Vegan Mexican Lasagna

Gluten-Free, Vegan Mexican LasagnaYes, I made this Mexican lasagna with Cinco de Mayo in mind. But truthfully, I really don’t need an excuse to bring Mexican food into my life. Rice, beans, tortillas and salsa all top out the list of foods I regularly enjoy in some capacity. And I think it’s fair to say by now that I am a huge fan of cashew cheese, including the cashew nacho cheese sauce that I used here.

While I was making this dish, it occurred to me that it would be really difficult to mess it up. I suppose you could. But there’s not much science that goes into layering things and baking them together for a casserole-like dish — and even less science when it comes to using tortillas rather than lasagna noodles because there’s less risk of overcooking the tortillas than the noodles. I tried to keep this recipe as simple as possible, but that doesn’t mean sauteed vegetables, black olives, veggie crumbles or any number of other ingredients won’t also work here.

Similarly, if you don’t have a blender or don’t feel like making the homemade cashew sauce, you could easily substitute a vegan cheese for the cashew cheese sauce. If you do that, I would suggest adding a little extra salsa to the middle layers.

For me, the best part of this lasagna — aside from the taste, of course! — was that you get to avoid the frustration of having to soften corn tortillas and roll them into enchiladas. If you’ve ever tried this before, you understand first-hand how nearly impossible it is to do this without breaking any tortillas. I sort of decided at some point that I wasn’t interested in dealing with that sort of annoyance in the kitchen anymore. Layering the tortillas solves that problem while keeping the flavor and spirit of enchiladas intact.

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Grain-Free, Vegan Layered Vegetable Lasagna

Grain-Free, Vegan Layered Vegetable Lasagna | Delectably FreeWhile I own a growing collection of vegan cookbooks — a collection that my tiny kitchen is increasingly struggling to contain — I admit that I rarely make recipes directly from any cookbooks. That’s because I usually find myself trying to think of new recipes rather than make someone else’s. I collect cookbooks because they give me inspiration and help me with the thinking part more than anything else.

That said, there are a few cookbook recipes that fall under my all-time favorites — ones that I will gladly make and share with others, with no shame in that it wasn’t my idea to begin with, because it’s just that good. Ok, maybe there’s a touch of shame that I couldn’t think of the idea myself. But I love these recipes so much, they’re among the rare meals I make without trying to change a thing.

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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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Butternut Squash Lasagna

This will be my first Thanksgiving sans turkey. And while I’m not exactly sad about it, it did get me thinking about ideas for how to create a delicious vegetarian Thanksgiving. My family has always taken a pretty traditional approach to Thanksgiving. We’ve never been a sage-in-the stuffing, skin-on “smashed” potatoes kind of crew. But I’ve always appreciated a good Thanksgiving-inspired recipe that colors outside the lines a little.

I also recently noticed that the ubiquitous fall ingredient — butternut squash — has been noticeably absent around these parts. My friend Liz sent me a great recipe for butternut squash soup with a curried apple chutney. But every time I had the squash, I didn’t have apples. When I had apples, I had no squash. When I had vegetable stock, I had neither squash nor apples. Then today, I found myself with squash, lasagna noodles, some Daiya cheese (I know, it’s about time I seek help for my affinity for fake cheese), and all the ingredients I needed for my pine nut ricotta. I’m sure you can figure out where this is leading. And while my family will likely be celebrating Thanksgiving with the expected mashed potatoes and stuffing, I’m thinking this will make a great vegan side for a large, adventurous group, or even a main course for a small family.

This Thanksgiving, I will be SO THANKFUL for passing the NY Bar Exam!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I figure it’s only fair to share my joy here, where I’ve also lamented for months about my stress, anxiety, sleepless nights and endless studying. Thanks, all, for your support and well-wishes during a trying but ultimately rewarding time.

Butternut Squash Lasagna:

3/4 cup raw pinenuts, soaked for 4 hours, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon water

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 box Tinkyada gluten-free brown rice noodles

4 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced (about 18 oz.)

3 tablespoons sage leaves, roughly chopped

1 cup Daiya vegan mozzarella, plus more for top

Directions:

1. Prepare filling: in a blender or food processor, add soaked pine nuts, lemon juice, water and salt. Blend until smooth. Set aside (keep in food processor).

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of hot water to a boil. Add butternut squash and boil for about 4 minutes. Remove from pot (leave hot water for noodles) and drain. Add lasagna noodles and cook according to package directions, undercooking by a few minutes. Drain and rinse.

3. Preheat oven to 350. Rinse squash with cold water and add squash to food processor. Process until squash pieces are small and mixture is relatively smooth. Stir in sage leaves.

4. Assemble lasagna: add a layer of 3 noodles flat to the bottom of a baking dish. Spread about 3/4 of the squash-ricotta mixture evenly over the noodles and sprinkle 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup cheese over the squash mixture. Repeat 2x. Place remaining noodles on top and sprinkle with additional cheese.

5. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake, uncovered for an additional 10 minutes.

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Kale Pesto Lasagna

kale pestoMy friend Christian came up with the idea of doing a green lasagna and asked if I could execute it. He gave me liberty with the “green” description — green tomatoes, green pesto, whatever worked. I went into full Top Chef mode thinking about all of the possible “green lasagnas” I could make. After two weeks of deliberation, taken Christian’s request perhaps a bit too seriously (hey, I live for this stuff, what can I say?), I decided to make a lasagna using a kale pesto. The kale is steamed to a bright green color and blended with roasted garlic, lemon zest, a little olive oil and some of the pine nuts lets over from the “ricotta.”

This kale pesto can also be used in a number of other dishes. I’m thinking over chicken or fish, tossed with pasta, or even as a dressing for salad. This lasagna was also created in hopes that people would take some creative liberties with the recipe. For example, I used the same pine nut ricotta that I made for my gluten free, vegan lasagna recipe. But a regular ricotta could easily be used here. I also used some vegan mozarella from Follow Your Heart, but I think a regular, part-skim mozarella would be very delicious here for those who eat dairy. Want some meat? Add an extra layer of cooked ground turkey to the mix. I also added the option of parmesan cheese in the pesto. I didn’t use any and didn’t miss it, but I could imagine some parmesan being really good in there.

kale pesto lasagnaThis dish may require a few steps (fewer if you take the shortcut of using store-bought ricotta), but it’s well worth the effort and healthy to boot! Thanks for the inspiration, Christian!

Kale Pesto:

1 bunch kale, steamed to a bright green

green tops from 2 scallions, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt

zest of one lemon

3 cloves garlic, roasted (baked whole in a ramekin, drizzled with olive oil for 15 minutes, cool, then peel)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more if needed)

1 tablespoon pine nut ricotta or pine nuts

(2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese)

Other Components:

1 recipe pine nut ricotta or 1 cup ricotta cheese

1 box gluten free lasagna noodles

1 cup (or more) mozarella cheese or vegan mozarella, shredded

(1 lb. cooked ground turkey)

Directions:

1. Prepare pine nut ricotta and set aside.

2. Prepare pesto in same blender (don’t have to clean it out). Add some more olive oil if necessary to blend. Set aside.

3. Prepare lasagna noodles.

4. Preheat oven to 350.

5. Assemble lasagna: place a layer of noodles on the bottom of casserole dish. Spread with 1/3 cup ricotta and about the same amount of pesto. Sprinkle with a thin layer of mozarella cheese. Repeat 2x and top with final layer of noodles and sprinkle top with parmesan. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 5 minutes, or until cheese on top begins to bubble.

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Gluten-Free, Vegan Lasagna

Since being diagnosed with food allergies, the one thing I’ve really — I mean really – been missing has been lasagna, which was one of my all-time favorite comfort foods back in the day. This version is not only gluten-free and dairy-free, but also soy free. After coming across a recipe for pine nut ricotta dip in one of my favorite food blogs, Elana’s Pantry, I decided to adapt her dip recipe into a ricotta that could be used in lasagna. The results were out-of-this-world. Now when I’m craving a comforting, decadent one-dish meal, this vegetable lasagna will be my go-to recipe. Serve this meal for friends, but don’t tell them what’s not in it. You’ll fool them every time.

Gluten Free Vegan Lasagna with Pine Nut Ricotta:

1 yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 medium zucchini, diced

5 button mushrooms, sliced

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained

2 plum tomatoes, diced

1/4 cup minced parsley, plus more for sprinkling

1 teaspoon rosemary, minced

1 box gluten-free lasagna noodles (I used Tinkyada brand, which is made with brown rice)*

Pine Nut Ricotta:

1 cup raw pine nuts, soaked for 2 hours and drained

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Prepare sauce: In a large sauce pan or Dutch Oven, saute onions and garlic in one tablespoon olive oil over medium heat for about 8 minutes. Add zucchini and mushrooms, plus another tablespoon of olive oil. Saute for another 8 minutes. Add both canned and fresh tomatoes, parsley and rosemary. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. When finished, drain any excess liquid. Mixture should be quite thick. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 350. Prepare pasta according to package directions (I cooked mine for less time than the box called for).

3. Prepare ricotta by blending pine nuts, water, lemon juice and salt in a blender until smooth. Set aside.

4. Assemble lasagna: in a 9×13″ baking dish, start by layering noodles, side-by-side, lengthwise. Spread approximately 1/3 of the ricotta mixture over noodles. Spread 1 cup of the sauce over the top of the ricotta mixture. Repeat 3x, then top with a final layer of noodles.

5. Bake, covered in aluminum foil, for 20 minutes. Serve topped with additional parsley.

*You may need 2 boxes to fully complete the layering process. 1 box will usually be sufficient, but if there are broken pieces, one box might not always be enough. I try to keep an extra box on hand just to be on the safe side.

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