Family recipes

by Leah Moldowan

Most of us have fond memories of our parents’ or grandparents’ cooking from quick weeknight dinners to fancier party appetizers. These memories can be comforting and very nostalgic especially when away from those loved ones. While I didn’t grow up with a family who made extravagant spaghetti dishes from scratch or awoke to the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls on Sunday morning, I still have plenty of fond food memories from my childhood. We were more of a Hamburger Helper (always with extra noodles) or meals that come from the freezer kind of family. Don’t worry though there was always something green on the plate too—my mom made sure of it. But, there were a few special meals that we’d have every so often and since adopting a vegan diet I sometimes miss those familiar family meals. It’s not so much the foods I miss: I crave the memories and feelings that those meals bring back for me.

Thankfully my family have helped me recreate some of those recipes from my childhood. I’ve “veganized” everything from meatloaf and nachos to fruit crisp. Despite being a little different, they all ultimately remind me of home. One of my favourites has to be our family shepherd’s pie made healthier using lentils, chickpeas and vegetables topped with a sweet potato and cauliflower mash and baked to golden perfection. My family even now prefers that sweet potato and cauliflower topping for their own shepherd’s pie. This shepherd’s pie is like a big, warm, nourishing hug. I’ll admit that it’s not the quickest meal, but once it’s made it can last you a while with some help from your freezer.

Family recipes
Bet your grandma’s shepherd’s pie didn’t include chickpeas

While you may not be able to recreate a family recipe exactly whether it’s because you’ve changed the way you eat or it’s never been actually written down, getting in the kitchen and trying to recreate the recipe can be a lot of fun and is sure to bring back memories.


Vegan Shepherd’s Pie with Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Topping

(Adapted from Minimalist Baker)


1 onion, diced

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup green lentils

3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1 cup chickpeas, lightly mashed

2 cups frozen mixed vegetables

2 tbsp cornstarch


1 medium sweet potato, chopped

1/2 head cauliflower, chopped

2-3 tbsp non-dairy milk

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. For the topping, fill a large pot with water and bring to boil over high heat. Place sweet potato and cauliflower in the pot and cover. Cook for 15 to 25 minutes or until soft.
  3. Once cooked, drain and transfer to a bowl and add in two tablespoons of non-dairy milk. Using a masher, immersion blender, or fork, mash until smooth. Add more milk for smoother consistency.
  4. For the filling, heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic in a small amount of olive oil until soft and fragrant for around five minutes.
  5. Add lentils and broth to onion and garlic and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and continue simmering until lentils are soft.
  6. Once soft, add in the chickpeas and frozen vegetables, stir and cover.
  7. Remove about 1/4 cup of the liquid and whisk in cornstarch. Return to pan, stir well, and let sit as it begins to thicken. Taste and adjust spices and seasonings to your liking.
  8. Transfer the filling to an 8×8 or 9×13 baking pan. Top with the sweet potato and cauliflower topping and smooth with the back of a spoon.
  9. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. Leftovers can be covered and kept in the fridge for a few days or frozen for a couple months.