Vegetarian Tourtiere

While my family has many ethnic food traditions, my husband’s family has only one that I know about: tourtiere, a meat pie traditional to Quebec.

I’m not sure how, but I’d never even seen it until Christmas this year.  Of course, because the pie was meat, I didn’t taste it.  Then it came out that the recipe used was essentially my husband’s grandmother’s recipe. At that point, I knew I had to try  making a vegetarian version.

According to my father-in-law, the written recipe wasn’t as heavy on the cloves as the pies his mother baked.  The recipe also didn’t mention that it gets served with maple syrup, which each eater pours over his or her slice.  For our recipe, we replaced the meat with lentils and mushrooms, added more cloves, and put maple syrup inside the pie.  We also switched to a whole wheat crust.  It could easily be made vegan, but we like to put butter into the “meat” mixture and also use butter in the crust.  Because it’s a lot of work and makes a lot of food, tourtiere is most worth making for a large gathering, either sit-down or potluck, where lots of people can appreciate it.

Okay, enough background.  Here’s the recipe.  It’s very forgiving, if your quantities are a bit different from ours.  We’ve made it three times and it hasn’t been quite the same twice.  As you can see in the photos below, it is very much a team effort.

Ingredients for crust:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • scant 1/2 cup water

Ingredients for filling:

  • 3 oz lentils, soaked overnight, water reserved
  • 8 oz mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 lb potatoes (3 medium potatoes)
  • 1/3 lb bread (2 slices from a bread machine, probably 4 slices from a sandwich loaf)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 4 teaspoons poultry seasoning blend (Bell’s or competitor)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons salt

The crust recipe was not handed down through the family.  It’s my own, based on standard cookbook recipes.  I’m sure my grandmother-in-law used white flour and that she, or at least her grandmother, would have used pork lard in her crust.

To make the crust, first cut 2/3 cup butter into 2 cups whole wheat flour until the butter is really, really little bits.  This is a pain.  There are lots of things you can do with 2 knives to get the butter smaller.

1crust

2crust3

3crust

I decided it was done enough when it looked like this:

4crust

Then it was time to add the 1/2 cup of cold water, mixing first with a spoon and then by hand.  When it formed a ball it was done enough to roll.  Of course, because this is a two-crust pie, only a little more than half of the dough gets rolled out for the bottom crust.  And folded over and rolled again.  And…

5crust

6crust

7crust

Finally, it’s ready to go into the pie plate.  The trimmings will get added to the dough for the top crust.

08crust

09crust

Meanwhile, making the filling starts with washing, cutting, and boiling potatoes until they’re soft enough to mash easily.  We used 4 potatoes and realized later that we should have used only 3, so the ingredients list above says 3 potatoes (1 pound).  We leave the skins on the potatoes, although I’m pretty sure my husband’s grandmother would have peeled hers.  I really should have put something into that photo for scale!

10potatoes

11potatoes

In the original recipe, stale bread cubes are called for, in equal quantity to the potatoes.  “Add water and mash until mushy.”  I was given strict instructions by my husband that “mash until mushy” not be lost from the recipe, as I was  writing the updated version.

We freeze our bread so it doesn’t get stale.  That also means it doesn’t so much tear as break. Using frozen bread also means the bread has to thaw before it will “mash until mushy.”  We thought that pouring hot water from the potatoes over the bread would do the trick.  It only sort of did.  We put the bread and a bit of water into the microwave for a minute, added more water from the potatoes, and then used a potato masher to mush up the bread.  After enough water has been added to the bread, then the rest of the potato water can be drained off.

12bread

13bread

14bread

That looks mushy enough to me!

Apparently, my grandmother-in-law always  made up huge batches of filling, making about 4 pies at a time.  She’d know that she had the quantities for one pie right by mounding potatoes in 1/4 of a pie plate, bread cube mush in another 1/4, and the meat mixture in the other 1/2.  Thus reassured that proportions were right, she would mix them all together.

We’re only making one pie, so the proportions had better be correct.  Assuming that they are, we add the potatoes to the bread mush bowl and continue mashing.

15potatoes

Meanwhile, the “meat” had to get prepared.  That started with cleaning and chopping the mushrooms.

16mushrooms

17mushrooms1

The mushrooms went into the skillet with the lentils, butter, and just a bit of water from soaking the lentils.  The rest of the lentil water should be saved after it’s drained off, so that any time the skillet looks too dry, reserved lentil water is the liquid that gets added.  Between the melting butter and juices from the mushrooms, not much water is needed.

My grandmother-in-law’s recipe called for dried onion flakes.  Fresh onion is probably better.  I’m guessing that half an onion would be about right.  Because onions don’t like me, we didn’t put in any onions at all.  If you’re putting in onions, chop them finely and add them to the skillet with everything else.  Maybe even brown them in the butter before adding the mushrooms and lentils.

18meat

19meat1

20meat

When the lentils are soft enough to eat easily, add the spices:  poultry seasoning, cloves, cinnamon, and salt.  The original recipe called for allspice, too, but we don’t have any so we just used more cloves and cinnamon.

There has to be enough liquid in the pan for the spices to mix in easily.  Then the liquid has to simmer off.  That means the lentils might break down more than I want and not leave enough texture.  This recipe is still a work in progress.

When the “meat” is done, it goes into the bowl with the mashed bread and potatoes.  Everything gets stirred together.

The maple syrup gets added at this step, too.  Unless you’re serving the tourtiere to people who will pour maple syrup over their slices.  In that case, do not put syrup into the filling.

21filling

Finally, it goes into the crust.  Make sure that the top crust is ready and the oven is preheated to 400 degrees Farenheit, because the filling is moist enough to get the bottom crust so soggy that there might as well not be one.

22filling

The top crust needs steam vents, so why not make the pie pretty?

23pie

Bake at 400 for 10 minutes, then at 350 for 20 minutes longer, for a total baking time of 1/2 hour.  Serve hot.  If you’re making the pie ahead of time, it will stand up just fine to being baked a second time to reheat it.

24pie

Recap:

1.  Make crust.

2.  Boil potato chunks until soft.

3.  Mash bread chunks in potato water until they form mush.

4.  Mash the potatoes into the bread mush.

5.  Make meat substitute from lentils, diced mushrooms, butter, and spices.

6.  Mix lentil-mushroom mixture into potato-bread mixture.

7.  Mix in maple syrup.

8.  Pour filling into crust.

9.  Bake.

Bon appetit!

25pie

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5 Responses to “Vegetarian Tourtiere”

  1. mangochild Says:

    Yum! This sounds delicious. I’ll have to try it (omitting the mushroom as I’m allergic but I’d guess the lentils alone would work fine, right?)… As this time of year the produce is limited, having a new way to use potatoes and onions is welcome. Plus it looks so cozy as a winter meal. In terms of the crust, what would you suggest to sub for the butter?
    Oh, on the bread – I also freeze mine, and I find that sprinkling it with water and then in micro for 30 seconds or so usually gives a bit of mushiness…. though I admit when I found that out, I was not trying for the mushiness!

  2. vegyear Says:

    Mangochild, I hope the recipe works for you!

    The first time we tried a vegetarian version we simply substituted packaged vegetarian imitation ground beef for the ground pork-beef combination in the original recipe. There’s nothing magic about lentils and mushrooms, but they’re readily available whole foods that mimic the color, protein, and flavor of meat. I’m sure that lentils alone would work fine. I don’t know what the right quantity is. The goal is to fill half a pie plate after they’re soaked. If you figure out how much that is, please post back! You’ll probably want to use more onion because you’re losing the flavor contributed by the mushrooms. I’ve also seen tourtiere that includes carrots, maybe shredded, so there’s another winter vegetable to add. Turnips can mash in, too. :) I recall that you were looking for ways to use those up.

    Crust can be made with flour, oil, and water. I don’t know the proportions, but they should be easy to find. Oil crust is less flaky than butter crust which is less flaky than lard crust. Somewhere in the process of cutting in butter, I always wonder why I didn’t just make an oil crust. They’re so much easier!

    If you’re not using butter at all, you’ll want some oil in the filling, but probably not the full 1/3 cup we used of butter. Honestly, the reason it’s 1/3 of a cup is because that finished off the second stick used in making the crust. Less would work just fine.

    LOL about mushy bread! We usually toast our bread at home. Bringing lunch to work, the frozen bread keeps the sandwich filling chilled (especially important with something like egg salad) and thaws by lunch time.

  3. roseread Says:

    I’ll need to try that. As well as meat tourtiere. Also, poutine is Quebecois, and, if you don’t use meat gravy, veggie-friendly.

  4. Happy Holidays! « Veg Year Says:

    […] could make it cheaper and healthier by using a mix of lentils and mushrooms instead.  Here’s a link to my vegetarian tourtiere recipe.  This year, we’ll serve it with mashed butternut squash, because we still have a lot from […]

  5. lagatta à montréal Says:

    Dear VegYear, you will find LOTS of recipes for this, in French obviously: tourtière végétarienne or tourtière sans viande, but also in English: vegetarian or meatless tourtière.

    I live in Montréal, and I’ve never met ANYONE who poured maple syrup on tourtière – it is more often served with a spicy relish or fruit ketchup – a mild salsa is a perfectly acceptable substitute; there are some excellent organic ones now.

    A bit of good beer is excellent in this recipe – don’t worry about the alcohol, it would all cook off in the preparation. You can also add a bit of grated vegetable such as carrot or celery root, to lighten things up a bit.

    I make a different kind of crust, which you will find in Deborah Madison’s books and online, with olive oil and a bit of yeast (or better still, sourdough starter).

    There is also vegetarian poutine, but I don’t like poutine – I love good frites, and don’t eat them often for obvious health reasons – don’t like them mucked up with gravy, like them crisp.

    Bon appétit!

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