Mothers Day in particular is special for me, because I have the best mother in the world. Seriously, I know a lot of people say that, but it’s true in my case. (Actually, scratch that…I don’t know a lot of people who say that.)
To celebrate my mother and the other mothers at our motherloving party, I cooked an epic vegan feast. One of my favorite things about family gatherings is that I can introduce free and delicious vegan food to my very suspicious relatives. There’s nothing more rewarding to a vegan cook than to have a staunchly carnivorous grandfather not only eat your food, but enjoy it.
Given my maternal family’s Italian heritage, I decided that lasagna would be the focus of the meal. I rarely make lasagna, because I prefer to make dishes that lend themselves more naturally to veganizing, rather than mold a traditionally non-vegetarian dish into something that just seems fake, and thus unsatisfying. However, I remembered two things: 1) Sometimes faux meats and cheeses are delicious; and 2) Lasagna really isn't in that category anyway! It’s so easy to veganize! What was I thinking, avoiding it for so long? (Maybe the real reason is that I usually am cooking only for myself. Womp woooomp.)
I always try to cram as many vegetables into a dish as possible, often sacrificing the essence of the dish in the process. (Essence = taste). To avoid this common pitfall, I decided to make a straightforward cheese lasagna, white noodles, no extra vegetables. Living dangerously. I used two homemade cheeses: tofu ricotta and cashew cheese.
- 1 recipe Tofu Ricotta
- 1 recipe Cashew Cream
- 1 box egg-free lasagna noodles
- 4-5C your favorite marinara sauce (there’s no way I could post my family’s ‘gravy’ recipe, or I’d lose a finger)
- NO VEGETABLES
- (Just kidding)
- 1 package water-packed firm tofu
- 1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
- juice from one lemon
- 1/4C nutritional yeast (I tend to go overboard with the nooch)
- salt and pepper to taste
Cashew Cream (adapted from VegNews recipe)
- 1 1/4 C raw cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours
- 1/4C water (more as needed)
- 2-4 T lemon juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2t rice vinegar
Preheat oven to 350°. Get yourself a big azz baking dish (preferably glass so you can see it bubbling as it cooks). Spoon enough marinara to cover the bottom of the dish. Lay down a layer of your lasagna noodles. Spread a generous amount of the tofu ricotta over those noodles, then a layer of the cashew cream, then top with marinara. Top that with another layer of noodles. Repeat until out of ingredients/room in the dish. Cover with aluminum foil, pronounce it as ‘aluminium’, and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover, bake for another 10 or so.
I made this the day before our festivities, and then the day of had it heating in the oven for a good hour and a half (on low, of course, like 200°) before serving, and it wasn’t dried out at all. Keep extra marinara on hand, of course, to ensure that it doesn’t dry out.
This was a big hit, as homemade vegan cheese-like concoctions go over much more successfully than store bought cheeses, especially when incorporated into substantial dishes. Also, these two cheesy things aren’t ‘fake’; they stand on their own.
We’re just getting started. Mothers Day also featured Brussels sprouts with coconut bacon, polenta and chorizo, spaghetti squash with pesto, mushroom and asparagus puff pastry, and Isa’s amazing chocolate yogurt bundt cake. After the lasagna, everything else seems unbelievably simple.
You’re going to want to try this.
Brussels and bacon has always been a popular combination for omnivores, at least judging by NYC restaurant menus, and I was tired of not knowing why.
Coconut bacon exploded on the blogs during the past few years, and I wish I knew who to credit with starting the home-made trend. My first experience with coconut bacon was at Aux Vivres in Montreal, where I had a BLT made with the addictive stuff. Unbelievable! Making it yourself is super simple, and apparently it really impresses people. (My guests could not stop exclaiming, “Wait, so this is coconut?”) Also, my recipe is an ever-changing matter of taste, so the ingredient amounts are estimates. Taste as you go and adjust to your liking.
- 2C unsweetened coconut chips/pieces (not shredded coconut; you want substantial pieces)
- 1-2 T liquid smoke
- 2 T maple syrup
- 2 T tamari
To assemble the Brussels Sprouts & Bacon:
- 2 T Olive oil
- 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, shaved (I used two bags of Trader Joe’s already shaved sprouts, so easy)
- salt and pepper
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 recipe coconut bacon
Add the coconut bacon to the sprouts just before serving, as you want it to stay crispy.
This was a huge hit, especially among my bacon-loving brother and sister-in-law. I find that meat-eaters are more easily impressed with creations that use unexpected ingredients, rather than their inexplicably abhorred tofu and soy products. Also, who doesn’t like Brussels sprouts once you know how to make them good (i.e. not boiled)?
I mean, I can’t even put a recipe up for this. It was SO EASY.
I bought two packages each of Trader Joe’s ready made polenta tubes, and TJ’s Vegan Soy Chorizo sausage (in the refrigerated section).
I diced the polenta, sautéed it over high heat with an onion and olive oil (if you have a cast iron pan, use it), and added the sausage, which crumbled immediately (didn’t know it wasn’t more solid; didn’t matter).
I stirred occasionally for about 20 minutes, and then proceeded to convince everyone that I was an unbelievably cooker of polenta and sausage. Good times. Try it, it’s so easy. And even though I’m not really a fan of processed soy products, I’d make this again. (Edit: I've now made it too many times to mention).
My mom loves spaghetti squash, but I don’t think it’s that good when paired with heavy tomato sauces, which she usually leans to because of the aforementioned Italianity. Something about the earthy yet light quality of the squash just conflicts in an unappetizing way with those kinds of sauces. Pesto seemed like a good choice, and I was right.
Cut squash in half and scrape out the seeds and innards. Bake in a 375° oven for 45 minutes. Once cool enough to handle (in my case, immediately, followed by regret), use a strong fork to scrape out the spaghetti-like strands into a serving dish. Once cooled, mix with pesto.
My favorite pesto (inspired by Dreena Burton’s Lemony Cashew-Basil Pesto)
- 1 bunch basil (about 2 cups)
- 1 C raw cashew
- ¼ C raw macadamia nuts
- ¼ - 1/2 C water
- 4 T lemon juice
- salt and pepper to taste
This recipe was another incredibly easy one that can be made in literally a million different ways. You can easily find vegan puff pastry in the freezers of most grocery stores (cheap stuff often does not contain dairy products. Like Oreos!).
So many things work well here, but here's what I did:
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2T olive oil
- 16 oz. sliced button mushrooms
- 1/2 lb. asparagus, diced
- water or stock as needed
- 16 oz. white beans (cannellini or northern), pureed
- salt & pepper to taste
Lay out your thawed pastry dough, and dump your filling onto it. Roll it up like a jelly roll, and cook according to package directions (probably 15-20 minutes; don't let it burn). Let cool until you can handle it, and slice. Enjoy! The pastry I had this time (forget the brand, sorry, but it was mass-produced artery clogging stuff) was insanely buttery, making this dish incredibly rich and omnivore-approved.
To cap off the feast, I made Isa's Chocolate Yogurt Bundt Cake. This was literally the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made, especially without any frosting. I don’t think a person has ever been happier to find a bundt pan in her parents’ laundry room. Isa has kindly posted the recipe, and I suggest you run, now, to the kitchen and make it. Enjoy!