June 3, 2013

Recipe: Tofu-Spinach Lasagna (Vegan)

My latest lasagna -- perfect flavors and textures.
Lasagna!  So easy, so tasty, so make-ahead, so GERD-friendly when it's dairy-free.  

Note on tomatoes:  Fortunately, they are not usually a concern for me, but I know a lot of GERD-prone folks can't handle them, gut-wise.  In that case, behold tomato-allergy friendly recipes!  I found a few interesting tomato substitutions, including carrot sauce and butternut squash.  There is a helpful no-tomato sauce thread on the IBS board.  (All of these sauce alternatives look wonderful in their own right!  Filed in my "to make" folder.")

While I'd tried to bake it here and there in the past years (with and without cheese), I decided to "master" vegan lasagna this year.  I flipped through cookbooks and blogs to help guide my own construction of these magical layers, and fine-tuned my recipe after experimenting with three lasagnas. Here are my results.


My second effort -- good but still not quite there yet.

Inspired by versions in Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Veganomicon, Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and my experience with my family's lasagna-making, I came up with this recipe.   It avoids nutritional yeast (I just haven't incorporated this into my diet yet) and "fake cheese" (too processed for my palate and mind).  I use a square 9 x 9  sized glass pan (in 2 cases, I used the foil pan which came with the lasagna noodles), which serves four as a main dish, along with a vegetable side.   A small salad, broccoli, or dark leafy greens such as kale or -- a new Farmer's Market favorite -- spigarello -- go especially well.

Ingredients and Steps

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Boil the Pasta (or Don't)
6-8 flat sheets or enough of any lasagna noodles to make three layers in your pan (I used "no boil" lasagna for the last 2 lasagnas I made -- my first no-boil effort, ever -- and liked them best.  The brand I tried was Delverde, which packages its pasta with two disposable foil pans.   My personal preference is for flat lasagna, not curly, but it's an individual choice.)

Make the Sauce
Use your favorite prepared sauce, or make your own.  I tried a prepared sauce, a quick marinara that I made (using a recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz, again), but the best lasagna was the one using my mother's homemade, 4-hour simmered vegetarian tomato sauce which she made/left for me on her last visit.  She promised to share it with  me, and I'll post it here.

Prepare the Filling
1 block firm tofu
2 t. lemon juice from fresh lemon
1 T. chopped fresh parsley
1 T. dried basil (I have not tried this with fresh basil, but I am certain it would be even better!)
1 t. dried oregano
1 T. olive oil
pinch of salt
Mash the tofu into a ricotta-like texture. (I like using my hands for this one, but use whatever you're comfortable with -- a fork, spoon, etc.)   Add the rest of the ingredients and mix. 

Simmer-saute the Spinach
Spinach -- the amount varies, depending on your taste and pan size.  You want enough spinach to make at least one good layer, then a bit more spinach for the top layer.
Prepare the spinach:  if frozen, just rinse with water to lightly thaw and add to pan.   If fresh, wash/chop.  Heat olive oil in pan (cast iron is ideal) and simmer-saute in olive oil on low flame, covered.   Let simmer for 10 minutes or until soft and "sweet."  Set aside.   Sauteing the spinach is a key step!

Compose the Lasagna
In a 9x9 pan (or whatever pan you have/need for the desired quantity), sprinkle olive oil on the bottom and then top with 1-2 ladlefuls of sauce.

Cover bottom of pan with lasagna sheets, using smaller pieces if needed to cover entire bottom.

Next comes a generous layer of sauce, and then 3/4 of the tofu filling.  Press the filling slightly to help it hold together.  Sprinkle with 2/3 of the spinach.

Another layer of pasta, followed by sauce, and whatever ricotta filling and spinach you have left.  Top with one more layer of pasta, more sauce, and drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil on top.

Baking Instructions
Cover pan with foil.  Bake lasagna at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove foil and bake for an additional 20 minutes (or longer).  The top should be slightly browned (or cook to your preference).   I'm notorious for sticking a knife/fork in the center and gouging out some of the middle to see if "it's done" (holding together, bubbling) but after 50 minutes you should be okay.

This is better the second day, so I recommend making ahead, put into the oven on a week-night, and savor a lovely homemade meal on a busy evening.   If you have a lot of liquid in your lasagna pan, don't worry -- this will "absorb" and/or cook off in reheating.

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