Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lasagna Lifestyle

I think if you went to a party where you didn't know anyone, or maybe one of those meet-and-greet mixers, or some vulnerably awkward situation where you needed to quickly find something interesting to talk about with strangers, you should start talking about lasagna. Every American child of the 90s has a soft spot for lasagna. Lasagna night was awesome. Lasagna filled with something creamy and tangy, or something fresh like tomatoes, or chewy like mushrooms, or meaty, like lentils... there are so many possibilities. As long as you have that doughy pasta bite covered in salty red tomato sauce, it doesn't matter if it's lasagna rolls, lasagna soup, or stuffed shells. You can't really go wrong. You could start by saying, "I made this vegan lasagna last night!" Then, "Yeah, it's vegan!" Then, "it had spinach, artichokes, lentils, Oh and this crumbly parmesan-style topping!" And eventually, "Oh you have to try it, I'll give you the recipe..."


The best thing about lasagna is that it makes a TON. You won't have to cook for a week. And you get to eat lasagna for a whole week. So that's like a bonus.


The TLC required in lasagna-making might be a touch laborious for a weeknight. So on a Sunday or whatever day you don't work, put on some calming tunes, and relax yourself while you dive elbow deep into lasagna and make it everything you ever wanted lasagna to be like. Make it with your best bud and it can be a team effort. A long cooking task isn't always unenjoyable. Sometimes I emerge zen-like from my kitchen after a Sunday cooking marathon.


There would be more peace in the world if we all made lasagna a little more often. Vegan lasagna, that is.


1 box lasagna noodles

Filling:
1 lb soft tofu
3/4 cup cashews
1/3 cup nooch
1 can or 1 1/2 cups lentils
1 can or 6 artichoke hearts, chopped into 4 pieces
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups baby spinach
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1-2 teaspoons salt
1 bunch chopped fresh basil
1 bunch chopped fresh parsley

4-5 cups tomato sauce, jarred or homemade

Topping:
1/2 cup almonds
zest of 1 lemon
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon nooch

Boil the lasagna noodles and lay them out on a large cutting board or workspace. If they are sticking, spray with a little olive oil cooking spray. 
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat with a little olive oil if you like, and sauté the onion until light brown. Add garlic and stir around for a minute or two, then add the lentils and artichokes. You can wilt the spinach in now, or you can layer it fresh into the lasagna before baking. Stir around and add the dried spices and salt. Saute for a few minutes. and turn off the heat.
If you're super savvy you can make the tofu-cashew filling while you sauté the lentils and veggies. All you have to do is crumble the tofu into a blender with the cashews and nooch and blend it really well. I have a high-speed blender so it only takes me about a minute, but I never had any problems when I had a tag-sale blender either. I just blended an extra minute or two. 
Scoop this mixture out of the blender and into a mixing bowl. Rinse the blender out because you're going to use it again to make the topping. 
Once the lentil-veggie filling is not totally burning hot, add it to the tofu mixture in the mixing bowl, and fold in. Fold in the chopped basil and parsley.
Preheat your oven to 400ºF. 
Get your 9x13 or whatever size lasagna pan you want out and spoon some tomato sauce over the bottom so that there's no dry space. Now add 3 or 4 lasagna noodles lengthwise, overlapping a little if necessary. Actually I think overlapping helps with the integrity of the lasagna after baking, so overlap away! Now add a few heaps of the tofu-lentil mixture and smooth out on top of the noodles. If you didn't wilt in the spinach before, you can lay your spinach leaves flat on top of the filling, just enough of them to cover the filling layer. Now add some more tomato sauce over the top of that.
Keep layering in the same order, and you should get about 3 full layers. Finish by topping off the pan with red sauce.
Now make the topping by throwing the almonds, lemon zest, salt and nooch into your blender and pulverizing them to make dust. If you doubt your blender's abilities, then you can use a food processor.
Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the top of the lasagna, cover and bake for about 30 minutes. You can remove the foil to try and brown the top after the 30 minutes, but it's not necessary.

Let cool a minute, call all your friends, tell them you made a lasagna bigger than an air-hockey table and come help you eat it. 


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