Lasagne with spinach and tofu cheese

Vegan Lasagna
Vegan Lasagne

(Updated with step-by-step pictures that I forgot to add earlier while writing the post.)

One of my friends happens to be a linguistics professor from Mumbai University. The circumstances under which we became acquaintances is quite interesting. The first time I met her I was 'caught' by the ticket checker for traveling ticket-less in the first class compartment of the local train. I loved matching my purses and shoes with my dress and so on that unfortunate day I forgot to transfer my pass. Prof.L saw my shock at not finding my pass and had a look that seemed to say 'cheap'. She also saw me pay a full fine followed by fumbling in my purse and letting myself out as gracefully as a ticket-less traveler possibly could!

The next day I boarded the same train and it so happened that the Professor came and sat in the same place as the previous day. I got so flustered that I got up as the train started (and some other lady immediately occupied the vacated seat) and stood next to the exit fumbling in my purse, sure of having left my pass behind! Imagine my relief when I found that I had it with me. I went back and found the seat occupied but everyone burst laughing as I smiled around at everybody, looked at the Prof. and said, "See, I have a pass!" The Professor could not stop laughing! We got talking soon and she told me that she had found the perfect example for her lecture that day on 'memory improvement techniques'. I laughed and accepted that it was her appearance that triggered me off!

Our mind works in mysterious ways associating words and visuals with memories often awakening subconscious facts from a long time off. Prof. L used these as tools to help unravel/learn signs and scripts. "How does that fit in here?" you may wonder. I could come up with a dozen incidents showing 'word associations' starting with food and ending with memory. If you have been here you already know that!

Tell me what comes first to your mind when you say, see or eat lasagna? I bet half the world visualizes Garfield (Not Jim Davis!). The other half comprises either of Italians who have been having lasagna since childhood or of people who have missed knowing Garfield. I belong to the first-half that adores Garfield and even before I tasted lasagna I knew I would love it assuming that it had to be the best dish ever just because my favourite fat, pampered and lazy feline friend drooled at the very thought of it.

Did the vegan version match up to the drooling? A resounding - "YES, it did!" There is a bit of forethought and fore-work involved as vegan cheese doesn't come by easily here, but just the fact that you will have beaming faces after one bite is enough motivation.

I made the vegan version twice before writing this post just so I could be sure about it, and both the times it tasted as good and received encouraging feedback from a bunch of food loving thirteen year olds as well as one food loving 10 year old(my son's friend). No one missed cheese and my daughter thought I was fooling her when I said there was no cheese. Her temporarily 'lactose-intolerant but cheese loving' friend, A, was extremely happy to be treated to this version which came closest possible to the cheese version. The only reason I say 'close' is that I did not have cheese melting on top as tofu doesn't melt that way and because we do not get 'vegan cheese' in Thane.

I chose the fillings from many recipes after scouting for 'vegan lasagne' in google. I preferred to use Barilla's 'pre-cooked eggless lasagne' but if you would like to make your own, you may like to go over to the time the daring bakers made it from scratch. I did not need that added anxiety while preparing for a get-together as I had to prepare pulao, dal and had just put the dessert in the refrigerator (Recipe for the 'strawberry verrine' dessert can be seen in Beyond Curries). I am saving that up for some other day when I have the time, the mood and the patience!

I again eye-balled measurements as one does not go by the book when cooking from memory. The recipe here uses 'no-boil' lasagna noodles with three layers and most of the recipe is a spin off from this one which I found at 'Happy, Healthy Life'. The first filling is of chunky tomato sauce, the second of spinach pesto, the third of mushroom, spinach and tofu scramble and the fourth is of chunky tomato sauce again. For the children who wanted some melting moments I added a miniscule layer of parmesan but it is not needed.

Generally most vegan recipes use nutritional yeast flakes to get the right texture and bite in vegan omelets. I tried a touch of marmite (also a yeast extract) in the third layer and it worked perfectly in combination with the cashews. Cashews provide the heaviness that cheese adds to any dish. It however lacks the bite and I felt the marmite provided that by texturizing the tofu scramble. The effect on the palate is the same as when you mix cheese, spinach and mushrooms though the flavour isn't the same but if you would appreciate the dish simply for it is rather than comparing I guarantee you will love it for its taste.

Dish: Easy Vegan Lasagne
Yield: 6 pieces measuring 3 x 2 inches each. Some of the toppings turned out extra. I used them up the second time.

8 sheets of precooked lasagne noodles from Barilla.

1st layer - chunky tomato sauce
[This can be used with other pastas as well. I made this double the quantity needed as I knew it would come in handy later.]
5 medium sized firm red tomatoes
2 Red Bell Peppers
2 tbsps. Olive oil
Red Chilli Flakes as per taste
3 Garlic Cloves
Mixed Italian herbs OR
15-20 leaves of basil, 4-5 stems of fresh parsley, 1 tsp. of dried oregano
Salt to taste

Chunky Tomato Sauce
The red bell pepper imparts wonderful colour to the tomato sauce

Method for the chunky tomato sauce:
Heat 1 tbsp. Olive oil in a wok. Add garlic and onions and cook till garlic turns aromatic and onions soft. Meanwhile blend the chopped bell peppers with one tomato. Chop the rest of the tomatoes roughly. Add roughly chopped tomato, blended tomato and pepper, basil, parsley, chilli flakes and oregano. Add salt and cover and cook till mushy and bubbly. Blend with an immersion blender keeping the texture chunky and non completely pasty. Set aside. This can be made beforehand and remains fresh for about 10 days and gets over before that many days. Just remember that pastas are slippery on their own so anything you add to it has to add texture, so keep it chunky and the pasta will taste good.

2nd layer - spinach pesto:
1/4 cup blanched and drained spinach.
15 cashews or walnuts, Salt to taste, 1 tsp. oil, 1/2 tsp. dried oregano and basil

Spinach Pesto
Spinach pesto - Mine became smooth as I was also making other things. It should be a little more grainy than shown above.

Whiz drained spinach with the rest of the ingredients till just slightly grainy. Should be spreadable. If not add a tsp. of any non-dairy milk. Important to keep the grainy texture if you want to feel it while eating.

3rd layer - Mushroom, spinach and tofu cheese:
1 block firm/extra-firm tofu (I used 250g morinaga firm tofu)
2 cups blanched spinach
1 packet button mushrooms
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt to taste
10 cashews
1/4tsp. marmite (yeast extract)

Drain liquid from a block of firm/extra-firm tofu completely.

I use a clean sheet of this to drain tofu
I press tofu blocks with this to drain the liquid

Firm tofu drained
Drained Tofu blocks - I used only one of the two shown

Blanch a bunch of cleaned, torn spinach leaves. Clean 150 g button mushrooms and slice them thin.

Soak 5-6 cashews in water for 15minutes and drain. Blend like crazy with the tofu till you get a smooth paste. Set aside.

Heat a tbsp. of olive oil and add mushrooms and saute till they sweat. Add drained spinach and continue for a minute. Remove and pour into another cool vessel. Add the tofu paste and adjust seasonings. Add 1/4 tsp. of marmite and mix well till the ingredients are uniformly distributed. Heat a non-stick griddle and pour two ladlefuls of the mixture. Cover and cook for 2-3minutes on medium flame till bubbly. Open and with a pancake turner, scramble the pancake turning it around and cooking for a minute more till you get a firm scramble. Turn onto a plate and repeat with the rest of the tofu. The scramble should not take more than 5 minutes to prepare.

Tofu mushroom spinach layer
Vegan Tofu Scramble with spinach and mushrooms

Grease the bottom of an 8x8" square non-stick baking pan.

Arrange two lasagne sheets side by side. They will overlap a little and that is fine. Use a pastry brush and brush a little olive oil over this.

Spread 4-5tbsps. of the first layer of chunky tomato sauce so that it really sits on top of the layer and there are no bald patches.

Place two lasagne sheets as before. Brush with a little oil again. Top with about 2 tbsps. of pesto and spread well uniformly.

Place two lasagne sheets and brush again with oil. Top generously with the scrambled tofu-spinach-mushroom cheese. About 4-5 tbsps.

Place two lasagne sheets and brush again with oil. Top with chunky tomato sauce like before.

Top again with greased lasagne sheets.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes. I found that my top sheet crackled and bent back from the sides. This is because it did not have a sauce or cheese topping to weigh it down. You may top with bechamel sauce or grated parmesan cheese. I topped half with cheese for others in the family and that part did not bend upward. When I served it at the get-together I also poured some bechamel sauce.

If you do not want the browning cover with a foil but I liked it crusty and all. It was a hit and that's what matters most!

We also had spicy baked potatoes flavoured with oregano and parsley. You have here the wall I keep hiding in most of my pictures but had no time to this once as the background! It badly needs our attention and had it had a voice it would have cried out mercifully especially if it knew that the owners are planning to buy a camera lens at such a time:).

Spicy baked potatoes
Spicy baked potatoes

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,