I grew up eating lots of lasagna dinners.
My mom was a fan of the frozen kind that you just popped into the oven and 45 minutes later you had yourself something very cheesy and meaty, the product being a greasy and tasty mock-Italian dish (somehow I think that anyone who considers themselves truly Italian would be offended by this). I suppose this was a god-send, considering my mom had very little time to cook, and had to feed a family of nine. That’s the beauty of lasagna, it’s wonderfully filling and seems to go on forever (one batch of lasagna can feed a person lunch/dinner for a week!).
It’s been awhile since I’ve had lasagna, and since I’ve made the vegan switch, I haven’t bothered much to experiment with it. Until recently.
Which begs the question, what DO you put in a vegan lasagna? No mozzarella or Parmesan cheese, no ground beef or chicken, so what’s left? Noodles? Well I don’t know about you, but just plain lasagna noodles with a little bit of sauce, might be fine for some of you with simple tastes, but I love lots of variety and flavor, so it just doesn’t cut it for me.
On a recent road trip I came across some fantastic tofu, I’ve already forgotten the brand but it was garlic and herb flavored. Where I come from, we don’t have fancy stores that carry such delicacies as curry firm tofu, and sun dried tomato extra-firm tofu. Just plain ol‘ tofu, soft, firm, and extra firm. So it was really fun to come across some variety (you know how I love variety!) and as soon as I saw it, I knew that I must buy some and put it into lasagna.
Hence the recipe for this lasagna was born.
I suppose the long list of ingredients supports the fact that I can’t help myself. I find any excuse to jam pack as much variety and taste in one dish as possible. This recipe utilizes the bounties of summer (eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers) as well as fresh basil (the secret ingredient, shh, don’t tell!) and garlic. Mushrooms, onions, and spinach add some texture and more flavor. And just when you didn’t think it could get any better, the garlic/herb tofu and vegan Parmesan cheese makes your taste buds swoon. Cheese? Ground Beef? They seem so inconsequential when compared to these fresh plant ingredients.
I must say, this is definitely not one of those dishes that can be whipped up in a moments notice, in under 20 minutes. It does require a bit of planning and time, but you can double the recipe and freeze half for later, or have if you like leftovers, you will have some that you can use for up to a week, great to make over the weekend.
Once the lasagna was baked, I topped it with fresh vine tomatoes. A key to any recipe turning out, is the use of high quality fresh produce…every dish MUST have at least one or two (or three or four…) fresh fruits and/or veggies. They add so much taste and texture (and vitamins/minerals and other nutrients!).
We paired the lasagna with some whole wheat sourdough bread from Trader Joe’s (a true sourdough bread, made from a starter, rather than active dry yeast) and a simple green leaf salad topped with carrots, sliced purple cabbage, and fig basalmic vinaigrette.
- whole grain lasagna noodles (may use brown rice version which is GF)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2-4 cloves garlic, minced/chopped
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt (optional)
- 1 eggplant, peeled and cubed
- 1 red/yellow/orange bell pepper, diced
- 2 zucchini, diced
- 2 c. sliced fresh mushrooms of choice
- 2-3 c. chopped fresh spinach
- 2-3 large handfuls of fresh basil, chopped
- 1 package (12-16 oz.) garlic-herb firm tofu, mashed with a bean masher until crumbly
- 3 c. tomato/spaghetti sauce
- 2 vine ripe tomatoes
Cook noodles according to the direction on the box. Heat a large heavy cast-iron skillet or non-stick pan to medium heat. When hot, add onions, garlic, and salt (you do not need to add oil! if it starts to stick at all, add 1/2 TBS. of water, but not too much, you don’t want it to steam) and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add eggplant, zucchini, and pepper (these ingredients will shrink quite a bit!). Cook for 3 more minutes then add mushrooms. Cook until everything is soft, then add spinach and stir until combined. Remove from heat. Add chopped basil to your spaghetti sauce.
Preheat oven to 400 F. In a large glass casserole dish layer as follows: sauce, noodles, tofu, veggie mixture, sauce. Repeat. Bake for 40-45 minutes.
Top with thinly sliced tomatoes and vegan Parmesan cheese. Allow the lasagna to cool for 10-15 minutes (it will holds it shape much better).
For the Parmesan cheese:
- 1/3 c. nutritional yeast (not the same as Brewer’s yeast!)
- 1/2 c. cashews
- juice of 1-2 lemons
- a pinch or two of sea salt