some ideas about cheesey layers in lasagnas

I don’t use cheese because I don’t believe cows make milk for us. But I grew up with European and American food traditions that included lots of gooey, cheesey dishes, which I like to make now. One of the most beloved is lasagna.

Old-school vegan lasagna recipes almost always used a mixture of flavored, crumbled tofu for the “cheese” layer. This never thrilled me. The tofu added nothing more than a white color that read “lasagna” to the eye, but not the palate. Let’s get out of that habit, shall we?

I have a few little tricks for making creamy lasagne.

  • Slightly overcook the noodles. This is weird, and if you bow at the temple of al dente pasta then ignore this, but slightly overcooked noodles melt into the rest of the dish in a very nice, creamy way.
  • I sprinkle a tiny bit of nutritional yeast between every layer. Not enough to taste it on its own, just enough for a slightly fermented (thus cheesey) flavor.
  • Add some white miso to the tomato sauce used in the lasagna, for another hint of umami, rich, fermented flavor.
  • I make a cream sauce with either cashews, or coconut milk thickened with agar powder:
  • The cashew cream sauce consists of cashews blended with pinches of mustard, miso, nutritional yeast, vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, and fresh pepper. I blend until perfectly smooth and add just enough water to make a very thick milkshake consistency, then spread a little between the layers.
  • Even better is to thicken the above sauce, or a simpler (and cheaper and easier) one made with coconut milk instead of the cashews that’s thickened with agar powder. Agar powder is available in health food stores and Asian (particularly Thai) markets, and it’s the only type of agar that will thicken when baked. Agar bars or flakes are too chunky to be used in baked products, but you can make a fairly thin coconut milk-based tangy sauce like the one described above and thicken it with oh, about 3/4 teaspoon of agar powder per can (14 oz.) of coconut milk, and it will firm up quite nicely in the oven.

These are super quick and random little ideas, but hopefully they will get you thinking about ways to add a creamy flavor to your baked dishes. Experiment and let me know what you come up with!

the week in photos

Lots of photos this week!

rainy day, perfect for cooking.

Looks so nice, right? Sigh. They were too fragile. I need to remember to make the crust thicker, so it doesn't crumble too much when I pack it into containers for everyone.

Even better, I should just give everyone the smaller tarts.

The recipe for these tarts was based on the lovely Clotilde’s Zucchini Tart on a Hazelnut-Thyme Crust, except that I used coconut butter instead of cow butter and flax seed “eggs” (Google it!) instead of chicken eggs in the crust, and the filling was not cheese + egg, it was a creamy asparagus and artichoke sauce that I sort of just concocted from things that were around and frozen from the springtime. And those are ripe Green Zebra tomatoes, of course, not hard unripe red tomatoes! Oh, and pesto is drizzled over the top.

Speaking of pesto…

more basil!

made more pesto.

for the freezer.

Bean curd skins: made from the skin that collects on the top of the pot when making soymilk, these are a Japanese product (their Japanese name is yuba) that I adore.

I make rolls with them, stuffed with a mixture of shiitake mushrooms, shredded carrots, garlic, ginger, toasted sesame oil, napa cabbage, and shoyu. My recipe is based on the one in the Best of Bloodroot cookbook.

Then these are baked in the oven until crispy, and served with a sesame oil-infused sauce.

White bean salad with green beans, maroon carrots, lemon, and tarragon. Look at those teeny carrot squares!!

Spaghetti squash with garlic & oil sauce

a tisket

I once had a very lovely intern named Ann. She found me because she worked (still does, I believe) for one of my clients, and once said, “The way we imagine you, you have a little basket you hang over your arm and go traipsing around, collecting lovely things to cook from your garden.”

And…she was exactly right. My garden is more a weed patch that is overgrown somehow even in early Spring, but it still yields very small quantities of lovelies for almost three seasons. So before work in the mornings, I often really do take my little basket and head outside and see what’s blooming. And it really is as fairytale nice as it seems it would be.

the smallest week of the year

Freshly-sharpened knives!

Everyone’s on vacation this week, it seems. Which is a shame, because there are some super tasty meals coming up:

  • Spinach-eggplant lasagne with heirloom tomato sauce
  • White beans and flageolet beans with lemon and tarragon: one of those perfect summer salads that just make you happy to be alive.
  • Zucchini tart with hazelnut-thyme crust and duxelles: a nutty, toothsome crust with a summery zuke topping on a base of sautéed finely chopped mushrooms and onions.
  • Sautéed spaghetti squash with fresh garlic, oil and herbs: spaghetti squash is in already! The summer is slipping away.
  • Chinese bean curd skin rolls: with fresh yuba (bean curd skin), homemade seitan, mushrooms, and a savory dipping sauce, these are the epitome of umami.
  • Steamed short grain brown rice and dipping sauce
  • Soup: Chilled lemon zucchini soup with lemon and herbs: the only time I make a chilled soup all year, and you could actually heat this one…though it is better cold.
  • Salad dressing: Fresh apple and parsley dressing

As usual, if you’d like to place an order, just shoot me an email at lagusta@lagustasluscious.com.

this week’s (exceptionally pretty) meals!

Here we go!

The week always starts with tangled apron strings. When will I learn to put my aprons in net bags or something before they go into the dryer?

tomato week!

Homemade udon noodles

Udon!

Finished noodle dish: udon noodles with pumpkinseed oil sauce with garlic, ginger, and cilantro.

Whole wheat pasta with green zebra tomatoes and peperonata sauce

Black forbidden rice + eggplant and oyster mushrooms in garlic sauce

green zebra tomatoes

Oyster mushrooms from Wiltbank Farms. Oh, I love that Gary Wiltbank, he's the most awesome 'shoom grower ever.

Tofu pockets with greens (well, not yet) and that marvelous pumpkin seed oil sauce

The famous pumpkin seed oil! That bottle cost $50!!!!! But so worth it. (It's frosty from the freezer.)

A little end-of-the-night bowl (OK, ramekin) of Tom Kha soup with banana flower. Coconut milk, galangal, lime leaves, ginger, garlic, aricula, carrots, oyster mushrooms, banana flower...oh my. Best late night kitchen-scrubbing snack ever.

this week’s menu!

purple basil!

Here’s what’s shakin’ this week:

  • Peperonata (sweet peppers, onions, herbs, and olive oil) with whole wheat pasta: peppers are in! This is a very hearty and zesty pasta dish–sweet and summery.
  • Mixed lettuces with creamy avocado “ranch” dressing, red onion, and cherry tomatoes: I love this salad because it’s the only time I use avocado for the meal delivery service all year. Such a nice salad.
  • Grilled tofu pockets stuffed with greens: everyone’s favorite! I make it four times a year because it’s so beloved. I really need a better name for this dish. First of all, it’s not grilled. It’s broiled. Heat from above, instead of below. Somewhere along the way it became “grilled,” (actually–my friend Selma created it, so I guess I could just pin the blame on her) and it stuck. I have to confess that I am not a fan of tofu, but this is one tofu dish that I could eat all day long–it’s packed with ginger, garlic, great greens, and this gorgeous roasted pumpkin seed oil that elevates the whole thing to something really special. It’s a hard dish to explain. If you don’t adore it I’ll refund your money, I’ll tell you that.
  • Homemade udon noodles in pumpkinseed-oil sauce: the flavors of the tofu pockets above, but with homemade udon noodles!!!! Insanely labor intensive, and oh my gosh so great.
  • Eggplant and oyster mushrooms in garlic sauce with black forbidden rice: yeah!
  • Caramelized tofu: double yeah! This is, weirdly, the other tofu dish I really crave. It’s sweet and savory at once.
  • Soup: Tom kha (coconut milk soup) with mushroom and banana flower: my sweetheart’s Thai stepmother, who is due to have a baby any minute now (I will be…a step-aunt? Cool!) gave me this recipe–you can’t get more authentic than that.
  • Salad dressing: Chai vinaigrette with orange: yeah!

this week’s meals

A few snaps from the past week’s cooking adventures.

Oh! And if you live in the NYC area, I’ll be cooking a fancy dinner on August 27 in Brooklyn–details and tickets are available here!

It was the week of basil.

Actually, it was the week of pesto.

I’m into hand-pounding my pesto these days. I truly feel it has a better flavor—more basil-y, less bitter—than that of pesto you make in three minutes in the food professor. This batch took me a while…

…Trust me, 24 minutes feels like a lifetime when you’re pounding as hard as you can, over and over…

...but I think it was worth it.

In addition to the pesto mountain, there was a mountain of summery vegetables..

...stuffed with Nicoise-style flavorings: dainty herbs, nice olives, rice, tomatoes...what else? Other good things, I'm sure.

And there were beets. Oh, such beets.

I made the beets into one of my favoritest salads: an orange vinaigrette + steamed beets + crazyfresh raspberries + purple basil. Sigh. SUMMER. You know?

Oh yeah, and a million calzones, filled with the first tomato sauce of the season, and artichoke hearts, and delightful eggplant....not a bad week!