I’ve been dreaming about this lasagna for the past week,” my friend Kim sighed. “I can’t believe it was vegan!” I know, I know, vegan lasagna is kind of an oxymoron, but do you know how hard it is to satisfy your comfort food itch without something ooey gooey and/or creamy?!? Last week, I’d had just about enough of this cruel cheese prohibition forced upon me, and decided to take drastic measures. It was either vegan ricotta, or the real thing, and that wouldn’t have been a good idea.
I was skeptical too. Vegan ricotta? Made out of tofu? Rrreally? Sounds like weird flavorless health food. A little voice inside my head said, There’s no way this is going to be as good as the real thing…But guess what? It was every bit as good as I had remembered real ricotta to be.
I know what you’re thinking…you can’t really trust a person who hasn’t eaten actual ricotta in six months to give an evaluation of this ricotta-like tofu concoction. Well, I don’t blame you, which is why I field tested this recipe on not just one or two, but three of my cheese-eating compadres. Test subject one: Manager at a fine dining restaurant, meat lover, sommelier and cheese plate fanatic. Let’s just call him Mr. Duck Confit. Test subject two: Cute, petite and muscular, with dreams of even more sculpted abs and fitness competitions. We’ll call her the Lean Protein Queen Kim. Test subject three: My stand-by. We’ll just continue to call him the Mister. Believe me, despite his gradually developed tolerance for vegetable-based proteins, he had his doubts as well.
Results: Test subjects one through three presented confusion as to whether or not the test administrator had secretly given them dairy after all. Test subject one, Mr. Duck Confit, insisted that this was the best lasagna he had ever tasted. Mr. Confit lives in the moment, and says such complimentary things every time I cook for him, but nevertheless, approved and eagerly went in for seconds. Test subject two continued to experience flashbacks of the lasagna during subsequent days, and was invited over for a second round of lasagna a week later. Test subject three, my biggest fan and most honest critic gave a rave review as well.
Perhaps the words vegan and comfort food are not mutually exclusive as I once thought. Not only did the layers of herbed vegan ricotta, homemade tomato sauce, garlic-sauteed kale and whole wheat lasagna satisfy my near-exploding craving for something homey, creamy and comforting, but it more than took care of my body’s need for healthy carbs, protein, lycopene and cruciferous leafy greens. Yet more proof that eating healthy doesn’t have to be a drag!
- For the sauce:
- 10 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- ¼ cup of olive oil
- 2 24-ounce cans whole tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon basil
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- ¼ teaspoon marjoram
- ¼-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- ¾ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
- For the tofu ricotta (Adapted from Whole Foods):
- 1 (14-ounce) block extra firm tofu, drained
- 1½ tablespoons tahini
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
- 1½ teaspoons mellow white miso
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- For the Kale:
- 1 bunch lacinato/dino kale, roughly chopped, about 5 cups packed
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- a big pinch kosher salt
- a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 9-ounce package no-boil lasagna noodles ( I like whole wheat or brown rice pasta for gf)
- Make the sauce:
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan. When hot, add the garlic and cook until just beginning to turn slightly golden, about 1-2 minutes. Immediately add the tomatoes and stir. Add the oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram, crushed red pepper, and ¾ teaspoons kosher salt. Reduce heat to medium, and cook at just above a simmer for 35-45 minutes, smashing the tomatoes with a wooden spoon now and then, until the sauce takes on a smoother but still slightly chunky texture. Season with additional kosher salt to taste.
- Make the tofu ricotta:
- Break the tofu into smaller chunks and place in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until smooth (the texture of ricotta). Remove the blended tofu to a medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
- Heat the olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the kale and toss to coat. Sprinkle with the salt and red pepper flakes, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the kale turns bright green and begins to soften, but still maintains some of its crispness. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Make the lasagna:
- Preheat the oven to 375˚F. In an 11x8 inch casserole dish, spoon a layer of marinara sauce, a sprinkling of kale, then a layer of noodles. Spread a layer of ricotta on top of the noodles. Continue to layer the lasagna in the same manner, ending with a layer of ricotta, sauce, and a sprinkling of kale. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the ricotta and sauce layers are bubbling, and the kale on top is crisp.