Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

A Vegan Lasagna That Will Change Your Mind About Vegan Lasagna

by 
Cassandra Brooklyn
March 30, 2022

I went vegan in Wisconsin in 2003 – well before it was cool and way before the plant-based eateries that are now sweeping the nation made it to middle America. For a few years, I mostly subsisted on bland frozen veggie burgers, spaghetti, and meat-free stir fries, while restaurants and supermarkets slowly began introducing more interesting options.

Somewhere around 2010, my sister, a happy meat eater, stumbled on a recipe for vegan lasagna online that went on to become my absolute favorite meal. By that time, I was living in the vegan mecca that is New York City, but I was still able to find vegan Reubens, tofu breakfast scrambles, and seitan hot wings when I flew home to visit my family in Milwaukee several times per year. Despite the increasing number of veg-friendly restaurants in Milwaukee, vegan lasagna wasn’t (and still isn't) something you can easily find there, or in New York City, for that matter.

Milwaukee is a meat and potatoes, beer and cheese sort of town, and much of the vegan food there is similarly heavy (and also equally satisfying). As a result, the only time I’ve ever been able to reliably find a good vegan lasagna is at my sister’s dinner table. Every time I visit, I pester her to make it.

Thanks to cashews and miso, the filling is rich and creamy. It’s even a little bit healthy, and receives a pop of color from the spinach. My mom, who is also vegetarian and has several food allergies, and my sister’s kids (who are your typical picky eaters) also like the lasagna so the dish simplifies mealtime for once. We always make a double batch, intending to freeze some, but I don't think the second pan has ever successfully made it to the freezer before we’ve devoured it.

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This lasagna just feels like home to me. Sure, I’ve made it a few times at my apartment in New York City, but it always tastes best when I’m digging into a huge helping of it in my sister’s kitchen. When I do make it myself, I dump in extra fennel (too much is never enough in my book!), and I top it with a sprinkling of vegan cheese (Daiya mozzarella shreds are my favorite) to make it extra ooey gooey. I’ve made it with lentils instead of veggie burger crumbles (it worked but wasn’t quite as good) and I’ve also tried topping it with a ground sesame and sea salt concoction as a stand-in for parmesan.

Like most of my favorite recipes, this lasagna is flexible. While it has a ton of ingredients (and I usually use all of them), it also comes out perfectly fine if you leave out the dried thyme or swap it with dried parsley instead. My sister uses grated carrots while I use chopped. She uses oven-ready lasagna noodles while I cook noodles the old-fashioned way. I use MorningStar Farms or Boca veggie burger crumbles because those are the brands I’ve been using for nearly two decades. She uses whatever she can find at the supermarket (last time, she used Quorn, which isn’t actually vegan, by the way). Sometimes, for added texture, I add the spinach in last and just pulse it in the food processor instead of completely pureeing it. My sister doesn’t usually add cheese but this last time, she found a jar of vegan parmesan on sale at the supermarket so she threw it so we tried it and liked it.

And, like my sister, this recipe is also forgiving. My birthday was last week and my sister bought all the ingredients to make me a double batch of this lasagna, only to discover that her 9 x 13 glass baking pans had disappeared. Unwilling to spend any more time searching for them, she resigned to making the lasagna in a 12-inch round, non-stick stainless steel roasting pan I got her for Christmas. To make matters worse, her food processor jammed up as soon as she began to pulse the cashews so I watched her struggle to blend the entire double batch of too-thick-for-a-blender tofu ricotta in the Vitamix. Yes, you read that right, I watched her, I didn’t offer to help. It was my birthday and I’d been watching her kids all day so, no, I didn’t offer to help.

I’ll admit, the circular lasagna looked a bit odd coming out of the oven, and there were a few chunks of cashews here and there that hadn’t blended in that well, but it tasted better than ever, especially knowing the lengths my sister went through to make it happen. The next morning, I flew back to New York City with an eight-cup, leak-proof storage container stuffed with leftovers. I finished off the last piece for dinner last night and I’m already looking for an excuse to get her to make me another lasagna when I visit again this summer.

Thick and Creamy Vegan Lasagna

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Ingredients

12 oz box of oven-ready lasagna noodles

3-3 1/2 cups vegan mozzarella shreds (optional)

1/4 cup vegan parmesan cheese (optional)

 

For the sauce

1 red onion, diced

2 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

12 oz bag vegetarian burger crumbles

1/2 cup water

1 medium carrot, crated

30 oz can tomato sauce

28 oz can diced tomatoes (optional)

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp sweet paprika

2 tsp fennel seed

2 bay leaves

Pinch of red pepper flakes

For the "ricotta" filling

1 cup of raw whole cashews

1 package (14-19 oz) of firm or extra-firm tofu, drained but not pressed

1 package of Fifth Season Baby Spinach (5oz fresh or 10oz frozen, thawed and squeezed)

3 garlic cloves

2 tbsp miso

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

1 tbsp of dried onion flakes (or half as much granulated/powdered onion)

Zest and juice of one lemon

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp fennel seed (optional)

1 1/2 tsp dried oregano (optional)

 | 
 | 

Ingredients

12 oz box of oven-ready lasagna noodles

3-3 1/2 cups vegan mozzarella shreds (optional)

1/4 cup vegan parmesan cheese (optional)

 

For the sauce

1 red onion, diced

2 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

12 oz bag vegetarian burger crumbles

1/2 cup water

1 medium carrot, crated

30 oz can tomato sauce

28 oz can diced tomatoes (optional)

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp sweet paprika

2 tsp fennel seed

2 bay leaves

Pinch of red pepper flakes

For the "ricotta" filling

1 cup of raw whole cashews

1 package (14-19 oz) of firm or extra-firm tofu, drained but not pressed

1 package of Fifth Season Baby Spinach (5oz fresh or 10oz frozen, thawed and squeezed)

3 garlic cloves

2 tbsp miso

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

1 tbsp of dried onion flakes (or half as much granulated/powdered onion)

Zest and juice of one lemon

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp fennel seed (optional)

1 1/2 tsp dried oregano (optional)

Ingredients

12 oz box of oven-ready lasagna noodles

3-3 1/2 cups vegan mozzarella shreds (optional)

1/4 cup vegan parmesan cheese (optional)

 

For the sauce

1 red onion, diced

2 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

12 oz bag vegetarian burger crumbles

1/2 cup water

1 medium carrot, crated

30 oz can tomato sauce

28 oz can diced tomatoes (optional)

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp sweet paprika

2 tsp fennel seed

2 bay leaves

Pinch of red pepper flakes

For the "ricotta" filling

1 cup of raw whole cashews

1 package (14-19 oz) of firm or extra-firm tofu, drained but not pressed

1 package of Fifth Season Baby Spinach (5oz fresh or 10oz frozen, thawed and squeezed)

3 garlic cloves

2 tbsp miso

2 tbsp nutritional yeast

1 tbsp of dried onion flakes (or half as much granulated/powdered onion)

Zest and juice of one lemon

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp fennel seed (optional)

1 1/2 tsp dried oregano (optional)

Directions

1. To make the sauce: Sauté the burger crumbles in olive oil for about 5 minutes to brown them up a bit. Add the onions and sauté for about 5 more minutes, then add the garlic and sauté and another 30 seconds. Add in the carrots and cook for 2-3 minutes. Mix in the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes if using, and if not, add about 1/2 cup of water to loosen the sauce, if desired. Add spices and let the mixture simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaves when finished. 

2. To make the filling: Finely grind the cashews in a food processor until they are almost like a powder. Add in the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. If the mixture is sticking too much, add in a bit more water.

3. Spoon enough of the sauce (about a 1/2 cup) onto the bottom of the pan so its coated with a thin layer. Lay down one layer of noodles, top with a layer of ricotta and a layer of sauce and continue layering in that order, ending with the tomato sauce on top.

4. Cover the lasagna with foil and bake it at 350F for 45 minutes. Take it out, top with vegan parmesan or shredded mozzarella (if using) and bake for another 15 minutes. After removing the lasagna from the oven, let it rest for about 15 minutes before serving.

About the Author

Cassandra Brooklyn

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