This vegetarian version of the comfort food classic will satisfy vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Hearty lentils and savory spices make up the foundation of this warm and cozy Tater Tot Casserole or “Hot Dish”. The natural starch in lentils create a creamy sauce for this casserole without the need for any added cream.
Almost everyone I know is trying to eat more plant-based foods these days. If there’s one thing I’ve found over the years of developing recipes here on Inquiring Chef and at Cook Smarts (affiliate link; worth noting because we write a vegetarian version of every single recipe we create if you’re looking for more veg-friendly meals), it’s that with a bit of willingness to think outside the box, many classic comfort foods take easily to a vegetarian twist.
And in this version of tater tot casserole, lentils not only give the dish a hearty, protein-packed filling but they work a bit of magic (thanks to natural starches) to create a rich and creamy sauce. Top that creamy, rich base with store-bought tater tots and you have a meal that will seriously satisfy anyone.
I mean…who doesn’t love tater tots? And, in particular, who doesn’t love tater tots that are golden brown and crisp on top and have soaked up rich, creamy gravy on the bottom? It’s a match made in heaven, I assure you.
And only takes one pan.
- Green Lentils – Raw green lentils hold their shape but still get silky and tender once cooked. Be sure to rinse them well before using.
- Onions and Carrots – Use these diced vegetables to create a base. They will flavor the stock and lentils as they simmer.
- Dried Thyme, Smoked Paprika, Salt, Mustard Powder, Garlic Powder, Black Pepper – This blend of pantry staple dried herbs and spices creates a rich, savory base for the dish. Combine these spices before cooking and the rest of the dish is a breeze.
- Soy Sauce and Tomato Paste – Soy sauce may seem out of place in the list of ingredients, but trust me – it works. Both of these ingredients add savory umami flavor to this vegetarian meal. For gluten-free, be sure to use Tamari instead of soy sauce.
- Frozen Peas – Add a pop of color and naturally sweet flavor to the finished dish.
- Tater Tots – You can’t have “Hot Dish” casserole without tater tots! The tots get crisp on the top and sort of melt into the lentil gravy on the bottom – the combination of textures is so good!
- Mix up the vegetables – Any type of vegetables will work in this dish (use the in addition to or instead of the onions and carrots). Bell peppers, diced celery, or diced zucchini would be great.
- Make it spicy – Add some hot sauce or a pinch of cayenne to the base.
- Add cheese – This casserole is great with a layer of shredded cheese between the lentils and the tater tots. I like sharp white cheddar, but use your favorite.
- Mix up the topping – Instead of the classic tater tots, try this with sweet potato tots, or use tater tot “crowns” or “coins” as shown in the photos throughout this post.
More Vegetarian Weeknight Meals
- Creamy Cauliflower Baked Ziti
- Creamy Butternut Squash and Spinach Casserole
- Cauliflower Piccata with Lemon Caper Sauce
- Herb Roasted Vegetables
- Tex Mex Stuffed Zucchini
- Greek Pizza with Feta, Spinach and Olives
- Sesame Noodle Salad
- Black Bean and Quinoa Veggie Burgers
- Roasted Cauliflower Tacos
- Instant Pot Thai Panang Curry
- Sweet Potato Tacos with Avocado Crema and Goat Cheese
Vegetarian Tater Tot Casserole
- Oven Safe Skillet or 9x13 Baking Dish
- 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 cup diced Onions
- 1 cup diced Carrots
- 2 tsp Dried Thyme
- 2 tsp Smoked Paprika (sub regular paprika)
- 1 tsp Mustard Powder (sub Dijon mustard)
- 1 tsp Garlic Powder
- 1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
- 1/4 tsp Black Pepper
- 3 cups Vegetable Stock / Broth
- 2 Tbsp Soy Sauce (sub Tamari for gluten-free)
- 3 Tbsp Tomato Paste
- 1 1/2 cups Raw Green Lentils
- 1 cup Frozen Peas, defrosted
- 24 oz Frozen Tater Tots (potato “coins” or “crowns” are great too; use gluten-free if needed)
- Preheat oven to 425°F / 218°C. If using a 9x13-inch casserole dish, spray it with nonstick cooking spray (alternatively, you can prepare the filling in a 12-inch oven-safe skillet and bake the casserole directly in that).
- Heat a 12-inch skillet (if baking right in the skillet) or saucepan (if planning to transfer to a casserole dish) over medium heat. Add olive oil. When it begins to shimmer, add onions and carrots and sauté until starting to soften, 5 to 6 minutes.
- Add dried thyme, smoked paprika, mustard powder, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper and stir for 2 minutes.
- Stir in stock, soy sauce, and tomato paste. Bring to a simmer.
- When liquids are simmering, stir in lentils. Cover and simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, ~20 minutes. (Reduce heat if needed to maintain a low simmer.)
- Stir peas into lentils.
- If using a casserole dish, scrape lentil mixture into casserole dish.
- Top lentils with tater tots in a single layer.
- Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until tater tots are deep golden brown and very crisp, ~30 minutes.
- Let casserole rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- Serve with some plain yogurt or sour cream if you’d like. Enjoy!
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