Meat-Free Primal Cottage Pie

by Susan Smith in , ,

The initial inspiration for starting to write this Primal Plate food blog came about as a result of my newly acquired Primal/Paleo diet, and the numerous health benefits and incredibly easy weight loss I can attribute to a higher fat, low-carbohydrate, grain-free lifestyle. Today, I feel compelled to bring something new to the party because, hand-on-heart, I cannot totally subscribe to the Primal Blueprint, which prioritises eating animal protein and fat. 

If you glance through the Primal Plate’s recipes you’ll currently see only one that’s listed under meat. Try as I might (and I’ve some fantastic meat recipes that I could share!), I just cannot bring myself to massively promote meat eating. My reluctance has nothing to do with health and nutrition. I concede that for optimum health, human beings do occasionally require meat, although perhaps the less popular organ meats rather than prime steak would better fulfil our nutritional objectives!

The problem is that the modern Paleo/Primal diet relies heavily on eating meat, albeit the free-range pastured variety. The consumption of grass-fed meat is indeed healthier for humans and kinder to animals than the brutal insanity of factory farms and slaughterhouses supplying most of our diet. But, regularly eating any animal that’s been farm-reared and killed for meat is certainly not aligned with how ancient hunter-gatherers obtained their food. Meat, although actively hunted, would have been an occasional supplement to a diet of berries, fruits and plants - not the daily ‘pig-out’ (pun intended) that almost everyone nowadays takes for granted. Agribusiness has geared-up to meet the incessant demand, but there’s a high price to pay. The whole system is massively destructive, unfair and viciously unkind to millions of starving people (one-third of the world’s grain supply is diverted for animal feed), to factory farmed livestock (OMG, the hidden suffering), the environment and wildlife.  

Let’s look at what ‘free-range, pastured meat’ can mean for the environment. Grazing animals on non-arable land (largely grassy hillsides, where you can’t grow crops) compact the soil and prevent trees and other vegetation from growing, which means no natural habitat for wildlife and no deep plant root systems that would otherwise hold down the earth and conserve water. Consequently, during heavy rain and thunderstorms, there is nothing to prevent the soil and water running off downhill, causing the landslides and flash-flooding downstream that have become so familiar on the news over recent years, and which regularly devastate food crops and people’s homes. 

If we are truly committed to eating as our ancestors did, we will stop mindlessly consuming meat. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to meat-eating, it is madness. Reverence for life and respect for the food on your Primal plate begins with education. Forget the ‘cutchy-coo' petting farms, which collude with our wanton disassociation from keeping and killing living things. The school curriculum should make it compulsory that all children are taken to a factory farm where they ‘grow’ pigs or chickens in overcrowded sheds, then on to the abattoir where they are slaughtered and finally to the butchers where dinner is made ready - all nicely sanitised and cling-wrapped. If the very idea freaks you out, that’s the point. If you cannot bear the thought of seeing the food you eat being ‘made’ then stop eating it - or at the very least, eat it occasionally with absolute awareness and compassion for a life given as a gift to you and your family.

Could you go meat free for one week? I invite you to join Meat Free Week between 23rd-29th March 2015. It's a practical choice that can make a massive difference.

Meanwhile, to help you adjust to the idea that meat-eating can and should be reserved for special occasions, here is a delicious and comforting cottage pie that may surprise you. Entirely meat and potato free, it is so satisfyingly rich and ‘meaty’ you will be hard-pressed to convince your family they’re not eating the classic version of this very British, and much loved pie. 

Meat-Free Primal Cottage Pie (V) (Serves 4)

Ingredients - for the pie filling

100g onion, peeled and finely chopped

165g leek (1 medium-sized), top and bottom cut off, two outer leaves removed, washed and finely sliced

100g (about 2 outer stalks) celery, trimmed and cut into small dice

300g sweet potato, peeled and cut into small dice

250g parsnips, peeled and grated

250g carrots, peeled and grated

3-4 tbsp olive oil

1 level tbsp Marigold organic bouillon powder

200ml decent quality red wine ( I used a McGuigan Merlot )

2 tbsp Clearspring tamari sauce (wheat-free) 

300g closed-cap chestnut mushrooms, wiped clean and cut into ½cm slices 

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped

2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

Sea salt (about 1tsp) and freshly ground black pepper


Ingredients - for the celeriac mash

800g celeriac, peeled and chopped into ¾ inch cubes

100g good quality strong Cheddar cheese, finely grated

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Instructions - for the pie filling

Firstly, get organised by pre-preparing all the vegetables - chop the onion, sweet potato and celery; slice the leek and mushrooms; grate the parsnip and carrot. Finely chop the thyme and parsley

Heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large sauté pan over a moderate to high heat. Add the onions to the pan and fry for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Add the grated parsnips, carrots and celery to the pan, plus a little extra olive oil if it seems too dry, and stir-fry for another 3 minutes.

Add the sliced leek and diced sweet potato, turn up the heat and continue to stir-fry the vegetables for several more minutes until they are soft and starting to brown. Take the pan off the heat.

Stir in the bouillon powder, mix well then add the tamari sauce and red wine. 

In a separate large non-stick frying pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and stir-fry the mushroom slices over a high heat for about 3 to 4 minutes until the juices begin to run and they’re starting to turn golden. 

Add the cooked mushrooms to the other vegetables, mix well and season with sea salt (about 1 level tsp) a good grinding of freshly ground pepper and the chopped thyme and parsley. 

Ladle the vegetables into an ovenproof baking dish, cover with cling film and set aside whilst you make the celeriac mash.

If eating straightaway, pre-heat the oven to 190℃ / 375℉ / Gas mark 5.


Instructions - for the celeriac mash

Boil a kettle full of water.

Peel the celeriac and cut into even-sized (about ¾ inch) cubes. 

Put the celeriac in the top half of a steamer, pour the boiling water in the bottom pan and cover with the pan lid. Steam for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until the celeriac is soft. 

Drain the celeriac well and allow to steam dry before whizzing in a food processor or blending with blender to make a smooth puree. Add half the Cheddar cheese and whizz again. Taste, then season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. 

Pipe or spoon the mash on top of the vegetables to cover evenly, then rough up the surface with a fork. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese.

Bake at 190℃ for 20 to 25 minutes. Finish off under a very hot grill if you like your cheesy topping really brown and crunchy!


Use organic vegetables, if possible.

This dish is ideal for entertaining as all the preparation can be done, and the pie fully assembled, in advance. Take the pie out of the refrigerator about half an hour before you want to cook it to allow it to come to room temperature before baking.  

To make lighter work of grating vegetables, I use the fine grater on my Magimix food processor

The point of chopping, slicing and grating the different vegetables is to create the right amount of texture - trust me, the finished dish can really fool your brain into thinking you’re eating proper cottage pie! 

For this recipe, I’ve allowed pedantic Primal dietary recommendations to eat higher fat/low-carb to go a little out of sync in favour of creating a nutritious cottage pie that’s full-on umami flavoured, without loss of life. On the plus side, it also does not contain other Primal debarred ingredients such as lentils, beans and potato (that most other vegetarian versions of cottage pie usually do!) 

If you’re trying to lose excess fat, (which in general is agreed possible when you eat no more than 100g carbohydrate per day), this recipe will use up around one half of your daily limit, so adjust the rest of your day’s meals accordingly. Click to read more about the Primal dictum “Carbohydrate drives insulin, drives fat

The carbohydrate content of this recipe is based on the prepared weight of the vegetables i.e. once they’ve been trimmed and peeled. If you wanted to substitute organic swede for the parsnips, or butternut squash for the sweet potato, this would decrease the carb count significantly - although the balance of flavour and texture in the original recipe might also be lost.  


Carbohydrate 50g Protein 7g - approx per serving