Monday, September 16, 2013

Amazing & Hearty Veggie Lasagna

Hearty Veggie Lasagna
Hearty Veggie Lasagna
Whenever I cook lasagna I make a HUGE one and I tend to do it on a weekend or an afternoon when I know I will be home for the rest of the night.  If you are going to go to the trouble to make lasagna, why not have it be big enough to last for a few meals?  When I make this lasagna it lasts my family of 4 (2 of which are children) 3 whole dinners!  We eat it fresh out of the oven one night and then I usually freeze the other 2 sections for 2 other nights.  You pop it in the oven for an hour from the freezer, make a salad, and you have a fantastic dinner!
***NOTE***
I just cooked one of my frozen lasagna sections and IT DOES NOT REHEAT WELL when using gluten free lasagna noodles (they turned to mush).  The lasagna tastes AWESOME the first night and when reheated as left-overs, but unfortunately I can NOT recommend reheating it from the freezer.  Bummer. 
The next time I make this lasagna I am going to cut the recipe in 1/2.
There are a few keys to making great tasting vegan lasagna:
  1. All of the components need to taste good enough to eat on their own
  2. The sauce needs to be very fresh and flavorful
  3. The cheese filling needs to have the taste and texture everyone has come to expect
As for the cheese, it has taken a lot of experimenting, but I have finally come-up with what I call my Vegan Herbed Ricotta.  I am not a big fan of using very much soy in general (A LOT of the recipes you will see for vegan lasagna rely on tofu tremendously), so through trial and error I have come up with a recipe that only uses ½ a brick of extra firm sprouted tofu and the rest of the cheese is comprised of beans, vegan goat cheese, and herbs and spices.  When you think about it, ½ a brick of tofu spread out over three dinners for four people is very nominal.
While it is a time investment to make lasagna, the end result is so very worth it and will pay off when you realize you have made 3 meals!
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INGREDIENTS
2 packages brown rice lasagna noodles
2 25.5 oz. jars of tomato basil pasta sauce
4 10 oz. bags baby bella mushrooms
2 medium onions
4 small or 2 large zucchini
1 tsp. olive oil
Simply Organic garlic salt to taste
1 package Daiya mozzarella cheese
VEGAN HERBED RICOTTA
1 cup vegan goat cheese*
½ package extra firm sprouted tofu by Wildwood, drained and crumbled
15 oz. can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
2 10 oz. packages Cascadian Farms frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 packed cup fresh basil
4 garlic cloves
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
pepper to taste
* click here for recipe 
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Preheat the oven to 400°
Place a strainer over a bowl and pour one of the jars of pasta sauce into the strainer.  You want most of the liquid to strain into the bowl.  You may need to stir the sauce a few times to help release most of the liquid.

Strain 1 Jar of Sauce
Strain 1 Jar of Sauce
While the pasta sauce is straining, cook the lasagna noodles according to the instructions on the box.  I am always leery about noodles that claim they do not need to be precooked, so I always precook them.  It really doesn’t add much time to the process since they will cook while you are preparing the other ingredients.
While the noodles are cooking, make the Vegan Herbed Ricotta.  Place the vegan goat cheese and sprouted tofu in a bowl.  In a food processor fitted with the S blade, pulse together the basil, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper.  You will need to stop and scrape down the bowl of the processor a few times during the process. 

Basil and Garlic
Basil and Garlic

Oregano, Salt, and Pepper is Added
Oregano, Salt, and Pepper is Added
Once the mixture resembles pesto, add the great northern beans and pulse only a few times since you want the beans to maintain some texture.  Gently fold the mixture from the food processor into the vegan goat cheese and crumbled tofu. 

Add Beans and Pulse
Add Beans and Pulse

Combine with Tofu and Vegan Goat Cheese
Combine with Tofu and Vegan Goat Cheese
Once well combined, gently fold in the spinach (which you have squeezed ALL of the liquid out of so it forms a nice dry ball).

Defrosted Spinach
Defrosted Spinach

Liquid Squeezed Out
Liquid Squeezed Out

Gently Fold In Spinach
Gently Fold In Spinach

Completed Vegan Herbed Ricotta
Completed Vegan Herbed Ricotta
Now that the noodles are done cooking, rinse them under cool water.  Once rinsed, lay them out in a single layer to prevent sticking (I use sheet pans).
Without washing the food processor bowl (save yourself some time, there is no real need) place the mushrooms one bag at a time into the food processor and pulse until they are fairly well chopped, but maintain some texture.  Pour the mushrooms into a large pot.  Repeat with the other three bags until all of the mushrooms are chopped. 

Pre-Sliced Mushrooms into the Processor
Pre-Sliced Mushrooms into the Processor
Roughly chop the onions and place them into the unwashed food processor bowl.  Pulse until finely chopped and add the onions to the pot with the chopped mushrooms.

Onions and Mushrooms
Onions and Mushrooms
Turn the burner onto medium and cook the mushrooms and onions down.  Place the lid on the pot to speed-up the process.  Once the mushrooms and onions are cooked (approx. 10 minutes), pour them into a strainer to strain out all of the liquid.  Once strained, salt and pepper to taste.

Cooked Down Onions and Mushrooms
Cooked Down Onions and Mushrooms

Strain the Liquid Out and Season to Taste
Strain the Liquid Out and Season to Taste
Chop the zucchini into 1/8” wheels and sauté on medium heat with 1 tsp oil.  You want the zucchini to brown very slightly.  This should only take 3-4 minutes.  Flavor the zucchini with garlic salt to taste.

Saute the Zucchini
Saute the Zucchini
It is now time to assemble the lasagna.  Pour one third of the unopened pasta sauce (NOT the pasta sauce you are straining) into the bottom of a 10” x 12” deep casserole dish.  Follow with a layer of lasagna noodles, 1/3 of the Vegan Herbed Ricotta, 1/3 of the Daiya, and 1/3 of the mushrooms, and another 1/3 of the sauce.

1/3 Jar of Pasta Sauce
1/3 Jar of Pasta Sauce

Layer of Noodles
Layer of Noodles

1/3 of the Herbed Riccota
1/3 of the Herbed Riccota

1/3 Daiya, 1/3 Mushrooms, and Another 1/3 Sauce
1/3 Daiya, 1/3 Mushrooms, and Another 1/3 Sauce
Follow with another layer of noodles, 1/3 of the Vegan Herbed Ricotta, all of the zucchini wheels, most of the remaining mushrooms (reserve some for the top of the lasagna), most of the remaining Daiya (reserve some for the top of the lasagna), and the last 1/3 of the jar of pasta sauce.

Noodle Layer, Herbed Riccota, Zucchini
Noodle Layer, Herbed Riccota, Zucchini

Mushrooms and Daiya
Mushrooms and Daiya
Top with the last layer of lasagna noodles, the ENTIRE jar of the strained pasta sauce (reserve the liquid for an alternate use…you will not need it for this recipe…if you put it into the lasagna it will become soggy), any remaining mushrooms, and the remaining Daiya.

Last Layer of Noodles, Strained Pasta Sauce, and Remaining Mushrooms and Daiya
Last Layer of Noodles, Strained Pasta Sauce, and Remaining Mushrooms and Daiya
Cover the lasagna with a piece of foil that you have oiled on the inside so it won’t stick to it.
Cook the lasagna for 1 hour at 400°.

Hearty Veggie Lasagna
Hearty Veggie Lasagna

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