It is a little chilly here today in North Florida, meaning it is 70º F and so I needed to wear a light sweater over my sleeveless dress. Before leaving for our meeting I put together a vegan lasagna in the crock pot — it should be ready just in time for dinner. About a month ago I made the decision to eliminate dairy from my diet, no small decision considering I LOVE cheese. But as I said, I live in Florida; sunshine, palm trees, and some of the worst humidity ever. Because it is so humid here, sinus infections are a common problem. By reducing and then eliminating my dairy in-take I have just about got that little problem licked. Ew! That was kind of gross… well you know what I mean. So my challenge is to come up with acceptable substitutions for cheese in some of our favorite dishes. Lasagna WITHOUT CHEESE, is that even possible you might ask? YES! Yes it is possible and no one will know what you’ve done!
Ricotta is the primary cheese that goes into a Lasagna. The next cheese is Mozzarella and/or Parmesan. I replaced these with Extra firm Tofu and Bragg Nutritional Yeast. I know, I know… tofu sends you into a tizzy but trust me this is so simple. No pressing is necessary. Just drain off the liquid and put your blocks in the processor with your herbs. I used whatever fresh herbs I had on hand that just happened to be sweet basil, peppermint and parsley. I recommend using flat leaf parsley though — the curly leaf is not as well suited to cooking. Give the “cheese” a good blitz then add a splash or so of white wine (I used a Chardonnay), some oil from the preserved sun dried tomatoes and season it with salt, pepper, dried Italian herbs and about three tablespoons of Nutritional Yeast. Toss in a few grape tomatoes, I had about 15 on hand, and process that mixture smooth. Set it aside while you gather your layering supplies together and then GET BUSY!
The next step is to make the meaty filling which consists of mushrooms and onions. I like to use two or more kinds of mushrooms to give my crumble depth. In this one I used white mushrooms with baby Portabella mushrooms and a big sweet onion. Once the crumble is browned you are ready to build your layers. Lasagna, even in a crock pot is all about layers. Start as you would if you were making it the conventional way. Drizzle a bit of oil in the bottom of the pan, I used oil off the sun dried tomatoes again. Put a spoonful or two of your sauce in there and mix it all around to coat the bottom of the pot. Here is where it gets different, when you lay down your uncooked noodles you will have to break them to fit in the pot. I am able to lay one whole noodle down the middle and then I break the next two in half and more to fit it to the sides. A layer of noodles, then some juice out of the diced tomatoes and some sauce — this moisture will help your noodles swell. Put a layer of mushroom crumble down, then top that with your cheese. I added chunky diced tomatoes and some sun dried tomato pieces and artichokes, but any vegetable will do. Try spinach leaves or kale, or zucchini or eggplant or broccoli, go wild use water chestnuts… the world is your oyster here. Keep repeating your layers until you are out of noodles.
Once you have depleted your noddle supply, top it off with the last of your tofu cheese and sauce and then a healthy dose of nutritional yeast and dried Italian herbs. Set your Crock on high for two hours or if you are doing this while you are at work for the next eight hours, set it on your lowest setting and seal it up. I did this for our Sunday dinner so, two hours on high while we attended afternoon services plus about an hour more on warm when we got home was plenty.
This lasagna turned out great and the big bonus was I did not miss the cheese! Plus, my elderly mother who is the one who taught me how to make lasagna in the first place, said she would never know there was no ricotta in it if I had not told her so! I sent extra to work with Rick the next day to share with his co-workers and they were shocked to learn there was no cheese in it. So WIN!!!
- 1 box of Brown Rice Lasagna Noodles, uncooked
- 1 jar All Natural Marinara Sauce
- 1 can Diced no salt added tomatoes with garlic and basil
- 2 T Sun Dried Tomatoes preserved in oil
- 1 jar Artichokes in oil
- 1 Sweet Onion, diced
- 8 oz White Mushrooms
- 16 oz. Baby Bella Mushrooms
- Dry White Wine (I used a Chardonnay)
- 1 pkg Extra Firm Tofu
- Handful of fresh herbs (Basil, Mint, Flat leaf Parsley)
- 10-15 Grape tomatoes
- Sea Salt
- Black Pepper
- Dried Italian Herbs
- Bragg Nutritional Yeast
- Dice up the onion and saute it in a bit of olive oil until it is translucent. Put the mushrooms in the processor and pulse until it is a crumble. Add it to the pan with the onions with some salt and pepper and a splash of white wine and saute until tender.
- Drain the liquid off the tofu, no need for pressing. Put it in the processor with the fresh herbs, some oil off the sun dried tomatoes, the fresh grape tomatoes, a splash of white wine, some salt, pepper, 3 T Nutritional Yeast and dried Italian herbs. Process smooth.
- Put a spoonful or so of olive oil from the sun dried tomatoes in the bottom of the crock pot with about 2 T of sauce and smear it around. Put down a layer of uncooked brown rice noodles, break some to fit. Drizzle a layer of sauce and some of the diced no sal added tomatoes with garlic and basil spread it to cover. Add a layer of mushroom mix (about 1/2) and spread it out, top that with the sun dried tomatoes and a about 1/3 of the jar of artichokes (break them up). Spoon a 1/3 of the tofu cheese and spread. Repeat Noodles, sauce, tomatoes, mushrooms, artichokes, cheese. The next layer is noodles sauce, canned tomatoes, artichokes and cheese. I finished that last layer with the las noodle and the rest of the sauce.
- Cover the top generously with nutritional yeast, a pinch of salt and a tspoon or so of dried Italian herbs.
- Turn the crock pot on high for 2 hours, then lower the heat to warm or your lowest setting for another hour.
- Serve hot with some crusty bread and a sweet red wine.