Sneaky Veggie Lasagna

I’ll admit it now: I snuck tofu into Christmas dinner. And no one suspected a thing.

Last year around the holidays I wrote about being a good vegetarian guest: that is, bringing a big vat of something protein-y and hearty as well as tasty and vegetarian so that I both manage to add to the feast and my host doesn’t have to either make me a main dish or feel bad as she watches me make a meal of potato chips, cheese cubes and dessert. As for my contributions, one protein source was in plain sight in the lentil soup, but another was hidden in the Trojan horse lasagna.

I did think about bringing something different this year to Wayne’s family’s Christmas Eve dinner–something slightly more exciting and boldly vegetarian. But then I realized that people don’t want exotic on Christmas. They want tasty and familiar. Foodie Nigel Slater on this week’s episode of NPR’s The Splendid Table says that as much as we love to think about making new recipes for a holiday celebration, what we really want is holiday traditions (specifically, he believes, a giant fowl to carve).

Lasagna is familiar, and along with the lentil soup, it would make my whole meal while other guests might enjoy it alongside their ham, beans baked with pork, and turkey with dressing casserole. The sneaky part was swapping tofu for ricotta.

No, it’s not a vegan lasagna. You could certainly make this recipe vegan by using non-dairy mozzarella-esque product and parmesan-like cheese substitute or simply no cheese, but readers know by now how I feel about fake cheese or giving up cheese altogether. The reasons for the substitution are simply my ricotta aversion and a desire to make the dish lower fat (and less saturated fat, as well).

I should say here that I am not an advocate of hidden ingredients in food for guests, running the risk of food sensitivities or even allergies. But amongst family when you know that it is only tradition you risk offending, maybe it’s okay.

Lasagna is one of the most forgiving dishes so my recipe has lots of options

Lower Fat Veggie Lasagna

  • 1 package whole wheat lasagna noodles, cooked just enough to soften
  • 1 package “lite” tofu (lower fat)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 bunch each fresh oregano and basil (or substitute dried herbs)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • optional: 1/2 tsp fennel seed
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • your favorite lasagna veggies, sliced thin and (optionally) sauteed for extra flavor. I sauteed 1 small zucchini, 1 box of sliced baby Portabella mushrooms, and 2 cloves garlic. I also used a couple handfuls of fresh baby spinach leaves
  •  optional for a little extra flavor: 1 diced roasted red pepper and handful of chopped black olives
  • 1 package grated reduced fat Italian cheese or part skim Mozzarella cheese
  • 1 large jar of your favorite pasta sauce
  1. Prepare the noodles and veggies or you can speed up the process by using uncooked noodles and veggies.
  2. With a potato masher or a fork, squish up the tofu with the Parmesan cheese, herbs, garlic, optional fennel, and salt and pepper. This is your equivalent of the ricotta mixture usually found in lasagna. You can also add some mozzarella to this mixture to make it adhere better.
  3. Begin layering in your lasagna dish. I like noodles on bottom (if they’re cooked, spray bottom of pan, if not, add water to the bottom). Then I add the tofu mixture and a sprinkle Italian cheese mixture, then all the veggies including optional olives and roasted peppers, then a coating of sauce. I repeat the layers once and end with noodles, sauce and cheese.
  4. Bake covered (with foil) at 350˚F for about an hour. Uncover and broil at 400˚F for just a couple of minutes–watch until the cheese begins to brown and take it out at your desired color/consistency.

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