Vegan Lasagna... for Omnivores?


I've been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks now, but with the house renovation still going on and getting more complicated by the day, it's been hard to find the time.  I'm stealing a few minutes now as I wait for a batch of Sunday breakfast muffins to come out of the oven (I whipped up another variation of the Gluten Free Banana Nut Muffins I posted after the New Year), and I want to share with you a topic I find myself considering often these days: what on earth do you cook for an omnivore? I'm not talking about a flexible, Meatless-Monday's type of omnivore, I'm talking about the Steak-It's-What's-For-Dinner type of omnivore. And for lunch, and for breakfast. People like my Dad, my brother, pretty much my entire clan of relatives, and many of our friends. 

On this particular Saturday evening a few weeks ago, we had invited two new friends over for dinner. We hadn't really spent much time together before, but the fact that my husband and I are both vegan had come up and we offered to cook dinner for them.  Oh boy. What had seemed like a great idea at the time quickly ballooned into frenzied panic on Saturday morning -- not only was this our first date with our hopefully new Couple Friends, we had to feed them vegan food.  This was a couple whose idea of a good Valentine's dinner was to stay home and craft some Beef Wellington together. The bar was high. 

They assured us that they were excited and curious to try something a little different, but as Saturday evening approached, we began to question everything about our plan. What do you make for people whose expectation of anything with the word "vegan" in it conjures up images of salad leaves and piles of broccoli? We knew this was an opportunity to feed them otherwise, to show them how filling and delicious plant-based food can be, and to forever raise their expectations.  But what if they didn't like it? What if they found it on par with their expectations? What if they left hungry, and had to pick up a backup dinner on the way home? 

With the pressure mounting, we talked through our options. Do we go with something inherently vegan, like lentils or quinoa salad? Do we roast a big pile of vegetables from the day's trip to the farmer's market? Do we make our go-to Chickpea Masala, a vegan version of a classic Indian favorite? With all these thoughts, we shot them down just as quickly. We feared they would feel that something was missing -- The Meat. We didn't want to focus the dinner on meat replacements either, lest tastefully prepared tofu call attention to itself as an apologetic stand-in for what their taste buds really desired. 

Our goal was ultimately to just have dinner, with friends. We wanted the food to do what good food always does: to provide a warm, satisfying backdrop to the shared ritual of eating a meal and getting to know each other over hours of good wine and conversation. We weren't aiming for the food to take center stage in the discussions either, we just wanted to feed our friends and have them leave us full and happy. 

Ultimately, we settled on a familiar favorite we felt we all could relate to: lasagna, made vegan. We would dress it up with the usual accoutrements -- bread, cheese, a green salad, and copious amounts of red wine -- and everyone would feel right at home. 

We had recently discovered some amazing, cultured cashew milk cheese from Treeline at our local grocery store, which is nearly indistinguishable from an herbed chevre and plays just as nicely with warm, toasted slices of baguette.  We held them over with bread and cheese as the lasagna finished cooking and I worked on the salad, plying them with what I thought were very exciting samples of various radish varieties we had found at the market that morning. Whether they found them equally exciting will soon be found out when they read this... 

Finally, the lasagna was coming out of the oven and our vegan-Italian experiment was coming to fruition. With a little help from the Simple Veganista's Cashew Ricotta and a few layers of the morning's market vegetables, we had ourselves a lasagna we could be proud of. Matt and Jess, I hope you enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed your company.  

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And now, The Menu.

To start -

. sliced baguette, hot from the oven
. olive oil + pomegranate balsamic vinegar
. Treeline Treenut Cheese, Herb-Garlic flavor

The Salad -

. spring mix
. chopped fresh rainbow chard
. sunflower sprouts
. mix of market radishes: spicy Black Spanish, Watermelon, White Beauty

The Salad Dressing -

(my own lemon honey mustard dressing)

. 1/4 c olive oil
. 1 Tbsp honey or maple syrup
. 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
. 1 Tbsp spicy brown mustard
. 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
. juice from half a lemon
. cracked black pepper

The Lasagna -

(Layers are described in order from the bottom to the top, baked at 375 for 45-55 minutes, depending on how thinly you slice the sweet potatoes)

. tomato sauce on the bottom, just enough to coat the dish and keep the noodles from sticking
. first layer of noodles, cooked according to package directions
. cashew ricotta
. raw kale, chopped into small pieces
. thinly sliced rounds of sweet potatoes, placed in a single layer
. tomato sauce over the whole thing
. second layer of noodles
. more cashew ricotta
. topping layer: green peas and finely chopped sweet potatoes, crispy when baked

The Wine - 

(huge thanks to our lovely guests for bringing the wine and introducing us to a new local vineyard!)

. Unionville Vineyards, The Big O, 2013. (Red blend)
. Unionville Vineyards, Cool Foxy Lady, 2016. (Icewine style, dessert white)


If you cook vegan, what do you make for your meat-loving friends and family? If you're an omnivore, has anyone ever made you a vegan meal? I would love to hear about your own experiences with this! 













Comments

  1. Serving a vegan lasagna to an Italian couple who grew up eating around Chambersburg in Trenton, NJ might be the boldest move in the history of dinner parties. I guess I can go without the meat every now and then - but substituting the ricotta? Get outta here!

    Actually Heather, your cultured cashew paste left us pleasantly surprised. Salty, tart, and even the texture was right. I like my formaggio, but aside from the earthy and slightly toasted flavor inherit in nuts, I don’t know that I would have picked up anything out of the ordinary with the "cheese".

    Thank you both for your hospitality and sharing your talented craft in food with us. I look forward to exploring more food - and wine - with you two in the future.

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