In the five years that I’ve eaten vegetarian, there have been a handful of people that have come to me seeking advice. These people have generally been my friends that were thinking about going vegetarian themselves, and they would ask me, “But what do you eat?”
In a lot of ways, it’s concerning that American culture fixates on meat and meat products so much that any other option is just beyond the scope of reason. I realize that there are a lot of people who just love meat so much that they can’t imagine life without it, and that’s fine. I get that. I feel the same way about vegetables. “You don’t like ANY vegetables? How do you liiiive??” But the people that inquire about my dietary choices as a sort of reconnaissance generally do so out of curiosity, determining whether or not they can do it because they probably weren’t that attached to meat in the first place.
Usually I’ll respond to the “what do you eat?” question with, “The same things you do, but without meat.” It’s not wholly accurate, but it can be frustrating when vegetarianism is thought of as alien. I’ll usually follow that with some sort of “Eat more beans and nuts when you’d be eating meat, and when you’re not filling up on animal flesh, there’s more room for the vitamins and nutrients that vegetables provide.”
One of my favorite opportunities to swap out meat for something vegetable-y in a recipe is in lasagna. When I was younger, my grandma regularly made lasagna for dinner and it was one of the few things I thought I would miss when I stopped eating meat. Fortunately for me, my mom found this recipe for vegetarian lasagna that uses zucchini in the place of meat in the sauce and spinach as one of the layers. These are two of my favorite vegetables, people! I love this recipe. It satisfies that need for comfort food from your childhood, but it also provides glorious glorious vegetables. Like all lasagnas, the layers provide complexity, especially with the surprising sauce. This stuff is seriously good and seriously filling. Even if you’re not a vegetarian, consider giving this recipe a shot!
Hand modeling by my mother :) Sauté these onion cubes!
Sauce with grated squash stirred in:
Layers forming! In this photo you can see the sauce on top, with mozzarella and spinach underneath. Below that is a bit of ricotta and whole wheat noodles.
Ready to bake!
Look how pretty it comes out!
Vegetarian Lasagna with Italian Tomato Sauce
For the Sauce:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 14-oz. can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
1 14-oz. can tomato sauce
6 oz. tomato paste
1-2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning, or any combination of herbs you like
black pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion for about 5 minutes. When it starts becoming translucent, add the garlic and sauté another 5 minutes.
Turn up the heat to high and add the cans of tomato and tomato paste. Stir well to incorporate. Add the optional sugar and bring to a boil.
Lower heat, add the herbs and pepper, cover and let simmer for at least 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Stir in the optional cheese, and simmer for another 5 minutes or so. Taste and adjust seasonings. If sauce is too thick, add some water.
For the lasagna:
1 pound dry lasagna noodles
1 recipe Italian Sauce (see above)
2 small or 1 large zucchini, grated
1/2 pound ricotta cheese
at least 1 large bunch baby spinach
1 pound mozzarella cheese, grated or thinly sliced
1/2 pound provolone, grated or thinly sliced (optional)
Bring the tomato sauce to a boil, stir in the zucchini, and cook for about 5 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Ladle a bit of sauce into the baking dish and spread it around so the bottom of the dish is lightly coated.
Place lasagna noodles in the pan to form a single layer. If necessary, break noodles to fill the gaps.
Spread 1/3 of the ricotta cheese on the noodles, then lay out 1/3 of the spinach on top of that. Sprinkle or place 1/3 of the mozzarella (and provolone, if using) cheese on top of the spinach, then finish with 1/3 of remaining tomato sauce.
Repeat this process twice, saving a sprinkle of cheese for the top.
Bake for about 1 hour, until sauce is bubbly, cheese is melted, and noodles are tender. Let cool 10 minutes and serve.