My family recently celebrated the second birthday of my delightful granddaughter, who requested a kitty party (face paint, costumes games) with a huge shark pinata (cats eat fish right?). After the fish course was dealt with (whack!), folks feasted on a couple of lasagnas, one traditional (more or less) and one dairy free. I also made a smaller vegan version just to see how well my various tweaks worked. It’s definitely one I’ll make again, and I offer you the recipe, since I find a lot of vegan recipes to be either disappointing or too heavily reliant on processed non-foods. Just saying…
Plump, cushiony layers of roasted vegetables alternate with rich, velvety sauce and tender noodles in this lush vegan adaptation of the Italian classic comfort food. Like any lasagna recipe, this one may initially seem dauntingly involved, but actually assembling this vegan version doesn’t take very long once the various layer ingredients are made. You can make the Not Cheese Sauce while the vegetables roast, and if you made a pleasing sea salt blend last year (when I offered several versions), that bit’s already done. And of course, you can always use any salt you prefer, seasoned or not.
Start to finish, this recipe took about an hour to be oven-ready, though it needs a night in the fridge before baking it off. Next day, allow about an hour for baking the lasagna, while you make a salad, set the table, and enjoy a glass of whatever you choose. If it’s easier for you, make each layering ingredient and set them aside until you’re ready to put it all together. Personally, I like to work on several things at once, starting the Not Cheese Sauce while the vegetables roast and steaming the spinach whenever there’s a few idle minutes. I always use the no-boil noodles these days (they’re actually more similar to home made ones than the frilly edged kind), but if you prefer to boil up the big ones, you can do that ahead as well and spread them on cooling racks until needed. Ready? Here goes!
Not So Cheesy Sauce
This thick, almost gloopy sauce puts me in mind of those slightly plastic-like jarred nacho cheese sauces but tastes a lot better. You can definitely dip corn chips into it, spoon it over roasted vegetables, pasta or rice, or use it in vegan mac-and-not-cheese, which tastes wonderful and qualifies as a genuine comfort food. It’s gluten free, nut free and soy free too (if you omit the miso paste), for those who need to pay attention to these ingredients. Adjust the flavor freely; avocado oil has a rich, buttery flavor, nutritional yeast adds a salty, cheesy, nutty quality, lemon juice and vinegar lighten the density, mustard gives it the tang of aged cheese, and a little miso paste (soy alert!) adds mystery and extra umami depth (thanks, Leda!).
Vegan Not Cheese Sauce
3 cups chopped yellow skinned potato (peeled)
1-1/2 cup chopped carrots (peeled)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons avocado oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1-2 teaspoons yellow miso paste (optional)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup flaked nutritional yeast
freshly ground black pepper
In a small saucepan, combine potatoes, carrots, and garlic with water just to cover, add a little salt and bring to a simmer. Simmer until fork tender (12-15 minutes), then drain, reserving cooking liquid. Let vegetables cool for 10 minutes, then combine in a food processor with the oil, lemon juice, vinegar, miso paste (if using) and mustard and puree until smooth. Blend in nutritional yeast to taste, adding cooking water as needed to make a thick, pourable sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate in tightly sealed glass container for up to 3 days. Makes about 5 cups sauce.
You can use any assortment of roasted veggies you like, but keep them separate to emphasize the differences in flavor and texture. I like to cut some of the cauliflower extra finely and use it for extra crispy topping on baked dishes (or a great soup garnish).
Oven Roasted Cauliflower & Company
1 large head cauliflower
1 large sweet potato
2 large Portobello mushroom caps
3 tablespoons avocado oil
1/4 teaspoon lemon garlic sea salt (or any)
Oil three rimmed baking sheets and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut cauliflower head into small florets, chop stems. Cut about 2 cups of cauliflower smaller than the rest, set aside. Peel and chop sweet potato into roughly 1-inch pieces. Slice mushroom caps thickly (1/2 inch strips). Put each vegetable on its own pan, drizzle with avocado oil and gently toss to coat, spread in an even single layer and lightly sprinkle with salt. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20-25 minutes for the sweet potatoes and mushrooms and 30-35 minutes for the cauliflower. Gently toss with a flat spatula, season to taste with salt and let cool on the baking sheets.
Taken With A Tad Of Salt
Pretty much any and all roasted vegetables taste even more delicious when sprinkled with this lavish sea salt blend. It’s super easy to make and can be tweaked endlessly with your preferred herbs, or made just with garlic. Or garlic and lemon. Or garlic and rosemary. All can transform simple soups, scrambled eggs, rice or pasta into a tantalizingly savory dish. However, you can also just use the nicest salt you have on hand.
Italian Rosemary, Lemon And Garlic Sea Salt
1/3 cup chopped garlic cloves
1/4 cup stemmed and chopped rosemary
Grated zest of 2 organic lemons
2 cups medium flake sea salt
Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. In a food processor, grind garlic, rosemary, and lemon zest with 2 tablespoons salt for 20-30 seconds (garlic should be well ground). Add remaining salt and process a few seconds until colored bits are evenly distributed. Don’t wash the food processor yet. Spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 225 F until slightly crispy (15-20 minutes). Very briefly run the crunchy bits in the food processor until evenly blended, then spoon into small glass herb jars with tightly sealing lids or store in a tightly sealed glass jar. Makes about 2 cups and keeps indefinitely.
1 quart pasta sauce (roasted garlic or your favorite)
1 box no-bake lasagna noodles
1 batch Not Cheese Sauce
1 batch Oven Roasted Cauliflower & Company
1 bunch spinach, chopped and steamed for 3 minutes
Pour 1 cup of pasta sauce into a large baking dish (13 x 9 or so) and shake to coat evenly. Add a single layer of noodles and the sweet potatoes. Top with 1 cup Not Cheese Sauce and another layer of noodles (they need not touch). Spread on 2 cups pasta sauce and the spinach, then top with the mushrooms and remaining pasta sauce. Gently press on another layer of noodles and the cauliflower, reserving the smaller extra crispy bits for topping. Add 1 cup of Not Cheese Sauce and more noodles, then spread the remaining Not Cheese Sauce evenly and top with crispy cauliflower bits. Refrigerate, covered overnight or up to 2 days. Bake at 350 degrees F until lightly browned and bubbly (about an hour). Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 8-10.