Meatless lasagne with cashew cheese

Lasagne used to be one of my favourite things in my pre-vegan life. A good lasagne is all about the sauce and the cheese, so to nail a vegan lasagne, you have to get these two things just right. My recipe is inspired by this one and this one. For the tomato sauce I replaced the traditional ground beef with ground seitan and brown lentils, which gave it a lovely chewy texture and lots of body. And instead of dairy cheese I used cashew cheese. The cashew cheese is basically pureed raw cashews mized with tapioca starch. When the mixture is heated, it takes on a stringy, springy texture reminiscent of mozzarella. Most recipes would have you heat and ‘set’ the cashew mozzarella before adding it to the lasagne, but found that I got better results by adding the cashew cheese in liquid form, and then letting it set during baking.

Bear in mind that although this meal is quite easy to make, it is not a quick one unless you have the components ready beforehand, so it’s a good idea to prep ingredients ahead of time. Once the components are ready though, assembly and baking take just about 45 mins, depending on the size of your baking dish. In this post I’ll be showing you how to make each of the components, and finally how to assemble the lasagne.

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What you will need

*makes 12 servings

For the sauce:

+ 1 cup cooked brown lentils (soak for 1-2 hours before cooking to cut down cooking time)

+ 1 cup ground seitan*

+ 8 medium size firm tomatoes

+ 1 can tomato purée (or 12 more tomatoes)

+ 2 tablespoons tomato paste

+ 1 red onion

+ 1 teaspoon minced garlic

+ 1 vegetable stock cube (or use homemade vegetable stock)

+ 4 tablespoons soy sauce or Braggs liquid aminos

+ Spices: 1 teaspoon each of oregano, thyme, basil, parsley, paprika; salt to taste

*A note on the ground seitan – you can make your own (I’ll do a separate post on that) or just buy some Veg Meat (find out from Veggie Victory where it’s stocked), soak in hot water to soften and then use a food processor to grind it up. Alternatively, use chopped mushrooms in place of the seitan.

The ground seitan

For the cashew cheese:

+ 3 cups raw cashews

+ 2 tablespoons lemon juice

+ 2 cups plant based milk (preferably organic soy, the high protein content helps the cheese set)

+ 12 tablespoons tapioca starch (cassava flour should work too, but I haven’t tried it)

+ 1/2 teaspoon of salt

+ 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)

Other ingredients:

+ 1 pack wholegrain lasagne noodles

+ olive oil

+ 1 eggplant (optional)

+ 3 medium size green bell peppers

 

How to make it

The tomato sauce

Step 1: Soak the lentils for 1-2 hours, and drain the water. Then cook until softened, but not completely done; they will cook some more in the sauce and later in the oven.

Step 2: Blend the tomatoes into a smooth puree, and pour into a large pot. Let simmer  on medium heat with the pot uncovered until it thickens considerably. This should take about 30 minutes or so.

Step 3: Stir  in the tomato puree and paste, and let simmer another 10 minutes.

Step 4: Add the rest of the ingredients and spices, plus about 3 cups of water. Cover the pot and leave to cook for about 15 mins. Adjust spices to your taste.

The cashew cheese

Step 1: Soak cashews for at least 4 hours (2 hours if you use hot water), then blend into a very smooth puree with 1 cup water, the lemon juice, nutritional yeast (if using) and salt. Transfer to a bowl. If making the lasagne immediately, go to Step 2. Otherwise, store in the fridge until you are ready to make it.

Step 2: Stir the tapioca starch into the cashew puree thoroughly, then add in the plant milk gradually; the final mixture should be about the consistency of a smoothie, so add more or less plant milk as needed.

The noodles

Step 1: Lay out enough lasagne noodles to make three layers in your casserole dish

Step 2: Pour boiling water into the casserole dish and leave the noodles to soak for 10 minutes or until they become flexible. The goal is to soften, not to cook them.

Step 3: Drain the water and drizzle olive oil lightly between noodle layers to prevent sticking

The veggies

Step 1: Chop the green peppers into large chunks

Step 2: Slice the eggplant into 0.5 cm thick slices, and sautee in a drizzle of olive oil for 2 minutes.

Now we have all the bits and pieces – time to put together the masterpiece!

Start with a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of your casserole dish; this acts as a non-stick barrier between the noodles and the dish. As the noodles are not yet cooked, the tomato sauce should be watery enough to cook them while the lasagne bakes. Add a bit of water if necessary.

Next, lay down a layer of lasagne noodles to cover the base completely. There shouldn’t be wide gaps between the noodles; let them overlap if they have to.

Do another layer of tomato sauce, about 1/2 cm thick this time.

Next, carefully lay down all the eggplant slices – if they are too many for one layer, save some for later.

Cover this with one-third of the cashew cheese mixture, poured evenly.

Finish up the layering in the following order: noodles, tomato sauce, any leftover eggplant, cashew cheese,  noodles, tomato sauce, green peppers, and finally, the rest of the cashew cheese. Finish with a sprinkle of black pepper and thyme if you like.

Cover with foil and bake on medium heat for about 30 minutes. Then take off the foil and do another 15 minutes on high heat, until the cheese forms a crust on top. And you’re done!

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Tip: Let the  lasagne cool slightly before slicing it up, so it doesn’t fall apart too much.

Just look at that springy cheese! 😀

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