Pot pies as health food

Vegetable pot pie

Pot pies aren’t high on my shopping list.  Actually they aren’t anywhere on it.  But I started thinking about them after learning that consumers think pot pies are healthy.  That data comes from a consumer survey done by a large food company.  That company is in the business of making food products that people want to buy, so I’m not inclined to doubt it.  Foodies may sniff at the idea of pot pies as healthy, but I can understand why people believe that.  First, the photo on the package is usually a pot pie with vegetables spilling out of it.  Healthy, right?  Second, pot pies are filling, tasty and inexpensive, all at the top of the list for customer satisfaction, making it easy for consumers to see a Health Halo.

Pot pies don’t have to be unhealthy, but unfortunately most commercial ones are not so great.  They don’t contain all that many vegetables.  Most of the contents is filler gravy, with a few bits of meat and uninspired mixed vegetables.  They also tend to be high sodium.

You can make a healthier version, if you’re handy in the kitchen.  And you can make it vegetarian or vegan, if that’s your preference.  I made this vegetarian pot pie, loaded with vegetables, with a minimum of sauce.  Feel free to add bits of cooked chicken or turkey (you’ll have that in abundance soon), or crumbled soft tofu.  Loading up on vegetables makes vegetable pot pies super healthy, full of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  Also flavorful and filling.

This is more like a construction project that a recipe.  First you need pie crust.  You can use commercial crust, or make your own.  I use a classic Julia Child recipe, which has butter and oil.  Vegans won’t want to use butter, so margarine is the other option, or vegetable shortening.  Personally, I never allow margarine or shortening in my house.  Another vegan option: make a deep dish pie, and use a crumb topping.  Bread or crouton crumbs, rolled oats and chopped nuts are possible ingredients.

Roast a variety of vegetables.  This gives the veggies a yummy flavor and removes moisture, which helps keep the pie from getting soggy.  Here are some possibilities:

  • broccoli cut into flowerets
  • brussel sprouts, sliced in half
  • cauliflower sliced into flowerets
  • sliced onions
  • celery slices
  • carrots in slices or sticks
  • potato chunks
  • sweet potato chunks
  • rutabaga chunks (these take a long time to roast)
  • parsnips
  • mushrooms
  • chunks of winter squash (don’t over cook or they’ll just be mushy)
  • chunks of zucchini or yellow summer squash

Put your vegetables in a roasting pan and toss with oil (olive oil preferably), salt and pepper.  You can add chopped garlic or herbs for more flavor.  Roast uncovered at 350 degrees, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until just done.  Different vegetables will take more or less time to cook, so it’s a good idea to cook similar ones together to avoid over- or under-cooking them.

Left-over cooked vegetables are another option.  Or you can also use the following thawed frozen vegetables, without roasting:

  • kernel corn
  • lima beans
  • green beans
  • peas

For a protein boost, you can also add crumbled soft tofu.

Make sauce: make any roux-based sauce, using a vegetarian stock (available in grocery stores).  Vegetarians can make this a cheese sauce, to boost the protein.  Season to taste with herbs, salt and pepper.  As the pot pie bakes, the sauce will pick up flavors from the vegetables.

Choose the pan(s) you’re going to use.  You can make several small individual pies, or one larger one in a 9-inch pan.  Put down the bottom crust.  Pile your vegetable/tofu mixture into the pie shell and pour sauce over.  You should have around 2 cups of sauce in a 9-inch pie.  You can pile the vegetables a bit higher than the rim of the pan.  Put the top crust on, pinch it closed and cut some air holes in the top.

Bake to cook the crust and heat up the vegetables and sauce.  Use package instructions, if you’re using commercial crust.  A 9-inch pie could take 30 minutes, 10-12 at higher temperature (400) to brown the crust, and then 350 degrees to finish.

I made this pie with broccoli, onions, brussel sprouts, carrots and corn.  As I mentioned previously, veggie pot pies could be part of a vegetarian Thanksgiving Dinner, or dinner for a Meatless Monday in January.  I have some other recipe ideas, now that I’ve been thinking about pot pies, and if they work out, I’ll share them with you in a future post.

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