When I came home from college this winter, I was excited to eat all my usual holiday favorites: Italian gumdrop cookies, lasagna, roast beef, and creamy mashed potatoes. Much to my surprise, my sister had made the choice to become vegan during her fall semester at school. To be honest, I was a little disheartened to hear that I was going to have to make such a dramatic shift in my diet in order to appease her lifestyle change. The only notions that I had of what it meant to be vegan were lettuce, quinoa, and tofu, which in my mind were not equivalent to the holiday favorites I know and love.
Much to my surprise, the world of vegan cooking has many substitutes for dairy and meat that are indistinguishable from the original products. Cashew cheese, almond milk, dairy-free Parmesan, and many other products used in recipes can make pretty convincing alternatives to nonvegan dishes. One of the fan favorites that my family and I made this holiday season was a vegan lasagna with cashew and tofu ricotta cheese.
The final product turned out better than any of us expected, even my dad who swears by the original family recipe. If you or your family are thinking of going dairy-free or vegan, definitely give this a try — you’ll be surprised how deceptively delicious it will be.
From vegan blogger Caitlin Shoemaker, @frommybowl.
1 cup cashews
1 block of extra-firm tofu (pressed)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 to 5 Tbsp. plant milk to thin out if needed
salt, pepper, basil, garlic to taste
For a creamier consistency, pour boiling water over the cashews and let them soak for 10 or so minutes. After, put all of the ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth; it’s as simple as that.
The recipe for putting together and baking the dish can be made to the liking of the chef. In the one I made, we mixed cooked spinach into the cheese in order to incorporate some veggies, but kale, broccoli, or even sweet potatoes would do just as well.
Preheat the oven to 375° and assemble the lasagna as usual; sauce on the bottom of the baking dish, then noodles, then the cashew cheese and more sauce, and continue until the pan is full.
We baked ours for 30 minutes with tinfoil on top, then uncovered and baked again for another 10. You can put some vegan cheese on top when you take the tinfoil off, but choose wisely, as some of them do not melt as well as normal cheese.