Since September, I’ve been telling myself that this is a year for soups, stews, easy grain dishes, sheet pan meals, and other low maintenance cooking endeavors. It’s true in many ways: soup, for example, has been a mainstay during my internship because it’s easy to make and yields a ton of food for freezing/reheating. With nearly all of my cooking compressed into weekends, it hasn’t felt like the time for casseroles, enchiladas, tamale pie, or any of the comfort food dishes that I typically love to make on a Sunday afternoon.
My current rotation has an early start time, but one of its advantages is that it provides a vegan-friendly lunch and breakfast each day. It’s nice for my wallet, but the more important advantage is that it allows me to ease up on the batch cooking, since I only have my dinners to think about right now. And I have a little freedom to prepare things that are more playful and elaborate than some of the sensible standbys I’ve been counting on in the last nine months.
Much as I tend to dismiss dishes like lasagna as being more time-consuming and fussy than other food, I’ve learned something important in making this recipe (and a few other casserole-type dishes, all of which I’ll share on the blog) in the last couple weeks. Yes, it takes a while to cook the components and then to bake everything. But once the dish is made, it’s actually a perfect solution for a person like me, who wants about four dinner portions of something at the ready (when I made this, I froze half upfront and kept the other half in the fridge).
I’m on the casserole bandwagon right now for another reason, which is that this type of food really does evoke something special, homemade, and ultra-comforting. It’s not that I don’t love soup and stew, bowls, or beans on toast. But I’ve been feeling tickled to be able to say that I’m going to leave work, go home, and eat vegan lasagna for dinner. Or vegan enchilada casserole. It’s a departure from my cooking routine, at least as it’s been lately, and it’s something to look forward to.
This isn’t my mom’s lasagna. It’s probably not your mom’s lasagna, either. It has its fair share of comfort food goodness, but really, it’s a very wholesome spin on the classic. For starters, red lentils are the protein in this dish, and along with protein they add fiber, micronutrients, and iron. The lasagna filling is stuffed with kale and mushrooms, each a nutrient-dense food in its own right.
You’ll see that the recipe calls for 12 lasagna noodles, because I’m not sure what will fit into your pan or what size your noodles will be—plus, it’s always wise to cook up a few extra in case they tear or stick. But since you only need two layers of noodles, I found that my whole dish only demanded 8 full sized noodles. In other words, this lasagna is heavy on the plant-forward ingredients, light on the pasta.
For cheesiness, I added a few thin layers of vegan mozzarella shreds. (My current favorite is the Violife brand, but any brand you like would work here.) A half cup per layer was just right for me: enough to give some meltiness and authenticity to the lasagna, but not so much to overwhelm the recipe. If you don’t have for store-bought vegan cheese, you could omit this or use a layer of cashew cream or dollops of cashew cheese instead. In this type of dish, I like to use vegan cheeses for seasoning and decoration, but a little definitely goes a long way.
I’ve definitely made vegan lasagnas that were more traditional than this one. But I’ve enjoyed eating it, savoring all of the flavor and heartiness while also enjoying the fact that it’s chock full of legumes and veggies that will fuel me through a very demanding few weeks. Here’s the recipe.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (substitute a few tablespoons water or broth)
- 1 white or yellow onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 ounces chopped button, baby bella, or portobello mushrooms (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 15 ounce can tomato sauce (or 2 8-ounce cans), no salt added if you can find it (if not, you can reduce the salt in the recipe)
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (or 2 teaspoons dried oregano and 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (1/4 teaspoon if you can't find no-salt-added tomato sauce)
- 1 cup red lentils, dry
- 1 cup water
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 small bunch Lacinato kale, tough stems removed, washed and chopped (substitute curly kale)
- 12 lasagna noodles (about 1 10-ounce box, though you may not use all of it—any kind of lasagna noodle you like)
- 1 1/2 cups shredded vegan mozzarella cheese (optional—see note)
- Heat the oil (or water/broth) in a medium sized pot over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes, or until the onion is soft and clear. Add the mushrooms and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for another 5-7 minutes, or until the mushrooms have released their juices, are reduced in size, and are soft and tender.
- Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, salt, lentils, and water to the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Be sure to stir the sauce at least 3-4 times during cooking (red lentils tend to stick to the bottom of the pot). When the lentils are soft, taste the sauce and add black pepper as needed. Stir in the kale. Re-cover the pot and allow the kale to cook in the sauce for 5 minutes.
- While the sauce simmers, preheat your oven to 350F and lightly oil (or spray) a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the lasagna noodles and cook till al dente, following package instructions. Drain noodles.
- Place about 1/3 of the lentil, mushroom, and kale mixture (this will be about 3 cups) on the bottom of the baking dish. Top with 1/2 cup grated cheese, spread out thinly. Place 4-5 lasagna noodles (or as many as needed) over this layer. Top the lasagna noodles with another ~3 cups of the lentil mixture and another 1/2 cup cheese. Top this layer with 4-5 more noodles. Top the noodles with the final third of the lentil mixture and 1/2 cup cheese.
- Cover the lasagna with foil, transfer to the oven, and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover it and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the lasagna noodles are a little crispy at the edges and the cheese is melted. Cut the lasagna into 6-8 pieces (depending on what you're serving it with and how hungry you are) and serve.
For the next couple weeks, you can expect to see a few more recipes like this interspersed with the usual fare. So, if you’ve got vegan casserole-like recipe requests, this is the time to share ?
Happy Tuesday, friends. I’ll be back soon, and I’m wishing you a good start to this (shorter) week.