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!