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Cooking a healthy meatless lasagna

Cooking a healthy meatless lasagna

Lasagna is one of my favorite comfort foods. I think it’s the combination of pasta and cheese into a hearty casserole dish.  This meatless lasagna is so good and to be honest, pretty easy to make.  It combines loads of vegetables layered with tomato sauce, lasagna noodles, tofu “ricotta” and a bit of mozzarella and parmesan.  Plus if you are in a pinch, it can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen until you are ready to cook it.

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Why replace the traditional version containing ricotta?

The tofu “ricotta” in this meatless lasagna has the benefit of lowering the calories in this dish while at the same time maintaining a similar level of protein.  In addition, the tofu boosts two nutrients, calcium and iron when used in the lasagna.  For me, I have difficulty getting enough of these two nutrients through my diet alone.  So every opportunity I can find to use ingredients with these nutrients I do so.

And to be honest, the texture of the tofu once you crumble it finely, really imitates the texture of the ricotta.  Tofu is pretty much devoid of flavor, so the seasonings and spinach added in the recipe, add lots of flavor. And in my opinion, you won’t even really miss the ricotta.

And the winner is…

In a comparison of 100 grams of ricotta and 100 grams of tofu, the tofu certainly comes out on top!!  And while there is nothing wrong with the ricotta cheese, it is certainly a healthy alternative to cook with tofu.

 

RicottavsTofu
Protein11 g8 g
Fat13 g5 g
Saturated Fat8 grams<1 g
Calcium20%35%
Calories27476
Iron2%30%
Magnesium2%7%

Source:  USDA

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The ingredients

Lasagna noodles

Using the no-boil lasagna noodles in this meatless lasagna speeds up the time since you don’t have to boil the noodles first.  All you do is layer them into the lasagna and they cook in the oven and soften up.  In my opinion, they pretty much taste the same as any other lasagna noodle so why not use them and save yourself some time.

Another huge plus for me stems from the fact that they are smaller in size than regular noodles, so you can use them in this smaller size lasagna.  One of the things that always annoys me about lasagna recipes is that they make huge casserole sized dishes.  Most of the time I am cooking for only 1 or 2 people and a tray of lasagna that feeds 8-12 people is just too much, even to save and freeze.  So in developing this recipe, I wanted to make it small enough that it worked for people feeding only themselves plus maybe one more.  If you need to make more, simply double the recipe and use a 9 x 13 baking dish instead.

Marinara Sauce

My suggestion if you have a favorite jarred sauce is to just go with it.  It really saves you a lot of time in the long run.  However, I am fussy and the jarred sauces here in Peru just don’t do it for me.  This lack of a good store bought sauce led me to creating my own marinara sauce.  It’s actually a pretty quick recipe (about 30-40 minutes) to throw together.  I generally make the sauce in advance and then it’s ready to go when I want to make my meatless lasagna.

Tofu

So I tested this recipe twice.  I used two different types of tofu.  The first time I used fresh tofu.  The kind you find in the produce section at your grocery store.  It worked well and I liked the consistency of the tofu.  The second time I used an American brand of shelf stable tofu product which was sold in an organic store here in Lima.  It had a much differently consistency than the first round.  It was softer and had more moisture, and it appeared creamier which I initially liked.  But unfortunately it made the lasagna much wetter as well.  I vote for using the type of tofu stored in the refrigerator section, but if you can’t find it and need to use the shelf stable product, it may be helpful to press it in between some paper towels for a 10-20 minutes to remove some of the liquid.

Veggies

There are so many possibilities with this recipe for meatless lasagna.  So, if you have other veggies you want to use, go ahead.  I think any of the following would work well in this dish.  You can use any combination you want but want to make sure you end up with about 3 cups of cooked veggies to layer into the meatless lasagna.

  • Zucchini
  • Artichokes
  • Yellow squash
  • Mushrooms
  • Kale or other leafy green
  • Eggplant
  • Bell pepper or roasted red peppers
  • Butternut squash or other winter squash
  • Onions

Steps to prep ingredients

I like to get all the prep steps done prior to assembling the meatless lasagna.  And if time is an issue, you can even have these ingredients already prepped ahead.  That way all you need to do when you are ready to cook the lasagna is layer it all up.

Chop the veggies

Meatless lasagna made with veggies on the cutting board need to be chopped.

 

The first step in the process is to chop the veggies you will use for the vegetable layer of the lasagna.  In this recipe I use zucchini or green squash, mushrooms, carrots and garlic.  I like to use a food processor to chop the vegetables.  I put each vegetable separately into the food processor so that I am able to get a more consistent size.  If you overload your food processor, you may end up with the vegetables too small and kind of mushy.  Process the carrots and garlic a bit longer as they need to be in smaller pieces because they take longer to cook, but if they are smaller then they will cook more quickly.

If you don’t have a food processor, that’s ok it just means that you will need to chop all the vegetables by hand.  Just try to get them cut into small pieces.  I like the veggie pieces smaller because the pieces are less chunky and bulky and they work better in layering the lasagna.

 

After the veggies are chopped, heat oil in a large skillet.  Once the oil is hot, add the carrots and garlic and cook for about five minutes or until the vegetables begin to soften.  Add the squash and mushrooms next and cook for  an additional 3-5 minutes.

 

Adding olive oil to skillet

 

Once the vegetables are ready, remove from heat.  If there is liquid in the pan that cooked out of the vegetables, I recommend putting the vegetables into a strainer and allowing the water to drain off. This way you won’t end up with a super watery meatless lasagna.

 

Vegetables in strainer to drain off water

 

Make the tofu “ricotta”

The next step in the process is to start the tofu.  This process can be started while the vegetables cook.  At the least you can begin to assemble your ingredients while cooking the veggies.  For this step you need spinach, tofu, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, oregano and lemon juice.  Oh and don’t forget to add your egg (I forgot it in the picture below and almost forgot to add it to the dish!!).

 

Ingredients for tofu mixture. Spinach, tofu, nutritional yeast, spices, lemon juice

 

I like to use the food processor for this step too.  But again if you don’t have one, simply chop up the spinach really well and throw everything into a bowl and mix well.

 

Tofu, spinach and seasonings mixed together in food processor.

 

Assembling the lasagna

Once you have all the prep work done, I suggest getting all the ingredients together that you will need to layer the dish.  That way it’s all measured out and you just need to add it at each step.

 

Veggies, tofu mix, marinara and cheese to layer into lasagna

 

Step 1:  To assemble the meatless lasagna , start by spraying the casserole dish with cooking spray.  The first layer is a 1/4 cup of marinara to lightly cover the bottom of the dish.  On top of that you will place the first layer of lasagna noodles. I use about 2 noodles per layer and just break them up as needed to create the layer.

Step 1 starts with a bit of marinara on the bottom of the dish and then the first layer of lasagna noodles.

Step 2:  In the next step, place half of the vegetable mixture on top of the lasagna noodles and spread it out evenly over the lasagna noodles.

Step 2 with half of the veggie mixture on top of the lasagna noodles.

Step 3:  After the veggie mixture comes half of the tofu mixture.  Spread it out so that there is an even layer over the vegetables.

Step 3 pictured with tofu on top of veggie mixture.

Step 4:  After the tofu, about 1/2 cup of marinara makes the next layer.

After the tofu, spread a 1/2 cup of the marinara on top.

Step 5:  In this step, sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese mixture on top of the marinara and then add a final layer of lasagna noodles.

After the marinara, sprinkle with some cheese and another layer of lasagna noodles.

Finally, Step 6:  After the marinara and cheese layer are topped with the lasagna noodles, you start all over again at Step #2 and repeat.  Adding the remainder of the veggies, the rest of the tofu, another 1/2 cup of marinara sauce and 1/3 of cheese mixture.  Top all that with one last layer of lasagna noodles, the last of the sauce.  Save the remainder of the cheese, it will be added o the top of the lasagna later on.

Lasagna is ready for the oven.

Final notes:  Once you have the meatless lasagna assembled, it is ready to cook.  If you are making the lasagna ahead of time, this is the point to stop. Wrap up the lasagna and put it in the refrigerator until you want to cook it.  However, when refrigerating before cooking, you will need to extend the cooking time a bit.  Maybe by an additional 20-30 minutes.  You will know it’s ready when you insert a knife in the middle and it comes out hot.

Cooking the meatless lasagna:  Cover it with foil and then place inside a 350 degree oven and cook for 30 minutes.  Then remove it, add the cheese and cook an additional 20-30 minutes or until it is hot, bubbly and cheese is melted.

 

The Recipe

 

Lasagna final plate on blue linen

Vegetable Lasagna

Tofu replaces the ricotta cheese and lowers the calories and fat per serving. It tastes amazing and you won't even know the cheese is missing.
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Print Pin Rate
Course: Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine: Casserole, Italian, Meal Prep
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 20
Author: Lyn Croyle

Ingredients

  • 1 small pkg mushrooms
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 9 oz extra-firm tofu about ¾ of package
  • 1 T nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 egg
  • 6 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 2 cup marinara sauce
  • 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese
  • ¼ cup parmesan

Instructions

  • Preheat oven 350 degrees.
  • Cut veggies into chunks. Place the mushroom in a food processor and pulse until they are in small pieces. Remove mushroom into a bowl or plate and then repeat the same process with the zucchini. Remove the zucchini and add it to the mushrooms. Next put the carrot and garlic in the processor and pulse them until they are finely diced. The carrot should be fairly small as it will take longer to cook as the other veggies.
  • Heat 2 tsp olive oil on medium high heat. Add the carrots and garlic to the pan and cook for about five minutes and then add the remaining veggies and cook for 3-5 minutes or until mostly tender. If there is an excess of water, place in a strainer to drain. Rinse food processor bowl and set aside.
  • Combine the tofu, spinach, yeast, garlic powder, lemon juice, Italian seasoning, oregano and salt in the food processor. Pulse until crumbled and mixed. When it is well mixed add the egg and pulse until all is combined.
  • In a small bowl, mix mozzarella and parmesan together.
  • Spray an 8x8 or similar sized square or rectangle baking dish. Place ¼ cup of marinara sauce on the bottom. Top with noodles (cutting or breaking the noodles). Next spread half of the vegetable mixture on top of the noodles. Then ½ of the tofu mixture followed by a ½ cup of marinara. Sprinkle ¼ cup of cheese mixture over the marinara. Then repeat with another layer of noodles, the rest of the vegetables, the rest of the tofu, ½ cup marinara and ¼ cup cheese. Top that off with another layer of noodles and ¾ cup marinara sauce. Cover with foil and place in a hot oven and cook for 30 minutes.
  • After 30 minutes, remove the foil and sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of cheese over the top. Place back in oven and cook for another 15-20 minutes or until bubbly and browned. Allow it to sit for about 15 minutes before you cut it. Cut it into six squares and serve it up.

Nutrition

Serving: 1square | Calories: 260kcal | Carbohydrates: 26g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 0g | Cholesterol: 45mg | Sodium: 190mg | Potassium: 564mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 3000IU | Vitamin C: 16.5mg | Calcium: 200mg | Iron: 2.7mg
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Looking for other ways to save time in the kitchen?  Consider taking a look at these posts.

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Spinach + Butternut Squash Lasagna



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