This saucy vegetarian lasagne will melt your heart

To celebrate her one-year plant-based anniversary, our resident plant-based foodie Dané Vermeulen shares her flavourful vegetarian lasagne recipe. Filled with tender veggies, a full-bodied tomato sauce and oozing with cheese, Vermeulen's lasagne will prove that vegetables are anything but boring.

This vegetarian lasagne is cheesy (of course) and loaded with vegetables and a delicious tomato sauce. Photo: Dané Vermeulen/ Food For Mzansi

It’s been little over a year since I set out on my plant-based adventure and I have to say, it totally changed my perception of what is needed to create a tasty meal. This journey has drastically changed my relationship with vegetables.

In the past I always thought of veggies as being the sidekick to a meal and never the star of the show. This is a shame because veggies are very tasty and so versatile. It’s also much cheaper than meat and will often last longer in your pantry. Not to mention their nutritional value.

As my journey started, I very quickly got rid of all traces of meat and animal products in my kitchen. I replaced my beef stock with vegetable stock, I replaced my long-life milk with soya milk, and I worked my way through all the plant-based patties, sausages and mince packets I could find.

To my surprise it was quite tasty and a decent alternative, but I quickly realised that I didn’t need meat alternative products. Besides, they tend to be just as pricey as meat so I wasn’t saving as much as I would when just relying on fresh vegetables.

As the months went on, I found myself coming up with new and interesting recipes that made me excited about vegetables. It also gave me new inspiration for cooking in alternative ways.

Cutting back on dairy

Going plant-based also makes you more aware of what’s in the products that you buy. I found myself needing to cut most of my favourite jarred or canned products because they contain dairy. As time went by, I found myself missing cream in my curries and missing those beautiful cheese platters while sipping on my favourite wine. I knew that dairy would be my biggest challenge and I was right.

In the end I gave in to my beloved dairy products and decided that my diet would mostly consist of vegetarian dishes. I do, however, feel that cutting out milk works better for my system so I would only drink soya milk in my tea and coffee but still eat cheese or use cream when cooking. This is the perfect balance for me and for others the balance might look different. It’s best to find what works best for you and to stick to it.

In conclusion, this experiment has changed my diet for life. A year and a half ago, choosing a vegetarian option would have been taboo to me and I would constantly feel like I am missing out on the “good stuff” (meat). My life has been altered for the better, I love my relationship with veggies now and it’s something I would be able to translate and teach to my children one day as well.

I would encourage any person who reads this to do the same. Try and change your relationship and expectations of vegetarian food, it might just change your life!

To start, dig your teeth into this awesome, spicy and lekker veggie lasagna. This is one of those dishes where I much rather prefer the veggie version over the meaty one. It’s not soaked in fat and grease and way cheaper to make. It won’t just become one of your favourites, the whole family will beg you to make it on a weekly basis.

ALSO READ: Going green: This chef makes veggies look fly

Veggie lasagne

INGREDIENTS

2 large sweet potatoes (or 3 medium)

1 cup lentils (whichever you prefer)

1 medium onion, diced

1 thumb fresh ginger, diced

2 medium garlic cloves, diced

150 g butter

1 canned tomatoes

70 g tomato paste

2 teaspoons turmeric

1 tablespoon mother-in-law curry (or whichever curry powder you prefer)

Lasagne pasta sheets (the amount needed will depend on the size of your dish. One box will be more than enough.)

3 – 4 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

1 – 2 cups of milk

1 cup of grated cheese (white cheddar or mozzarella)

Dried oregano

Salt and pepper for seasoning

Fresh coriander

METHOD:

  1. Peel and cut the sweet potato into large pieces and cook in water until soft.
  2. In a separate pot, cook the lentils in water until soft.
  3. Drain the water from the sweet potato and remove it from the pot. Place the pot back on the heat and brown the onion, ginger and garlic in 50 g of butter.
  4. Once browned, turn off the heat and add the sweet potato and mash until smooth.
  5. Drain the water from the lentils and add it to the mashed sweet potato.
  6. Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, turmeric, curry powder, salt and pepper and mix well.

To make the white sauce

  1. Start by melting the remaining butter in a small pot on the lowest heat setting. You need patience to perfect a white sauce, so take your time.
  2. Once the butter is melted, take it off the heat and add the flour. Mix it with a whisk until a thick but smooth consistency.
  3. Don’t let it reach a clay consistency because then you’ve added too much flour. Add your milk and stir the mixture until all the butter and flour has dissolved into the milk.
  4. Add a bit of salt and pepper to enhance the taste before putting it back on the low heat.
  5. To perfect white sauce you need to get the balance of butter, flour, milk and heat right. The heat activates the butter, flour and milk to result in a thick creamy sauce. Too much heat too fast will result in a lumpy sauce and we don’t want that. The key is to keep the heat low and to continue stirring the mixture until it reaches the desired consistency.
  6. Once your sauce is ready, you can start layering your lasagne. Start with a thin layer of white sauce. I find that this is best to provide some extra moisture to cook the bottom layer of pasta.
  7. Then a layer of pasta and a layer of sweet potato filling. Repeat once more and then lastly another layer of pasta, then white sauce and then you top the dish with a layer of cheese and some dried oregano.
  8. Place in a 180°C preheated oven for 30 minutes to cook through. Once out of the oven, let it cool slightly and garnish with fresh coriander.

Vegan green salad

INGREDIENTS

Lettuce leaves

Rocket leaves

¼ cucumber

½ golden delicious apple (thinly sliced)

½ cup walnuts

1 slice of red onion, halved

1 ½ tablespoons vegan mayo

½ lemon juice

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper

METHOD

For the vinaigrette, you mix the mayo, lemon juice and sugar in a small bowl and pour it over the salad, finishing it off with salt and pepper.

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