I should preface this by saying I’ve got no beef with beef. Despite my mother’s early attempts to raise me vegetarian I’m now a fully qualified carnivore and I love a good slab of meat in my meal. Mum, on the other hand, has kept her plant based preferences so when she comes to visit I like to treat it as an opportunity to get creative with some flesh-free meals, because apparently, telling a vego to just pick the meaty bits out is not the done thing.
It was from one of these maternal visits that this recipe was born – my Lasagnakopoussaka, which is a mash up of Vegetarian Lasagne, Mousssaka and Spanikopita, obviously. The great thing about this dish is that it satisfied all of our dietary quirks – no meat for mum, no grain for me, and an end product that still retained the essence of a traditional lasagne in its flavours and heartiness to please husband. Plates were empty, bellies were fully and no one even missed the meat – I think mushrooms deserve a lot of credit for that thanks to their substantial meaty texture.
But in saying all of that, if you really can’t wrap your head around the idea of a vegetarian meal then you can feel free to meatify it by adding mince into the Bolognese. It’ll still walk and talk like a lasagne but by replacing white sauce with Better than Bechamel CauliGyver Sauce and using vegetables instead of pasta for the layers you’ll get a whole lot more dietary bang for your buck. It’s comfort food made clean.
Get this stuff
1 box frozen spinach
1 tinned of chopped tomatoes
2T tomato paste
1 capsicum diced, I like red but go ahead an pick your favourite colour
1 large zucchini diced
1 onion, brown or red, finely chopped
1-2 garlic cloves
Basil, oregano, thyme
Better Than Bechamel
1 portion of Better than Béchamel CauliGyver White Sauce (see post for the recipe http://wp.me/p4Ypof-P)
Mushrooms for Meat
300- 400 grams button mushrooms thinly sliced
Butter, ghee or coconut oil to sauté
Veggie Lasagna Layers
1 eggplant thinly sliced
1-2 large zucchini thinly sliced lengthways
Optional extra, parmesan cheese to top
Do this with it
There are several elements to this dish and although none of them are particularly challenging or time consuming you can make the béchamel and bolognese in advance to save time when you want to put it all together.
Start by tossing the onion and garlic in the pan with a bit of cooking fat (my preference is ghee for this recipe) and sautee them gently, you want to get them soft and glossy rather than brown and crunchy. Next add the capsicum and zucchini and get that cooking before throwing in the rest of the ingredients. Wait until it’s a lovely bubbling red puddle then reduce the heat and let it simmer away nice and low for a good 20 minutes or so to give all those sexy Italian style flavours to develop.
Better than Bechamel
If you haven’t made this in advance then get it on the go now and it should be done by the time the Bolognese is getting good.
Mushrooms for Meat
If you have a second frypan you can get the mushies on the go now as well. Fungi are delicate wee creatures so again, cook them gently, get them sweating a bit in those nice juices which will add lots of luscious flavour and create that delicious meaty texture, sans meat.
Veggie Lasagne Layers
Finally, slice the eggplant and zucchini for the veggie pasta layers. It’s best to leave this until last as they eggplant can go a bit brown if it’s left lingering around too long and while it probably doesn’t affect the flavour I’m a bit of a sucker for visual appeal as well. I like to use a mandolin slicer, partly because it gives really nice uniform slices and partly because I like the danger factor – I almost always remove part of a digit when I use it. See how I put my body on the line like that? See my dedication to my craft? See how I live on the edge? So badass. Fortunately there was no blood in the dinner this time because that might have fucked with the whole ‘no flesh please, I’m vegetarian’ thing for Mum. If you don’t have one of these weapons in your kitchen armory then just get busy with a knife, it doesn’t have to be perfect you just need to create slices to use as lasagne sheets.
Get it together
Now you have four components ready to go it’s time to get all architectural on it and start stacking this sucker in the following order: vegetable bolognese, eggplant slices, mushroom, zucchini slices, better than béchamel. It’s up to you if you just want to do one thick layer of each element or be a bit more sparing and repeat the whole shebang. This might also depend on the size of dish you’re using so feel free to use your creative license, go ahead, make your own rules and own that shit.
Once all the layering is done you should finish with a topping of better than béchamel sauce. It’s entirely up to you if you want to add parmesan or your choice of cheese to the top. Personally I do because, well cheese is awesome and that golden cheesy crust is one of life’s simple pleasures. If you’re keeping it dairy free then obviously you’ll bypass this but you might want to add some sliced tomato and fresh basil to tart it up a bit and add some colour instead.
That’s it; your work here is done. Park that bad boy in the oven at 180 degrees for about 40 minutes or so, put your feet up and pour your good self a tasty vino to get into the Italian spirit while it does it’s thing in the oven. Serve with a crisp, juicy salad with lots of greens and fresh tomatoes to provide a nice clean counterbalance to the heartiness of the Lasagnakopoussaka.
Serves 4, or 2 if you’re really hungry