Pesto Veggie Lasagna

This might be my favorite lasagna ever – and it’s vegan! I know – I’ve been making a lot of “best ever” claims lately, but I’ve really been on a roll in the kitchen. While this recipe is a little bit labor intensive, it’s easy labor – and the end result is beyond worth it.

I made this dish for my family’s Christmas get together in Chicago last week (though it was just vegetarian for them and not vegan, as I couldn’t find Daiya on short notice Christmas eve). It almost didn’t happen; do you have any idea how hard it is to find lasagna noodles at 4pm on Christmas Eve? We had to go to 2 stores, and I got the very last package on the shelf at store #2 (thank you, Target!) It was well worth the search. This lasagna got thumbs-up reviews from even the meat eaters, and I enjoyed it so much that I made it again at home for New Years.

This recipe makes a 9×13″ dish of lasagna – good for 8 serious servings (which in my case means, a freezer full of lasagna!) For the record, it does freeze and reheat very well. If you plan to go that route, let it cool down a bit then portion it out into freezer-safe containers and freeze. You can also make this a day ahead of time and refrigerate it prior to baking, then toss it in the oven when it’s time to make dinner. Just add 5-10 minutes if you’re starting with cold lasagna.

Without further ado, my favorite lasagna recipe of all times:

Pesto Veggie Lasagna

by Shelly Hokanson

Prep Time: 30

Cook Time: 35

Ingredients (8 servings)

Lasagna

  • 1 pkg lasagna noodles (12+ noodles – no-boil are fine)
  • 1 cup pesto – see recipe below
  • 5 – 6 cloves garlic, peeled & minced
  • 5 cups grilled or sautéed veggies – choose from zucchini, eggplant, red or green bell peppers, portobello mushrooms, broccoli, or your favorites. My favorite mix: 1 red pepper – diced, 1 zucchini – cut into half moons, and 1 head of broccoli florets.
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 lb or 1 – 14oz package herbed tofu, firm or extra firm (Italian herbed tofu works great here), pressed and crumbled
  • 2-3 medium tomatoes, sliced (8 slices)
  • 1 package (8 oz) Daiya mozzarella or other vegan shredded cheese
  • 1 jar of your favorite marinara

Pesto

  • 1/4 cup walnut halves or pieces
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (or, replace with additional 1/4 cup walnuts)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, scant
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Instructions

This first step is optional, but highly recommended. Preheat a large heavy-bottomed skillet (such as a cast iron skillet) over medium-low heat. Add the walnuts to the dry skillet and toast for 5 minutes, tossing often. Then add the pine nuts and toast an additional 5 minutes. (If using all walnuts, add them all at the start and toast for 10 minutes).

Set toasted nuts aside to cool.

Prep the Veggies

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large saute pan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute for 5 minutes.

As you chop up the rest of your veggies, add them to the pan, stirring often. If the pan dries out, add a tablespoon or two of water to deglaze the pan and keep on saute-ing.

Continue to saute the veggies while preparing the pesto.

Prep the Pesto

Add the toasted nuts to a food processor.

Add the minced garlic, basil, thyme, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast until the basil leaves are well blended, scraping down the sides of the food processor as necessary.

Slowly stream in the olive oil and process until well combined.

Blend in the lemon juice.

Assemble the Lasagna

In a 13×19″ dish, coat the bottom of the dish with a layer of marinara.

Place one layer of lasagna noodles on the bottom of the dish.

Layer more marinara on top of the noodles.

Then, add the baby spinach over the noodles.

Crumble the tofu on top of the spinach.

Sprinkle a layer of shredded Daiya over the tofu, then add a second layer of noodles.

Coat the noodles with another marinara layer.

Add the veggies to the next layer and top with a generous layer of pesto.

Add the last layer of noodles and coat with remaining marinara.

Add the rest of the shredded cheese. Place 8 dollops of pesto across the top, and add a tomato slice onto each dollop of pesto.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes at 350F, until the lasagna is warmed through and the cheese is melted.

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Super Juice!

Super Juice

Introducing, Super Juice!

I’ve finally concocted a repeatable, yummy juice for my Breville Juice Fountain Plus. It’s meant to be a “healthy” juice, no doubt, but it manages to be pretty darn tasty, too.

Things to note:

  • I prefer to peel all non-organic fruits and veggies (as applicable).
  • I peel beets no matter what. They taste much less earthy when peeled first!
  • Since lemons are kind of a pain to peel, often I’ll leave them out of the juicer and just use my handheld lemon juicer for the lemon.
  • Zucchini can be substituted for cucumber. I’ve also added broccoli stems, with good results.
Super Juice!

Super Juice!

Super Juice
Recipe Type: Juice
Prep time: 5 mins
Total time: 5 mins
Serves: 1-2
A healthy way to drink some fruits and veggies!
Ingredients
  • 3 apples (Golden Delicious or other sweet variety recommended)
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large stalk celery
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 beet
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 1 inch chunk ginger
Instructions
  1. Add ingredients to juicer chute and process on high or per manufacturer’s instructions.
Notes

Spinach juices best when stuffed between two larger items in the chute (such as, between two apples).

Look, Mom - it's green!

Juicy Juice!

Hallelujah! My first “yummmmmm!” juice concoction! This recipe came courtesy of the Top 100 Juices book I picked up the other day.

Oranges, Kiwi, Spinach, and an invisible Apple

Oranges, Kiwi, Spinach, and an invisible Apple

It all started with a couple oranges, a couple kiwi, and a half-full tub of spinach. (There was also an invisible apple – see it?)

This juice was a little more labor intensive, as I had to peel the oranges and kiwi. I’ve never peeled an orange before. I hit up YouTube for instructions, and the first guy demonstrated how to peel it with a fork. Uh – yeah. No. I must not have bionic forks. Fail. The next video I found had a lady demonstrating how to peel an orange with a spoon. I was optimistic, since that’s how I peel kiwi – but no. Fail. Finally, I just dug in and peeled it with my hands. (Imagine that!)

The disastrous remnants

The disastrous remnants

It gets kind of chaotic in here!

Juice Party

Juice Party

But there’s no such thing as a good party without a little chaos. Such fun colors!

Have you ever wondered what the pulp looks like after juicing?

The leftover pulp

The leftover pulp

I hear it can be used in baking, but I haven’t gone that route yet. I’d love to see a cookbook with recipes for fruit and veggie pulp. It seems there’s an untapped niche somewhere in here….

The pulp from the Breville is very dry (which is good – because the juice should be in the jug, not in the pulp!). It feels wasteful throwing the pulp away, so I will soon make a diligent effort to find ways to use it. Unfortunately, I don’t have a way to compost my food scraps at the new place (city living, no land). I’m investigating options. If you have any ideas, please let me know!

At long last…

Look, Mom - it's green!

Look, Mom - it's green!

The most delicious juice I’ve made thus far. Cheers!

Green Lemonade Carrot Juice

Green Lemonade

Juice attempt #2! Green lemonade.

Ingredients for Juice #2

Ingredients for Juice #2

Lemon, celery, carrots, kale, cucumber, strawberries, and spinach.

OK, so I modified the original recipe. I added the strawberries and the carrots… I mean, strawberry lemonade sounds awesome, right? And, well, carrots go with everything.

Party Juice

Party Juice

The juice bucket always looks like a party to me!

Green Lemonade Carrot Juice

Green Lemonade Carrot Juice

I probably shouldn’t have added the carrots (it is my instinct to add carrots to just about everything); I suspect it killed the “lemonade” aspect of the recipe (and made the “green” in the name inaccurate).

Still, this juice was pretty good. I haven’t nailed the recipe yet, but I’ll get there! This one was much more immediately palatable than the beet juice. It tastes like a breakfast-y juice.

I’ve been storing my juices in Ball jars in the fridge. I figure, each will be consumed within a day or two, so it’s all good. Shake it up, then drink up!

I’ve got some oranges, plums, fennel, cabbage, and pears to find recipes for. Need to make room!

Tempeh Sloppy Jims

Skillet Sloppy Jims

It’s 7:21pm. Do you know where your dinner is?

Today, I did not know where my dinner was. I did not know what my dinner was. All I knew was that I was hungry to the max, and I didn’t feel like slaving for a meal.

Enter: the cast iron skillet.

This particular piece of cookware is amazing. It’s naturally nonstick. When things do stick, it’s actually good, because you can deglaze the pan and everything tastes even better! Somehow, everything I’ve ever made in my cast iron has turned out awesome – including tonight’s throw-together mess of deliciousness.

I call it: Tempeh Sloppy Jims.

(Sorry, Joe. There’s no red sauce going on here, so I can’t really call it Sloppy Joes, but this sandwich assembled exactly like a Sloppy Joe, and ate just like one… just tasted different! So I gotta give the nod to Jim).

Tempeh Sloppy Jims

Tempeh Sloppy Jims

Take 1 cast iron skillet.

Add a diced white onion. Sautee in oil (I used peanut oil) over medium heat while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Dice up a red bell pepper. Crumble a stick of tempeh. Throw them into the skillet. Keep on sauteing.

Pour in a little water or veggie stock. (I used a vegan chicken-flavored stock). Deglaze the pan. Keep on sauteing.

Don’t burn the batch of kale chips you’re making on the side like I did.

Throw a couple big handfuls of baby spinach into the skillet. Toss in some fresh basil, for fun. Awww heck, let’s mince a couple garlic cloves in there, too.

Salt and pepper…. stir until the spinach is wilted…. voila.

Tempeh Sloppy Jim mix

Tempeh Sloppy Jim mix

Tempeh Sloppy Jims! Well, I suppose this could be eaten a lot of ways. I was tempted to just eat it with a fork, but it reminded me so much of Sloppy Joes that I had to put it on a bun (with some melted Daiya mozzarella, of course [vegan… best vegan cheese on the planet!]). Served it with a baked potato and a giant bowl of greens, and some un-photogenic burnt kale chips on the side (not pictured).

Speaking of baked potatoes… why do I let myself buy big 5# bags of potatoes? Usually I just buy 1 or 2 potatoes, because I end up letting them sit until they’re growing eyes, but somehow while standing in the grocery store, I sometimes convince myself that the extra $1.50 is so worth it to get so many more potatoes! And then they go bad. This might have been the only potato I’ll out of the entire bag. Grrr! Why!!! I don’t even like to eat regular potatoes that often… I prefer sweet potatoes… I think I meant to make my favorite asparagus potato soup… except that I ate all of my asparagus. Hmm. Dilemma.

Maybe next time it’s 7:21pm and I’m lost without my dinner, I should study my potato options.

Avocado Spinach Sandwich and Asparagus

Lies of Omission

So, I’ve been keeping something from you.

It’s a sandwich – one that I’ve now eaten 3 days in a row.

I didn’t mean to. I thought about sharing. The first time, I was just too hungry to stop and grab the camera.

The second time, I started to prep the sammy for picture time, but it just wasn’t photogenic enough to bother.

Well, the sandwich still isn’t very photogenic, but it’s so darn tasty that I was overcome with guilt today as I made it for, yes, a third time.

So here you go – my current crush of a sandwich:

Avocado Spinach Sandwich and Asparagus

Avocado Spinach Panini and Asparagus

It’s the Avocado Spinach Panini [recipe], inspired by the recipe in the July/Aug 2011 issue of Vegetarian Times.

My version is a slight modification on the original. It’s essentially (for one sandwich):

  • half an avocado, mashed
  • 1/8 of an onion, diced
  • a generous smear of garlic hummus
  • a small handful of baby spinach
  • some sundried tomatoes
  • smashed between two slices of bread and pressed for 4 minutes on the panini press

I’m currently enjoying the High Five Fiber loaf from Great Harvest Bread Company in Palos Heights, IL. If you’ve never had Great Harvest bread, you MUST check to see if there’s a GH near you. Their breads use simple, real food ingredients and fresh whole grain flours – ground daily! The flavor is incredible, and I’m so glad that I found GH at my local farmer’s market. I’ve been looking forward to shopping at GH Charlottesville once I get to Virginia, but it has been so delicious enjoying it here in the meantime!

Of course, I still suck at cutting bread loaves, so my slices are WAY huge. So, people, do not take these photos as an example of how much in grains you should eat at a meal. Leave that to MyPlate! My slices probably end up being 2.5 servings, at least!

But just look at this hot, gooey mess…

Avocado Spinach Panini

Avocado Spinach Panini

Oh, it is so good.

Mashing the avocado is definitely key. I had trouble in my first two attempts with the avocado slices falling out on the panini press or when I tried to eat the sandwich. The mashing also adds to the gooey-factor.

Side note: I’m eating asparagus like french fries now. Loooooove asparagus!

Fave way to prep asparagus: trim off the rough stems. Spray with a little olive oil spray. Sprinkle with veggie seasoning (I’m currently in love with McCormick’s Perfect Pinch Vegetable Seasoning. Yeah, the ingredient list is less than whole-foods-stellar, but it is mighty tasty). Then grill for 3 minutes. (Ahh, this is where having the Griddler is awesome sauce!)

So, as we embark upon this holiday weekend, I urge you to enjoy a tasty sandwich, grill up some veggies, and share some good times with the ones you love. :)

Simple Lunch

I get really excited when I make a wrap and it actually wraps up nicely. Sometimes I stuff it too full. Sometimes I’m a clutz and just can’t get the thing to roll up without all of the guts falling out. Sometimes I do great, right up to the cut-it-in-half part, and then destroy the whole thing while trying to cut it.

Today, the stars aligned, and I made a pretty wrap!

arugula wrapI really could make a category here called “Adventures in Wrapping,” but it would be nearly empty because most of my wraps are nowhere near photo-worthy.

My first foray into the world of making wraps was based on the discovery that cucumbers make a pretty decent sandwich base. You see, I occasionally have a hankerin’ for a Jimmy John’s sandwich. When I went vegetarian, I had to change my normal sandwich order over to the #6 – the creatively named “Vegetarian” (sans mayo and tomato, please – I still can’t stand the texture of tomatoes). It basically amounts to a cucumber sandwich with a wonderful avocado spread.

I started using cucumbers in my wraps, and was really digging them. Then, I worked out my own version of a vegan avocado ranch spread, inspired by a dressing recipe in the You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan! cookbook.

Ever since, I’ve been using those two as the basis of many delicious veggie wraps.

arugula wrap 2Today’s concoction features, of course, cucumbers and avocado spread, along with a chopped up veggie burger, about 3/4 of a carrot (shredded), a handful of baby spinach, a handful of arugula, and a drizzle of garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil. (That’s my giraffe friend Milly pictured in the background).

I have tried a lot of wraps in my day, and finding ones without offensive ingredient lists can be difficult. Lately, I’ve been using Smart & Delicious Tomato Basil Soft Wraps from La Tortilla Factory. The ingredient list isn’t perfect, but it’s not terribly bad, and they’ve got 12g of fiber per wrap at only 100 calories. They’re nice, big 9″ wraps and are (as the name says) very soft and easy to stuff with goodies (even for a wrap-challenged soul like me).

I swear, wraps taste better when they look pretty.

An Un-Winning Smoothie Combo

I’ve got another new recipe post coming up soon, but thought I’d jump on and share an un-winning smoothie combo that I came up with today (so that you don’t try it with the same results!)

Two things worked to my disadvantage: first, I was out of vanilla soy milk, so I used regular skim milk. I did not realize just how much flavor I actually get from the soy milk – it’s much more dense, maybe a bit more sweet, and… well, it’s vanilla. Second, the fruit combo I chose was not sweet or powerful enough to mask the taste of the greens – so this tasted more like cucumbers than anything else.

The mix:

1 cup skim milk
1 scoop vanilla protein powder
2 carrots
1 handful baby spinach
1/3 of a cucumber
1 whole apple
1 whole pear

So… it seems like fruits with stronger or sweeter flavors are required to mask out the taste of the greens. Strawberries are a standard component of my smoothies, and even when I only use 3 or 4 strawberries, they make a huge difference. I was just trying to mix it up today, and even though I used a whole pear and a whole apple, they weren’t sweet enough to be noticeable. I couldn’t even taste them.

The end result was incredibly bland and tasted mildly of cucumber. I won’t be making this combo again!