I promised my friend Jacob a non-dairy meal of his choice for his birthday present, and he chose lasagna. Since he’s just a dairy intolerant omnivore like me, I could have made a meaty non-dairy lasagna, but I decided to appease my vegetarian roommate and make a dish we could all eat. So that was how I began my first adventure in vegan cooking. I have a cookbook called “How it All Vegan” that has several very intriguing recipes, but I haven’t gotten around to experimenting with any of them. I based my lasagna around their tofu mixture (ricotta substitute) and went from there.
Lasagna is never an easy affair, but this does require a bit more leg work in terms of tracking down the ingredients (I suggest Whole Foods), and making dairy substitutes. Watch out for dairy ingredients in the soy cheese out there — many have “casein” listed as an ingredient, which is still a dairy derivative and thus not totally vegan. Lasagna is usually very forgiving, but since I didn’t use meat (could easily add ground beef or buffalo, for those that eat meat), it’s a good idea to use lots of veggies and spices (mmm, garlic) to really heighten the flavor. I took a couple pictures of the lasagna making process, which I’ll post in a separate entry.
Heather’s Vegan Lasagna
9 lasagna noodles, cooked & drained
3 jars of 26oz pasta sauce
2 cups vegan mozzarella cheese, shredded (I used 2 blocks of GalaxyFoods Vegan cheese, found at WF)
vegetables of choice (mushrooms, roasted red peppers, zuchhini, squash, eggplant, olives, etc)
Ricotta Substitute (from How it All Vegan)
15 oz firm tofu
1/4 cup soy milk
1 tsp dried oregano
3 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, minced
2 cups spinach, chopped
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a blender or food processor, combine the tofu, soy milk, oregano, basil, salt, lemon juice, garlic, and onion. Blend until the mixture has the consistency of ricotta cheese. If mix is too thick, add water. Stir in the chopped spinach and set aside.
In a large saucepan, saute the vegetables over medium heat until softened, about 7-8 minutes.
To assemble lasagna, spray a deep 13×9-inch baking pan with non-stick spray. Spread 1 cup sauce over bottom of pan. Layer 3 lasagna noodles on top. Spread 2 cups sauce over noodles, followed by 1/2 of the vegetables, 1/2 of the tofu/spinach mixture, and 1/3 of the vegan cheese. Top with 3 more noodles, 2 cups sauce, 1/2 the vegetables, 1/2 the tofu/spinach mixture and 1/3 of the vegan cheese. Layer final 3 noodles on top, followed by 2 cups of sauce and the remaining vegan cheese.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375 degrees for one hour or until heated through and bubbly.
This lasagna tasted remarkably like a regular dairy lasagna. I was totally shocked. There was nothing weird or fake tasting about it. Everyone who ate it thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think Jacob was pleased with his very first lasagna experience. One benefit of not using regular cheese is that it tasted nice and light and non-greasy, and didn’t leave you feeling all clogged up like lasagna normally makes me feel
I also learned that vegan cheese does NOT melt, at least this brand didn’t, so you shouldn’t wait around all day for it to melt like I did. I even took off the aluminum foil for a good 10-15 minutes, but no melting. It does start to get crispy and hard if you leave it in the oven too long uncovered — so watch out for that.
I like to load my lasagna with veggies, but this time I went light on them since I didn’t know how Jacob felt about them. I only used mushrooms and jarred roasted red peppers (I love these). I usually go all out and make the tomato sauce from scratch, but since this vegan version is a bit more labor intensive I opted for the jarred sauce. I ended up using two different varieties of Barilla pasta sauce, since that is what I had in my pantry at the time (roasted red pepper & garlic and mushroom). It tasted great, and I honestly think any sauce would be fine in this. I whipped up some garlic butter and served garlic bread on the side.