09 February 2011

Spicy vegetarian hachis parmentier

Hachis parmentier, for those who may not be familiar, is the ultimate comfort food. Super convenient and satisfying, this is the French equivalent of shepherd's pie. Hachis comes from the verb hacher, meaning to chop or mince. Parmentier is a nod to Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, a famous French scientist who was renowned for researching potatoes and promoting them as the ideal crop to feed the poor. Traditionally speaking, hachis parmentier is made with a base of seasoned beef or a beef stew (leftovers welcome!) topped with a layer of mashed potatoes. The mixture is baked in an oven until golden and a bit crusty. Warm, hearty, simple, perfect for even the most fussy of eaters!

It's funny because it seems that hachis parmentier has become the ultimate convenience food in France, much like shepherd's pie, meatloaf or lasagna in the States or the UK. A variety of uninspiring-looking readymade versions can be found in French supermarkets, ready to pop into the microwave or the oven. 

There are even children's versions...beurk! It's sad considering that this dish is so easy to make, but understandable given the demands of life, which the French are struggling with just as much as anyone else contrary to popular non-French belief (more on this in a future post)...

Being a vegetarian and a spice mistress, my hachis parmentier is naturally vegetarian, using soya mince (or vegetarian crumbles) in place of the ground beef traditionally called for. The mince is mixed with sauteed onions, carrot and zucchini (or any other vegetables you may happen to have sitting around) and of course spiced up with garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, chili powder and garam masala for an Indian touch. Come to think of it, this is simply a vegetable and soya mince curry topped with mashed potatoes. And not just any mashed potatoes, mind you, for February is National Sweet Potato Month in the U.S.! Now I have no idea who comes up with all these culinary months and days (today is also National Molasses Bar Day), but I love sweet potatoes and think that they perfectly complement the spicy curry. If you don't like mixing sweet with spicy (you know who you are!), regular mashed potatoes will work perfectly too.
Bon appétit!
Makes 8 servings

For mashed potato topping
1 kilogram sweet or regular potatoes, washed, scrubbed and peeled
1 cup lowfat milk
2 tablespoons crème fraîche (I used light)
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For vegetable and soya mince curry
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 tablespoon garlic paste
1 tablespoon ginger paste
2 large carrots, grated and chopped
1 zucchini, chopped into thin half-moons
1 14.5-ounce (400 grams) can chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon (or more!) chili powder
Salt and sugar to taste
1 cup soya mince (vegetarian soy crumbles), rehydrated and squeezed dry
2 tablespoons ketchup
Hot sauce, to taste
1/2 cup water

Nonstick cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 400F / 200 C.

2. Make mashed potatoes: Chop the potatoes into large chunks and microwave for 10 minutes to soften. While cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the potatoes. Cook until soft, about 15-20 minutes. Drain and return to pot. Mash and mix thoroughly with milk, crème fraîche and melted butter. Season with cinnamon (omit this if using regular potatoes).

3.  Make vegetable curry: Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add cumin seeds. Once they start to pop, add chopped onion and garlic and ginger pastes. Saute for a couple of minutes, then add chopped carrot and zucchini (or whatever vegetables you are using). Stir in the can of tomatoes, followed by all of the spices and salt and sugar to taste. Mix well and cook for 7-10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the soya mince/crumbles and stir well. Add ketchup, hot sauce (if desired) and water if you find the mixture to be too dry. Cook for 10 minutes.

4. Coat an 11 x 7 inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Spread the curry in an even layer in the dish.

5. Top with the mashed sweet (or regular) potatoes, using a spatula to spread the mixture evenly across the curry.

6. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes until golden brown on top. Yum!


  1. Sounds like it looks..delicious!!! Yummy!

  2. Look absolutely wonderful! I have never thought of a veggie Shepards Pie, let alone one with sweet potatoes...I have learned something today! Sure to try this!

  3. This is right up my alley, well, pretty much anything with mashed potatoes is alright with me! I can't wait to try this recipe!

  4. I have never heard of this dish but it sure looks spicy (woohoo!). I love spicy food :D

  5. So vibrant and gorgeous color, flavor, and made with all the best of the spices...no wonder you are the Mistress of Spices, Ramya!
    So befitting!

  6. Beautiful veggy, healthy version with the Mistress of Spices' magic touch! Look forward to reading about the French and convenience food. Agree it's alarmingly on the horizon... Must try your delicious recipe.

  7. Oh my, I absolutely LOVE your version - so flavourful, I bet and wonderfully colourful! They should start selling THAT chez Fleury Michon ;-)

  8. Sounds so creative...I would love to try this!
    Btw, love your profile picture...it's beautiful!

  9. Yum! I bet it would be good with chickpeas or lentils in the filling as well.