For the last few years, on the years that we’ve celebrated at home, I’ve made it an un-official tradition to cook an Italian-themed meal for New Year’s Eve. Maybe it’s because my grandma and I would always make lasagna together whenever we had a chance to visit each other. Maybe it’s because it makes me feel fancy and impressive. Maybe it’s because… it just tastes good!!
Lasagna is one of those dishes that’s so customizable (spell-check tells me that’s not a real word… well, it ought to be!). I never make it exactly the same way twice, but it always turns out delicious when it’s hot out of the oven. I had made some yummy vegan lasagna rolls several months ago, but this was my first time making a full-size, vegan, vegetable lasagna, with layers and things.
So, think a lasagna without cheese would be boring?
Far from it. I took inspiration from Miyoko Schinner’s book, Artisan Vegan Cheese, which my aunt just sent me for Christmas (sah-weeet!!). This vegetable lasagna is oozing with creamy, “cheesy” goodness thanks to the tofu ricotta, mozzarella cream sauce, and vegan parmesan. In fact, my dad commented that he couldn’t understand how it was vegan – it tasted like it was made with real cheese!
Instead of a meat-based sauce, I made a hearty vegetable “bolognese” packed full of all the veggies I could gather. My awesome brother helped me with all the chopping! You can definitely tweak the recipe according to what you have on hand. It’s a very forgiving kind of dish. And if you have any vegetable-phobes in the house, I’ll tell you this: the biggest veggie-hater I know (a family friend who refuses to touch anything green) cleaned his plate and went back for seconds!
I ended up preparing two vegetable lasagnas for New Year’s Eve, because I didn’t know until a few hours before dinner how many people were coming over (we are a spontaneous bunch, our family). But even if it ended up being too much, in my opinion, there is no such thing as having too much lasagna in the house.
Case in point – we finished the second dish within 24 hours.
I rounded out this year’s (wait, last year’s?) Italian-inspired dinner with ciabatta garlic bread (actually, my brother prepared it!), green salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette, my mom’s heart-warming veggie soup, and vegan coconut panna cotta topped with strawberry jam for dessert. Plus, I was so thrilled that my cousin stopped by a (fancy) bakery on the way over and picked up some more tasty desserts – including a vegan chocolate cake for me and my hubby! 😀
Mmm… what a sweet ending to the year – and to new beginnings!
Make this creamy vegetable lasagna in 2016!!
(I promise it won’t set you back in your fitness/weight loss goals; see nutrition comparison below recipe.)
This recipe makes 2 lasagnas - perfect for entertaining hungry guests! You could also freeze the 2nd lasagna for later, or cut the recipe in half for just 1 lasagna.
The Mozzarella Cream Sauce, if using, should be prepared a day ahead to let the cultures do their thing and develop a tangy flavor. The Tofu Ricotta and Veggie Bolognese Sauce can also be prepared the day before so that you will be mostly ready to assemble the lasagnas and bake the day you will be serving them.
For the Mozzarella Cream Sauce (optional, but highly recommended):
1 cup raw cashews, soaked in hot water at least 10 minutes, drained
1 cup plain, unsweetened non-dairy yogurt (I used So Delicious cultured coconut milk)
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
For the Tofu Ricotta:
2 blocks firm tofu (14 oz. each), drained
1/2 cup plain, unsweetened non-dairy yogurt (again, here I used So Delicious cultured coconut milk)
2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
2 tsp. lime juice
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp Italian seasoning
Dash black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
For the Veggie Bolognese Sauce:
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
1 onion, diced
6-8 baby carrots, grated or finely chopped*
3 stalks celery, finely chopped*
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and seeds scooped, grated or finely chopped*
2 red bell peppers, diced
3 small or 2 medium zucchini, diced
6 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 large tomatoes, diced
3 cans tomato sauce (15 oz. each)
Italian seasoning, to taste (I used about 1 tsp)
Sea salt, to taste
Organic sugar, to taste (I used 2 tsp)
*(for best results, use a Vitamix on speed 3 or a food processor)
The day before: prepare the Mozzarella Cream Sauce. Blending the soaked cashews, yogurt, water, and salt until smooth. Pour into a glass container, cover loosely, and let sit on the counter for 12-24 hours. It will develop a slightly tangy flavor.
Can be made the day before: prepare the Tofu Ricotta. Mash the tofu and yogurt in a bowl with a fork until the texture is crumbly, resembling ricotta or cottage cheese. Mix in the nutritional yeast, lime juice, sea salt, Italian seasoning, and black pepper. Store in the fridge. Mix in the garlic powder just before using in the lasagna. (Otherwise, if you mix it in right from the bat, your fridge will smell really garlicky - fair warning.)
Can be made the day before: prepare the Veggie Bolognese Sauce. In a large, deep skillet, saute the onions in olive oil over medium heat until they start to soften (about 5 minutes). Add the chopped carrots, celery, and butternut squash to the skillet and continue to saute for about 5 minutes or until fragrant. Add the bell peppers and zucchini; saute another 3 minutes. Make a small well in the center of the pan by pushing the vegetables towards the sides, pour 2 tsp. olive oil in the center, then add the minced garlic. Keeping it in the center, stir garlic lightly for 30 seconds to 1 minute until fragrant. Mix with the rest of the vegetables. Pour in the tomato sauce, the chopped tomatoes, and seasonings. Cover and simmer 10 minutes, taste and adjust seasonings as desired. If prepared the day before, let cool before storing in the fridge.
The day of: chop the spinach and kale, and slice the tomatoes; set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a wide, deep skillet, boil the lasagna noodles in lightly salted water until "al dente", about 8 minutes (I cooked mine in batches). Be careful not to overcook at this stage, so that they do not fall apart when handled. Drain the noodles and use tongs to gently separate and lay flat on the prepared baking sheet (if needed, do a second layer in the opposite direction). Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Assemble the lasagna dishes: In a 9"x13" casserole dish, spread a spoonful of veggie bolognese sauce over the bottom. Make a layer of lasagna noodles; I used 5 (4 lengthwise, 1 crosswise to fill the gap). Spread 1/4 of the tofu ricotta mixture over the noodles. Sprinkle 1/4 of the chopped spinach and kale. Spread a layer of veggie bolognese sauce. Drizzle with 1/4 of the Mozzarella Cream Sauce. Repeat layers: noodles, ricotta, greens, bolognese, cream sauce. Top with 1/2 of the tomato slices and sprinkle 1 Tbsp. vegan parmesan cheese, if desired. Repeat with 2nd lasagna dish. Cover the dishes tightly with aluminum foil.
Bake the lasagna: for 45 minutes, rotating once halfway through. Remove foil, and cook another 10 minutes to let the tops brown.
Serve: Remove the lasagna from the oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving (we hardly waited and it sort of fell apart during serving, but it still tasted amazing!). Serve with garlic bread and a simple green salad for a well-rounded Italian-inspired meal. Buon appetito!
Despite having far less calories, total fat, saturated fat, and zero cholesterol, I know there are people who will look at this and say “but the vegan one has no protein!” Well, actually that’s not true – just one slice has almost a quarter of your daily needs – but if protein is a concern and you’re not content with eating multiple slices (gasp!), you could add 1 can of cooked lentils to the vegetable bolognese sauce to boost the protein and fiber content (check for low sodium).