I should say a few words as to how this came about. Simply this – the dinner request was a lasagna and I knew that one guest, much as she loves cheese, inevitably suffers from eating it. SO I did what just about anyone does these days confronted with a new culinary challenge – go to the web and see what’s there. Who knows – maybe someone will even search this recipe out one day – though I doubt it given the lack of effort I put into publicizing this blog.
So the best recipe I came up with was at http://www.chow.com/recipes/29439-vegan-lasagna. Vegan? well almost. The trouble is that the lasagne noodle itself is likely made with egg and flour, a clear disqualification. Thus it is a ‘cheeseless’ and not a ‘vegan’ lasagne.
My version of the chowhound keeps the ricotta – tofu combo. The addition of lemon and lemon rind is a genius stroke. Although I have kept an eggplant layer, my preparation is quite different, and also I am something of a stickler on the issue of sauteeing mushrooms, chard and onions.
This is a recipe where you strive to make each layer in the dish taste delicious and unique on its own. That is the only way this dish will survive the inevitable comparison to its wonderfully gooey, fatty, cheesy cousin.
So here goes – enjoy! The recipe makes one pan of lasagna but the photos here are for a double quantity because I know there will be a hue and cry if I do not.
Begin by lightly sauteeing about 800g of onions on a very low heat. Start on medium heat, add about a tbs of salt, and also olive oil. Once they are translucent, turn the heat down to the lowest and leave with the top on for another half hour or so, and once juices have begun to accumulate, take the lid off. Keep cooking on a very low heat – you should be seeing constant but slow, lazy bubbling. This allows some of the liquid to evaporate, concentrating the incredibly sweet and complex onion to use in other parts of the recipe. Do the chard part last (like about 2 hours after you have started to cook the onion) as this is the one that really benefits from the slow caramelization the onions are undergoing. Once they are happily bubbling away turn your attention to the eggplant dish.
- 2 medium eggplants
- Salt as needed
- half cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 5-6 teaspoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1/2 diced red pepper
Heat oven to 450. Cut the eggplant(s) lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Place in a single layer on 2 baking sheets, overlapping slightly as needed, and sprinkle evenly with a little salt (a few sprinkles per slice). After little water bubbles appear (its the salt interacting with the eggplant and not really water) flip the eggplant and sprinkle with salt on the other side. (again not too much: you do not want it too salty); let sit until water beads form on the surface, at least 30 minutes. Brush olive oil over the slices generously, flip back and brush olive oil on the other side too. The olive oil should be fairly generous so it is actually baked in the olive oil. Bake for about 10 – 12 minutes, checking frequently after the 6-7 minute mark. You want them to be nicely cooked but not falling apart or burned. You could also bake at a lower heat for a longer time.
While the eggplant cooks, place 2 tablespoons olive oil, parsley, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl and stir to combine. Transfer the seared eggplant to the oil-vinegar mixture and toss. Taste and season with additional salt as needed to make even the lowly eggplant delicious.
I have it easy in this department. I use the tomato sauce I can at the end of August. Whatever you use, you need 1litre of basic tomato sauce.
- 1 L tomato sauce
- 3 Several tbs of the onion mix that has been gently sauteeing
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons capers
Sautee onions (with onions used in other layers)
Pour sauce, sauteed onions, capers in a bowl.
In a large food processor (it really needs to be a 12-14 cup size – or else do it in batches)
- 2 packages tofu, drained (roughly cut them up, otherwise they will take a lot longer to grind.)
- 1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
- 125g olive oil
- 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest from about 1/2 medium lemons. Lemon confit would work well here also.
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed (from about 1/2 lemon). Since it all goes into the same food processor, I grate off the zest, cut the remaining lemon into slices only to remove the seeds, and put it all in the food processor.
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
Place the tofu, parsley, lemon zest/confit, lemon juice, and measured salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment and process until smooth. Taste and season with more lemon juice, salt, pepper and/or olive oil as needed. Like with the eggplant, you are working to get this to taste truly excellent on its own. The texture should resemble ricotta cheese. Set aside
1 package of lasagna noodles, uncooked. They will nicely absorb all of the extra liquid from the onions, mushrooms and tomato sauce.
Fresh flavor layer
The Chowhound recipe suggests a cup of loosely packed basil leaves cut into 1/4-inch-thick ribbons. But fresh basil is not always available. If you are prepared to veer from the cheeseless, pesto works. I would also suggest thin sliced fresh red sweet peppers – uncooked. Another suggestion would be a single layer of whole pine nuts. This is one layer in the middle of the lasagna, a layer you know you are biting into from the little zap of taste pleasure it gives.
Cut 400g mushrooms (crimini – portobello, white mushrooms) in thin slices, and lightly sautee in olive oil. Turn them frequently over a slightly less than medium heat. Add a couple of pinches of fresh pepper and cook only until they are just cooked: the flesh has begun to sweat, they have acquired a cooked sweetness but are still crunchy. Remove from heat into a bowl and add some of the caramelizing onion sautee – to taste.
Begin with about half of the caremelizing onion sautee – put it in a wide pan. Cut 1 large bunch of washed chard as follows:
- separate the veins, and dice as fine as you can. Add to the onion, but DO NOT stir it in.
- Cut the remaining chard into thin ribbons, and add on top of the chard veins. Add a little thyme, basil, oregano. DO NOT mix in. Let them lie on top. Braise covered on the lowest setting until the chard is cooked – about 40 minutes or so.
- Turn into a bowl, gently mix the 3 layers, and taste for salt, pepper. The sweetness of the onions should have premeated everything.
Assembly (from bottom up)
In the picture, the order is from right to left – counter clockwise.
- Tomato sauce
- tomato sauce
- extra flavour layer
- tomato sauce
- extra flavour layer
- tomato sauce
Add whatever other herbs and spices you wish – Basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary are good bets. Cover with a cookie tray upside down (or foil – but the cookie tray is ideal as it is a rigid surface) and bake for 50 minutes at 375. Its important that the top of the lasagna does not come in contact with the underside of the cookie tray, otherwise the top layer of lasagne will stick to it. While it won’t ruin the taste the presentation…. suffers! Let cool at least 10 minutes before cutting.