.

Now make the top. I am naturally incompetent at delicate tasks, my rough-hewn hands more suited for heaving large objects around, fiddling in u-bends, smashing together flatpack furniture, than delicately fiddling with pastry, and so, as with many things, I have found a method that is both simple and idiotproof, and looks astounding. I make my pie crusts with tessalated or overlaying cookie-cutter shapes, the effect of which is beautiful and elicits squeals of delight from guests of all ages. I highly recommend it – and if the pieces overlap, there is more pastry per mouthful, which can only be a glorious thing. Roll out your excess pastry to around 4mm thick. Take a cookie cutter of your choice, or if you live in a household without small children, you can use a small glass for the same effect. Cut circles of pastry and carefully lay them on top of the pie – it doesn’t matter if there are gaps, in fact, they rather pleasingly get sticky with caramelised gravy, so embrace them. Start from the outside and work your way in, until the pie is covered or all the pastry is used up.

Glaze with a little oil (I have discovered the secret to perfect vegan pie glaze, but this recipe is complex enough, so I will write about it another time – I have to have *some* secrets!). Place it in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until the pastry is golden. You may wish to re-glaze halfway through, for extra sheen. I did, but then this is my living, and I need to tempt you here any way I can.

And serve. I found this quite sufficient on its own, my excuse for no sides being that it contained 5 of our 5 a day (onion, mushroom, tomato, carrot, lentils) and because in our household, we like pie.

I would love to hear your thoughts below!

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