dinner,  lactose free,  leftovers,  lunch,  vegan,  vegan option

Lasagna with an eastern twist (and a lot of hidden vegetables)

Can you even imagine being tired of classic lasagna? It’s pretty hard for me, but maybe some of you want something different. Or you like Middle Eastern flavours like cumin, cinnamon, tahini and mint, but you don’t feel like cooking an entirely new dish. Maybe your family is picky and they will only eat food that is at least similar in form to something well known. Who am I kidding, the recipe is just perfect for everybody. A nice, rich filling with strong taste from all the spices, creamy yoghurt tahini sauce and fresh mint on top. And the best thing about it? Over 300g of vegetables per portion.

If you are a dedicated meat eater, or you are feeding one, this take on lasagna could be a good way to smuggle significant portion of greens into the diet. If you are a vegan/vegetarian, you’ll love how deep and complex the taste is. You can prepare the filling with meat (a little goes a long way) or make it vegan by using meat substitutes like Naturli mince/gehakt, green lentils or scrambled tofu. Since there are so many strong flavours, you are not relying on animal products to provide the taste, making the swaps really easy – there is no need to adjust anything else in the recipe.

Unlikely most of my recipes, this one requires a significant time investment (we’re talking about 45 minutes of preparation and 45 minutes baking time), so here are some ideas on how to stretch the meal:

  • if you have leftovers, eat them for dinner/lunch the next day (or even day after)
  • double the filling and freeze to eat over pasta
  • serve smaller portions with a side of salad

Lasagna with an Eastern twist

For the filling:
300g of cooked/canned green lentils/minced meat/Naturli mince/ scrambled tofu
1 eggplant
1 green zucchini
2 onions
2 cloves of garlic
700 tomato passata
1 tsp cumin
0,5 tsp black pepper
1,5 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
0,5 tsp nutmeg
Juice of 0.5 lemon
Neutral oil for frying
1 pack of lasagna pasta

For the bechamel:
2 tbsp wheat flour
2 tbsp neutral oil
500ml unsweetened almond milk
Salt, nutmeg to taste

For serving:
Unsweetened soy yogurt
Tahini
Lemon
Fresh mint

Cut the eggplant into 2cm cubes, generously sprinkle with salt and place on a strainer and leave for 15 minutes to drain. Finely chop the zucchini (leaving the skin and seeds – they are perfectly edible!), onions and garlic. If you are using tofu, scramble it with a fork until you get small crumbles (think: minced meat texture). Rinse and drain the eggplant. Heat a thin layer of oil in a large pot and fry the eggplant until it becomes slightly browned and soft. Get the eggplant out of the pot and set aside. In the same pot heat an additional, small portion of oil and fry onions and garlic, adding the protein of your choice after the vegetables become translucent: cook for 5-10 minutes for minced meat and Naturli mince, 5 minutes for tofu and lentils, stirring frequently. Add lemon juice, 1 tsp of salt and pepper, stir thoroughly and cook for couple seconds until the lemon juice evaporates. Add tomato passata zucchini, eggplant and remaining spices, start preparing the bechamel (see next paragraph) and let the filling cook on medium heat stirring from time to time for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Taste the filling at this point and adjust saltiness and spiciness to your preferences.

Prepare the bechamel: heat the oil in a pot. Add flour and let it get slightly browned (but not burned!), then start whisking the almond milk slowly, whisking all the time. After all of the milk is incorporated and there are no lumps visible, let the sauce cook until it thickens to the consistency of heavy cream or crepe batter. Add salt and nutmeg to taste – I like to put quite a lot of nutmeg in, but since many people dislike it, start with smaller amount and try how much do you like.

Put the lasagna together in a baking tray: add 1/3 of the bechamel on the bottom, then layer of lasagna sheets, 1/2 of the filling, lasagna sheets, 1/3 of the bechamel, 1/2 of the filling, lasagna sheets and remaining bechamel on top. Bake for 30-45 minutes in 180 degrees, covering with aluminium foil if you notice it getting to dry of browning too much halfway through the baking time.

Prepare the sauce mixing unsweetened soy yogurt with tahini, lemon and salt. I don’t have exact proportions – just experiment! My favourite was 4 portions yogurt to 1 portion tahini with only a splash of lemon and generous sprinkle of salt, while my partner preferred more lemon and less salt. Serve each piece of lasagna with sauce and chopped fresh mint on top.

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