Gone Vegan

Lindsay Hutton discovers the politics and pragmatics behind a meat and dairy-free diet.

When the lasagna content in my blood gets low, I get mean. So said a fabled, rather obese orange tabby owned by a hapless bachelor.

Upon going vegan, I made it a top priority to come up with a satisfying vegan version that would get me through my lasagna lust. I ate a lot of bland, mucky mounds of pasta with various permutations of dairy alternatives based on high-flown recipes promising me satisfaction with little success. It is correct to assume that upon going vegan, one must alter their palate, but I will not abide stuffing my face with something that tastes like garbage.

Making a good tomato sauce was a snap. As was the pasta. The tricky bit was the cheese. Always the cheese. I tried everything: store-bought alternatives and stinky, gag-inducing concoctions. There was even one that called for mustard. Come on. Mustard?

I think I may have hit the near-jackpot with this one. A few tips when cooking Italian tomato sauce (courtesy of my Italian Aunt Silvana): Spend an extra few dimes and go for organic, whole Italian tomatoes in the can. I simply cannot afford to buy all organic, but this is one item in my cupboard worth the splurge. Throw them in a bowl and squeeze them apart with your hands – you’ll taste the difference.

Whenever possible, use fresh herbs and add them about ten minutes before you start building the lasagna. And always add about a cup of mushroom or vegetable stock (the cubes are fine) to the sauce and let it simmer down – the stock brings out the flavour of the tomatoes. I discovered mushroom stock about two years ago and find it wonderful for vegetarian cooking. I suggest the Harvest Sun line of stocks; a bit pricy but no MSG, very little salt and it tastes wonderful.

Lindsay’s Vegan Lasagna

The sauce:

2 tsp olive oil

1 medium onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large can whole tomatoes, hand crushed

1 can tomato paste

1 package ground soy (unflavoured or “regular;” I generally don’t recommend the flavoured ground soy products), or

1 cup hydrated TVP

1 cube mushroom stock dissolved in 1 1/2 cups warm water (vegetable stock is fine, too)

3 tbsp chopped fresh oregano or basil

Salt and pepper (to taste)

The spinach layer filling:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 12-oz. package soft tofu, drained

1 tub YOSO vegan cream cheese

3 cups roughly chopped baby spinach

1 tbsp oregano

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

¼ cup nutritional yeast

The lasagna:

16 cooked whole-wheat lasagna noodles (feel free to use the kind that don’t require preboiling, but I prefer the taste of and texture of these).

2 cups shredded mozzarella flavor rice or soy cheese (I suggest Vegan Gourmet).

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.

2. To prepare the sauce, sauté the garlic and onion in the olive oil until transulucent on medium-high heat in a large saucepan.

3. Add the ground soy or TVP and fry for approximately two minutes.

4. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper and stock and simmer on low for twenty minutes.

5. Add the fresh oregano or basil and cook for ten more minutes. Give it a taste and see if it requires more seasoning.

6. To prepare the filling, combine the olive oil, soft tofu and vegan cream cheese in a large bowl and whip with a fork or whisk until smooth.

7. Combine the rest of the ingredients of the filling, and set aside.

8. Spray a 9 X 13” casserole dish with cooking spray, and with a ladle, spread a layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan.

9. Place a layer of noodles above the sauce, and spread more sauce atop the noodles, and roughly mix in a thin layer of soy cheese.

10. Place another layer of noodles, then spread your spinach filling. Repeat step 9.

11. For the final topping, spread the remainder of the sauce overtop the noodles, and top with the remaining cheese. Tip: To help your vegan cheese melt, gently press the cheese into the sauce a bit – the extra moisture from the sauce will help the melting process.

12. Cover with tin foil, and bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling. Remove the foil and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes.

Enjoy. Remember, a lasagna dinner isn’t complete without enormous servings and a glass or three of a full-bodied red wine a few dollars more expensive than you would usually spend. I especially recommend reserving this recipe for life's recurring bummers. Tiffs with your partner. Spilling red wine on your boss at a company party (except I did that once and it was more cause for celebration than anything). Screwing up your tax return. Everyone deserves an occasional pigout. Get stuffed, friends.

Image credit: istockphoto.com/tovfla