vegan potpie photo by carmen troesser

Vegan potpie

My friend Lesley enjoys healthful eating and doesn’t chase her lentil salads with a pound of Toblerone, unlike a certain vegetarian food writer I know. Recently, Lesley gave me a recipe that called for vegan phyllo dough. I love traditional phyllo dough because it’s rich and buttery, which is how zero people have ever described a vegan ingredient. But Lesley promised me this culinary unicorn exists and is readily available in the Whole Foods freezer case. Just like that, a whole new world of vegan cooking opened up to me.

Flaky appetizers, sweet pastries, savory tarts … I really could make them all, because a single box of The Fillo Factory dough contains 20 sheets – enough to wallpaper a powder room or make canapes for an army. That is, unless you ruin the dough immediately, which is what I did when I ignored the first rule of phyllo. Even if you’re chomping at the bit to make your own buttery bits of heaven, you must let the dough thaw for at least seven hours (overnight is best) in the refrigerator. And then you have to wait an additional 30 minutes while the dough comes to room temperature. No, you can’t just zap the frozen package in the microwave when no one is looking. If you do, the dough becomes soggy, and the sheets stick together like a papier-mâchéd brick.

Exercise enough patience to thaw your phyllo properly, and you will be rewarded with tissue-paper thin dough that is surprisingly easy to work with. Just pull out the number of sheets you need, stack them flat on a clean workspace and cover them with a dishtowel or wax paper so they don’t become brittle. (Keep the towel and your hands dry, otherwise the dough will become soggy, and you’ll have to start all over again. I made that mistake, too.) Then brush the individual sheets with melted margarine or olive oil, stack them on top of each other, and bake for a crust that is fabulously flaky.

Unlike most other frozen foods, it’s perfectly safe to refreeze the defrosted phyllo sheets you don’t use. Even better, thawed phyllo will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks, which allows you to make a vegan potpie whenever the mood strikes, like I did with my third, perfectly thawed batch of phyllo. Why potpie? It’s autumnal comfort food at its finest. I’m done with delicate summer salads and brothy soups. Give me a real, unapologetic meal, one I can dive into with a spoon and an appetite. Fall is sauce-soaked carb season, and you don’t need chicken to embrace it.

You do, however, need to make that saucy filling as rich and velvety as it is in a traditional potpie. First, I roasted the onions, celery and carrots. Roasting takes a bit longer than sauteing, but it coaxes out the vegetables’ natural sweetness and yields such robust flavors. Then I thickened my vegetable broth with a roux made from Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks and flour, which tasted as creamy as the traditional butter-drenched sauce without the saturated fat. And after my vegan potpie baked, I finished it with a drizzle of truffle oil. Its heady, earthy scent soaking into hot phyllo pastry was overpowering in an I-can’t-believe-it’s-vegan kind of way. In fact, the pies were so satisfying, I didn’t even crave chocolate for dessert. Now, I’m the first to admit that planning a meal is not as easy as ordering pizza at 5:20 p.m. But if you can manage to toss a box of dough in the fridge, you’ll be amazed at how richly your efforts (and patience) are rewarded.

Vegan Potpie

4 servings

1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 medium carrots, diced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
8 Tbsp. Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks or other soy margarine, divided
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, chopped
2 tsp. minced garlic
¼ cup flour
3 cups vegetable broth
2 Tbsp. sherry
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
¹∕³ cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Cooking spray
10 sheets vegan fillo dough, such as The Fillo Factory or Athens brand, thawed*
1 tsp. white truffle oil, divided

• Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
• In a large bowl, combine the onion, celery and carrots. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper, stirring until the vegetables are evenly coated. Place the vegetables in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and roast in the oven until they soften and begin to brown, about 15 minutes, stirring halfway through the cooking time. Remove the vegetables from the oven and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
• Melt 4 tablespoons soy margarine in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until their moisture releases and evaporates, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and garlic, and stir frequently, until the flour begins to brown. Add the broth and sherry, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Add the roasted vegetables, peas, parsley, thyme and mustard. Simmer until the broth thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove the vegetable mixture from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
• Coat the inside of four 8-ounce ramekins with cooking spray and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Divide the vegetable mixture evenly between the ramekins.
• Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons soy margarine on the stovetop or in the microwave. Place thawed, room-temperature phyllo dough sheets in a stack on a clean work surface. Working quickly, cut the dough into squares that are slightly larger than the diameter of the ramekins. Brush each phyllo square lightly with melted soy margarine and drape it over a ramekin. Repeat until each ramekin is topped with 10 squares of dough. Score the dough to vent steam. Place the baking sheet with the ramekins in the oven. Bake until the phyllo is golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the potpies from the oven and allow to rest 5 minutes. Drizzle each pot pie with ¼ tsp. of truffle oil. Serve hot.

*The Fillo Factory fillo dough is available at area Whole Foods Market locations, Athens fillo dough is available at all Straub’s locations,