16 April 2013

No Guilt Vegan Lasagna

I love Italian food. Actually, I have a fondness for ethnic foods in general, but Italian dishes in the past have always been my go-to comfort foods. Since adopting a vegan diet, and focusing on raw foods where possible, the pasta and cheese that I used to find such comfort in are a thing of the past. I have gone through a sort of grieving process. I am very fond of cheese and pasta... at times I really miss them, along with chocolate, coffee, sugar and a list too long to detail... I chose to eat a vegan diet because I wanted to win my battle with Fibromyalgia and get my life back. Unlike many people who follow a vegan diet, I have no problem using foods derived from animals, such as milk, eggs, cheese, and honey. These were mainstays in my vegetarian diet, but no matter how healthy I tried to eat, I wasn't making any headway with the debilitating manifestations of FM, so I decided to give vegan/raw a try. Having made such wonderful progress in my health, tempted as I may be to cheat and have some comforting, deeply satisfying, rich, cheesy lasagne, I will forgo the pleasure and stick with the vegan diet. Sigh...

It has been on my to-do list for some time to come up with a recipe for a comforting, rich, flavorful lasagna that would be healthful, relatively light on caloric intake, and fully raw. This past week I finally set aside the time to play in the kitchen and came up with what I consider a success. Of course it isn't lasagna in the classic sense of the word, since it isn't served hot and there is nary a whiff of dairy cheese anywhere, but it is quite good. It would make a great festive dinner for the summer, when it is too hot to heat up the kitchen, whether you're vegan or not.

**Before I get into the recipe, I want to talk about some things I do to make my life easier day to day. In order to be equipped for preparing interesting and varied meals, I have found it necessary to do certain things ahead and in bulk in preparation for daily meal preps. I have a routine. I make and keep on hand several kinds of lacto-fermented foods, like sauerkraut and kimchee, for adding to salads and using as a flavorful side dish or snack, I pickle daikon and other veggies, sprout a number of different kinds of seeds for use in salads and wraps, I soak and sprout some seeds to boost nutrition but "harvest" them when just the tips of the sprout pokes out, before any leaves develop. I soak and  freeze or dehydrate all the nuts that we eat, to eliminate the naturally occurring enzymes that prevent premature sprouting, but are also digestive inhibitors. I make kombucha, and for my husband who does eat some dairy and loves baked bread, I make kefir and enjoy keeping a sour dough starter for making bread. I also keep a supply of sundried tomatoes in the fridge, soaked and ready to use. I keep these things going perpetually. Something is always growing, culturing, or fermenting on my counter. If you are trying to eat more living food, I would suggest that you get in the habit of preparing as many staple items as possible ahead of when you will need them. That way daily meal prep times are greatly reduced.**

The Lasagna Ingredients List

For  Cashew Cheese
Two heaping cups of raw cashews, soaked for 4 hours in water, then drained,(this will make about 3 cups soaked cashews)
Two large or 3 medium cloves of garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
A large handful of fresh basil, (about 3/4 cup)
One tsp. sea salt or real salt
 Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar, 1/4 cup
Scant 1/3 cup water
One Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

For the Filling
Two carrots grated
One large zucchini
2 cups spinach or chard, shredded
One package enoki mushrooms or one cup cremini mushrooms sliced thinly

For the Sauce
Two cups of sun dried tomatoes, soaked for 4 hours in water, reserve 1/3 cup soaking water.
Two Roma tomatoes, quartered
Sprig Fresh rosemary, Two -three sprigs each parsley and oregano, and a handful of basil  , (approx. one cup).
Two- three garlic cloves, crushed and roughly chopped
Two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A tablespoon or two of tomatos powder, (optional)
Red wine, 1/4 cup, or one tablspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
One tsp. agave
One tsp. salt

Equipment Needed
Large sharp knife
High powered blender, (not a personal bullet blender)
Mandoline, or V-slicer, (if available)
Garlic press, (if desired)

 The Cheese
The first step to making the vegan lasagna is to soak a large bag of raw cashews for at least four hours, (I get mine from an Indian market in Charlotte, their prices are very affordable. If you don't have a ethnic market that sells raw cashews, look for them at the natural food store). The cashews should soak long enough to remove all the digestive inhibitor and to make them soft so that they will be creamy when blended. The cashews should be raw, roasted cashews will not work for making cashew cheese for the lasagna. Drain the cashews and let sit in strainer for awhile to drip dry. Take out 3 cups of cashews for the recipe and place the remaining cashews in a freezer bag for use in the future. Be sure to mark the bag as soaked cashews and store in the freezer.

In a high powered blender, place the three cups of soaked cashews in the blender with 2 large or 3 medium peeled and chopped or pressed garlic, 1 tsp. sea salt or Real salt, a big handful of fresh basil, and 1/4 cup Bragg's apple cider vinegar and 1 tsp. agave. Pulse to begin chopping the nuts, then add water a little at a time to keep the blades taking the nuts down. Do not add much water at first, pulse and scrape the cashew mixture frequently, start with a scant 1/4 cup of water and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Add water carefully and sparingly, just enough water to keep things moving in the blender. Once the nuts are moving around the blender and it is beginning to get creamy, stop adding water and just pulse and scrape to keep things moving. Each time will be different dependent upon weather and how much water the cashews took up while soaking, but I used less that 1/3 cup of water when I made it. The objective is to have a very thick "cheese" the consistency of drained ricotta cheese. Taste and adjust salt as desired and chill while preparing the veggies for assembly.

The Veggies
For the filling in the layers of the lasagna, grate two carrots, shred into strips several handfuls of spinach or swiss chard. I used swiss chard, folded several leaves together lengthwise and cut across the width in small strips. Since I was using Bright Lights Swiss Chard, that has a rainbow of colors, this made each strip green on either side with a pretty splash of color in the middle. Thinly slice a small package (4 oz. is plenty) of cremini mushrooms, or if you can find them use enoki mushrooms as I did. I found a variety of fresh mushrooms at an oriental market for a very affordable price. The enoki mushrooms are quite nice in this lasagna, but if you can't find them cremini will be fine, just slice them thinly.
Choose a large zucchini. This is a great use for those blimp sized zukes that went unnoticed for a few days in the garden. As long as the flesh is still tender and the seeds are small, a zucchini 10-14" long is perfect. With a sharp knife, cut the ends off , cut in half across the width, then stand on one cut end and cut a strip off to make a flat surface, so it will make good contact with the slicer. With a mandoline or V slicer, slice medium thick lengthwise slices of a zucchini. If you don't have a slicer then stand on end and make 1/8th slices with a large sharp knife. These strips will be about 1/8" thick or slightly thicker, but not as thick a 1/4 inch. They will be used in the place of pasta in the raw lasagna.

The Sauce

 Here is another time that I make in advance what I will need over the course of a week. This recipe calls for 2 cups soaked sun dried or dehydrated tomatoes, so I put a whole bag 8 oz. of them in a mason jar to soak with some garlic granules and a sprig or so of fresh rosemary. They will keep in the fridge for several weeks so what doesn't get used in this recipe will be available for use for other purposes later. Soak the tomatoes for when you soak the cashews, so that they will both be ready when you want to prepare the lasagna. Reserve 1/3 cup of soaking liquid. Cut the ends off two-three ripe Roma tomatoes, quarter and place in a high powered blender with the soaked sun dried tomatoes, a handful of fresh basil, a few sprigs of fresh oregano, parsley and rosemary, (strip the rosemary off the woody stem before putting in the blender), and 2-3 large cloves of garlic crushed and rough chopped. We are crazy for garlic so we use a lot; if you aren't as enthusiastic about garlic as we are use less. Because I have it on hand, and I really like the bright tomato-y flavor I use a tablespoon or so of tomato powder at the end of the blending process, to thicken up the sauce. This isn't readily available in stores so it isn't integral to the recipe, but does add a nice flavor if you happen to have some. I get my tomato powder from Honeyville Grains. The tomato powder is part of my emergency pantry and long term storage food supplies. To the tomatoes, herbs and garlic add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 1/4 cup of red wine, (optional, but if you don't use the wine add a tblsp. of balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar),  a tsp. of agave and a tsp. of salt.

 Blend these together, pulsing and scraping to get the mixture into the blades until things are chopped up well. Then while blender is running, add some of the reserved tomato soaking water, small quantities at a time, so that the whole business ends up a little looser than the consistency of tomato paste. Only use as much as necessary to get the blender blades to pull the tomatoes mixture through and create a nice thick paste. If available, at this point add your tomato powder and blend to distribute.
The tomato sauce should be very close to the consistency of tomato paste.

The Assembly
The assemble is done on individual plates.  Start by placing two strip of zucchini on the plate.  Spread a modest layer of the cashew cheese on the zucchini then spread with the tomato sauce. Next sprinkle with shredded carrots.

Place the enoki mushrooms, (or cremini mushrooms if that is what you are using), then arrange your shredded greens atop the mushrooms and cover with a second layer of zucchini. Repeat, as for the first layer, cheese, sauce veggies and top with a final layer of zucchini.

Top the final strips of zucchini with sauce and sprinkle with  a nice dusting nutritional yeast. Decorate the top with a few sprigs of enoki mushroom and a small piece of curly kale or parsley. Serve at room temperature with  a crusty bread, and a salad.

I hope that you will give this a try, I know it is a little different, but then sometimes doing something a little different is a good thing! Take care and I will see you again soon!

Blog Hops this post is linked to:
Tackle the Menu Tuesday 
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #68 
Busy Bee's 13th Blog Hop
Adorned From Above Blog Hop #16
Farm Girl Fest #29
Farm Girl Friday #105

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