Thursday, March 15, 2007

30 Minute Vegan Lasagna with Walnut/Spinach and Tofu/Honey Filling

Ever since my recent decision to indulge in responsible meat choices occasionally (which has so far only meant, twice), I've been thinking quite a bit about my eating habits, and, particularly, the amount of egg and dairy products that I consume.

WARNING: Really cute pictures to follow for no other reason than I think they're cute.

My adorable soon-to-be niece

I've never been motivated to become a vegan, but I have at times wondered about my general level of other-animal-related-product consumption. I'm careful to only buy organic milk and eggs from farms that claim some level of humane treatment, but even then... with cereal for breakfast, egg sandwiches, cappuccinos/lattes, plenty of dairy based sauces, cheese for quick snacks, and etc, it all adds up. I used to be lactose intolerant when I was younger, and I am beginning to wonder if it is reappearing. Sometimes I feel an urge to cut back. It's often nice, if I can find a way, to leave dairy out or a recipe - healthwise, and thinking in environmental terms too.

(Though anyone who has been reading this blog for a few weeks already knows that's hardly a steadfast rule ; ) )

My adorable soon-to-be nephew

So far I've made a 75% switch to soy milk. I actually like the flavor it brings to my coffee, and I don't notice much of a difference in my cereal. Today, I wanted to make a vegan lasagna: tofu for ricotta and no cheese or bechemel.

My adorable soon-to-be husband

I started by pureeing the tofu. It was a bit harsh tasting when I tested the mixture, so I compensated for that "sour"ish soybean taste with 2 tsp of honey. The honey brought a wonderful flavor to the tofu. I also knew it would work well with the next rather odd flavor to have in a lasagna: I pureed walnuts with spinach and caramelized mushrooms for the second filling.

Walnuts? Walnuts, you say - really? Yes: walnuts. I love the texture and depth of flavor that cooked walnuts bring to vegetable dishes, and I got the idea from a Cashew Nut Chili recipe a friend sent me. I've been itching to try it in a lasagna. I would highly encourage you to try this take on a spinach filling, whether you choose to make an entire lasagna vegan or not. The dense, deep flavor of the walnuts complements the bright flavor of the spinach, and the mushrooms round everything out with a little moisture and bulk. This walnut/spinach filling tastes really, really good, and I loved how the flavor stood up to the tofu/ricotta filling.

I added a little crushed red pepper flakes to everything, and then I topped the whole lasagna with what is quite possibly the simplest sauce I've ever made: a can of tomatoes pureed with a little salt, pepper and tomato paste. By assembling the lasagna with the majority of sauce on top, I obtained a thick, tangy roasted 1" tomato "crust" - my favorite way to enjoy a baked lasagna, as it reminds me of deep dish pizza from Chicago. I broiled the lasagna for a few more minutes to crisp up the edges and roast the red pepper slices.

This recipe was really great and a breeze to prepare: it'll be a staple in my repertoire, I am sure. The entire prep time was less than 30 minutes and the flavor was unbeatable. Plus, it didn't involve any dairy products, and most of the ingredients came out of the pantry or the freezer. The only part that I would like to change is the tofu mixture - once the lasagna baked, the honey I added was overwhelmed by an unmistakable tofu flavor. I don't mind it myself, but then again I'll eat tofu raw. It might turn off someone who's not already a tofu fan (i.e., the very cute, but not terribly fond of tofu, soon-to-be husband). Next time, I'll double the honey and add a little more salt. The strong tofu flavor might also be fixed by drizzling extra sauce over the tofu layers before topping with noodles.

30 Minute Vegan Lasagna with Walnut/Spinach and Tofu/Honey Filling
Serves 6

14 oz firm organic tofu
2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp sea salt
dash nutmeg

Walnut/Spinach Filling
16 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
8 large cremini mushrooms
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
freshly grated black pepper

Sauce - you could easily substitute pre-made sauce, though I liked the intense tomato tange I got from this simple version. Test the spices as you go - depending on what tomato brand you use, it'll need different amounts of salt and pepper. "Italian Style" simply means canned with basil.
28 oz Italian style canned whole plum tomatoes
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

1 large red bell pepper, sliced thinly
8 oz lasagna noodles (I used half a box, or enough for 3 pasta layers in an 8x8 pan - I prefer lasagna to be noodle-light and filling-heavy).

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place a large pot of salted water over high heat. Work on other steps. When water boils, add lasagna noodles and cook for 5 minutes. Drain once cooked and set aside.
  2. Drain tofu and add in chunks to food processor. Add honey, sea salt and nutmeg. Pulse until tofu reaches a course crumble - look for the texture of ricotta, not a smooth puree. Re-season if necessary and set aside
  3. Add olive oil to a small saute pan with mushrooms. Saute over high heat until nicely caramelized (5-10 minutes). Add a pinch or two of salt and continue cooking for several minutes, until any remaining juices steam off.
  4. While the mushrooms cook, add thawed chopped spinach to a bowl lined with cheesecloth. Pick up the cheesecloth corners, forming a bag between your hands, and squeeze out as much water as possible. Add spinach, walnuts, mushrooms and spices to food processor. Process until smooth. Re-season if necessary and set aside.
  5. Add entire can of tomatoes to food processor with spices and tomato paste. Process until smooth.
  6. Assemble lasagna:
    • Splash of sauce, noodles,
    • 1/2 tofu mixture, noodles,
    • 1/2 spinach, remaining tofu, noodles,
    • Remaining spinach, noodles
    • Rest of sauce.
    • Layer bell pepper slices on top.

  7. Bake for 1 hour. Broil for an additional 5-10 minutes to roast the red pepper slices, then let rest for 15 minutes before serving.
By my estimate (thank you, this entire lasagna has about 2200 calories. For 6 large portions, that's 360 calories each, with 100% of your daily value of vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium. This serving also offers about 50% DV of folate, B-6 and vitamin E, 15g of healthy fat (only 2 of which are saturated) and 20g of soy protein. All from "whole" foods. I'm not even going to do the comparison to a normal cheese lasagna - I think you can imagine!

Pretty darn delicious...


Anonymous said...

Yummy! I love tofu too, though I am know where close to vegan or vegetarian. But, you had me at the walnuts. I love to put nuts into dishes you wouldn't expect them to appear. Did you consider using pine nuts? Also, with the tofu, maybe some fresh herbs to go into it as well, like tyme, basil or parsley. I think that would cover some of tofuy taste and give it more of an Italian kick.

Loved the pics of the cuties!

Rachael said...

Jenifer - ooooh, I hadn't thought of pinenuts. That's a great idea and I'll definitely try it next time. I wondered about parsley for the tofu too!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

This is an outrageously delicious post. Your ingredients are beautiful together (and I'm a vegetarian who eats a LOT of tofu). Those sweetie pies--why, they are beyond cute!

Kajal@aapplemint said...

wow that is one hell of a lasagna.Really u have gr8 igredients going on there.Would love to taste.I just might omit the honey though.Looks really delicious and appetizing.Will definately try it when i'm in a veggie mood.Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

this looks fantastic... i wonder also about trying to go vegan or rather limit my consumption of animal products, but i am also trying to strike a balance between non processed and processed food. and getting milk from local grass-fed cows seems to me a better idea than buying a carton of silk. either way, there's going to be soy milk in my fridge as my bf is lactose intolerant..

Rachael said...

Susan - I'll need some tofu tips from you! I am always challenged to think of how to make tofu. I enjoy the flavor plain, so my preperation is pretty simple (slice and throw in!). I'd love to expand the ways that I use tofu.

Kate - thanks! I am glad you like it. Surprisingly, I don't think you'd be able to actually taste the honey - I think the bit of sweetness just balances out the rawness of the tofu

Radish - I totally agree with you. When I decided to go back to occasionally eating meat (free range, organic, local stuff), I actually felt good about it because I like the idea of supporting sustainable businesses that would appeal to mainstream. We need to get healthy/ecological eating choices into the mainstream! Easier for most people to choose grass fed milk than silk, and I think both choices have their advantages ecologically. Thanks for the comment and glad you like the recipe

Marty said...

Dang, can you teach me photography? Lovely!

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