No-Boil Gluten-Free, Vegan Spinach Lasagna

Not my most polished photo, but it does capture the delicious gooeyness that is this lasagna

While lasagna is probably high on my list of favorite comfort foods, there is something very un-comforting about slaving away over the stove all night, especially after an 8+ hour workday. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook and find it therapeutic in some ways, but the thought of multi-step preparation, several pots and pans and a sink full of dishes has often dissuaded me from preparing labor-intensive meals on weeknights, however comforting or satisfying those meals may turn out to be.

With that mindset, I set out to prepare a version of lasagna that I could feasibly prepare in under 30 minutes (with a little added baking time) — and one that would not sacrifice on flavor for it. I determined that my first step in executing such a plan would be to prepare a lasagna where the noodles do not need to be boiled first. Sure, there are recipes out there for no-boil lasagna…for vegan lasagna…for gluten-free lasagna…but how would this work with all three components in play? And on top of that, the only lasagna noodles I seem to regularly find in my area are Tinkyada noodles, which are not specifically no-boil. But guess what? It worked!

I think you will find this no-boil lasagna hearty and satisfying. The trick, I found, is to use a lot of sauce. The bottom noodles came out perfectly cooked — the top layer was slightly more chewy but still done throughout, though they did curl up a bit. To counteract the curling, I would suggest using a slightly smaller than 9×13″ pan — one that is no more than slightly longer than the noodles themselves. I found that the pan I used was significantly larger than the actual length of the noodles, causing the top layer of sauce to run off into the sides. While the noodles were still cooked through on top, and I actually liked the slightly chewier texture, I think a smaller dish would have probably relieved the slight problem. On the other hand, if you only have a 9×13″ dish, it is not the end of the world. The noodles still cooked through and a pizza cutter worked to cut everything without making a mess.

The choice of filling in this lasagna was also largely influenced by my effort to save time while still creating something that evoked “real” lasagna (I would argue that vegan lasagna is, of course, “real” lasagna, but you know what I mean…). Spinach lasagna, even in my pre-vegan days, has always been a favorite. This filling involved little more than opening a bag of frozen spinach and crumbling up some tofu. But it was delicious.

On a final note: the sauce I used for this recipe is a take on Chloe Coscarelli’s  mac and cheese sauce from Chloe’s Kitchen, one of my favorite vegan cookbooks. I tweaked the original recipe by adding crushed tomatoes and oregano and playing with some of the other ingredient amounts to make it suited more to a lasagna than a mac and cheese. I also, of course, made it gluten-free. It turned out really delicious! You could definitely use this sauce for any type of baked pasta dish.

No-Boil Spinach Lasagna:

Note: while the bottom layer of noodles cooks perfectly, the top noodles layer may be a little chewier in this recipe because of the no-boil factor. To combat this, you can either split up the filling into 3 parts and spread some more on top along with the sauce (so there would be no noodles on top), or simply boil the noodles if you really don’t want to deal with it. However, I have made this recipe a few times and feel that the noodles cook perfectly when underneath something, so I think splitting the filling and adding more on top is the best solution. Of course, I have also made this several times with a chewier top layer, which I am fine with. I use a pizza cutter to make sure everything slices easily. 

Serves: 5-7

Ingredients:

1 pkg. Tinkyada brown rice lasagna noodles (or other gluten-free lasagna) -totals 12 lasagna noodles

Filling:

1 pkg. (about 8 oz.) firm tofu

10 oz. bag frozen cut spinach

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Sauce:

3 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Spread

1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour (another gluten-free all-purpose flour should also work)

3 cups soy or almond milk, plain, unsweetened

1 cup organic crushed tomatoes (preferably no salt added)

1 teaspoon sea salt (if used tomatoes with salt added, reduce sea salt and add in more to taste)

1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes (plus more for top, if desired)

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. For Filling: Place tofu and frozen spinach in a medium-sized glass or other mixing bowl. Set aside.

3. Prepare Sauce: In a large saucepan, melt buttery spread over medium heat. When butter is melted, add flour and whisk until a paste is formed. Add remaining ingredients and whisk. Simmer for approximately 10 minutes, or until sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat.

4. Return to Filling: Using your hands, squeeze out excess water from tofu and spinach mixture over the sink, about 4-5 times.You may wish to do this over a colander in case you lose any tofu or spinach. Return the tofu and spinach to bowl and add cider vinegar and salt. Mix well.

5. Put it together: Spread 1/3 cup sauce on the bottom of a 7×11″ pan. Layer 4 dry lasagna noodles evenly over the sauce. Spread about 1/2 of the tofu-spinach mixture evenly over the noodles. You can gently press down with your hands to pack it on. Cover with 1 cup of the sauce. Add another layer of 4 lasagna noodles and cover with the remaining tofu-ricotta mixture. Cover with another cup of sauce. Add remaining layer of lasagna noodles and cover with remaining sauce. If desired, sprinkle top evenly with nutritional yeast (about 2 tablespoons).

6. Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven for about 35 to 40 minutes; sauce should be bubbling. Remove from oven and serve.

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