Lasagna is my deepest and most cherished food memory.
And just the rich smell of a lasagna cooking is a delight of childhood comfort and love. My Mom’s lasagna was a loving gift from the heart I could draw upon for a special event or anytime that I returned home.
I was 19 years old, the first time I asked my mom for her lasagna recipe to make for a special dinner for a friend. It was a raving success and that was my initial experience of how food, flavour and beauty of presentation (especially as a lasagna always looks magnificent) could uplift others.
My Ayurvedic Lasagna
In my journey of Ayurveda and food as medicine, I have made some adjustments to my Mom’s recipe of spicy meat sauce and layers of cheese which reflect my vegetarian leanings while still holding the essence of warmth, well-being and satisfaction a lasagna can share.
My lasagna recipe is ever-changing based on the quality of cheese and herbs I can source and the seasonal sauce ingredients available. But there are some basic qualities to a great vegetarian lasagna that must be adhered to.
If you can get good quality lasagna noodles from Italy, where they generally use a better-quality flour and a purer process than in North America, you don’t even need to pre-cook them. Just make sure you use lots of sauce and that the sauce is a bit more runny. (more on that to come….)
That being said, homemade lasagna noodles are super easy to make with the right tools and well worth the effort.
Alternatively, you can usually find fresh lasagna noodles at your local market or Italian grocer.
There is something magical about the perfect piece of lasagna showcasing all its layers of delight. To achieve this with a vegetarian lasagna you’ll need some heft within your sauce.
Try roasting chunks of cut tomato or cherry tomatoes, chunks of onion, cubes of peppers and cubes of peaches along with a few cloves of garlic on a cookie sheet until caramelized. Then toss this together in a bowl with your favourite Italian spices, salt and pepper and a jar of tomato sauce for a thick and tasty vegetarian lasagna sauce.
You can do the same thing with large pieces of pan roasted mushrooms.
I love a sweet and spicy sauce, so I usually add some smoked paprika plus a good dash of maple syrup which helps to offset the acid of the tomato with it’s sweet and astringent quality.
Ayurveda herbalism also taught me to add some crushed rose petals to help counter the intense acidity, and I will do this if I have them on hand. The rose flavour gets lost in the sauce but their sweet and astringent quality helps to balance the sour side effects of too much tomato.
A reminder, that if you are not going pre-cook your noodles it is best to ensure you use extra sauce and make it slightly runnier. It is this extra liquid that will be absorbed to cook the noodles.
Finally, taste the sauce and make sure it is exactly as you like it as far as flavour, salt, and pepper.
The Cheesy-Herby Layer
My Mom’s recipe includes handfuls of shredded cheese with each layer, but I often found that cheese was lost in the sauce and quite expensive when you’re using organic dairy. So, after many years of experimentation, I came up with my signature alternative.
A thick layer of soft cheese mixed with pesto.
Not only does this layer add to the flavour and richness of the lasagna, but it also makes for that beautiful, layered look of a cut piece on your plate.
To honour my Mom’s lasagna I often use cottage cheese in this layer. The cottage cheese also adds some body and height and I love those cheesy little pieces on my fork.
My favourite blend for the cheesy-herby filing layer is half cottage cheese, half ricotta, with a bunch of parmesan for richness and a jar of pesto for colour and flavour.
From an Ayurvedic perspective the slightly pungent quality of the basil in the pesto also helps with digesting the rich cheeses.
Any soft cheese will do, and I have used many other varieties depending on where we are in the world and what is fresh and local. Chevre and cream cheese can work as well.
If you find the layer is a bit too thick to spread, you can add a bit of milk or cream to thin it out. I like this layer to be at least 2 cm thick or else it just gets lost in the noodles and sauce.
Finally taste this layer and make sure it is full of flavour. Add salt and pepper to taste if needed.
Top Cheese Layer
Get the best quality melting cheese you can find and afford. It’s fun to discuss options with the cheese experts at your local specialty grocer and experiment with different styles to compliment your sauce.
My favourite combination is a good quality mozzarella (creamy, melty) with some smoked cheese for a richness of flavour and some hard cheese like parmesan for depth.
If you are going to use a cheddar, be aware that it can get quite oily, so I would suggest mixing it with some mozzarella or you’ll have quite a slick of grease on top of your lasagna (which we can still work with ;).
Ayurvedic Lasagna 101
Ayurveda is a path of creativity and alignment with gentle discipline. Not a stringent adherence to someone else’s rules and regulations.
So with this attitude, we prefer to share guidelines and inspiration rather than recipes. We explore the principles and practice of this type of everyday adventuring in The Well Nourished Life and encourage you to experience the benefits with the following guidelines (rather than recipe) for your own scrumptious lasagna.
- Preheat the oven to 375F.
- In a deep lasagna pan start with a thin layer of saucy sauce (less chunks more liquid).
- Then add a layer of noodles.
- Then add a layer of sauce.
- Then add a layer of noodles.
- Then add your cheesy-herby layer.
- Then add a final layer of noodles.
- And the a final layer of sauce.
- Finish with a thick layer of shredded cheese.
- Cook for 35 minutes in the middle of the oven covered with foil.
- Remove the foil for the last 15 minutes to allow the cheese to brown and bubble.
- Remove the lasagna from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before cutting, especially if you wish for easy to remove, picture-perfect pieces.
- Garnish with fresh herbs such as parsley or oregano and bellissimo….
Additional Lasagna Tips
➤ When making something with many flavour components, simply ensure you are happy with the flavour (including salt and pepper) of each. Then when placed together they will sing….
➤ Use as deep a lasagna pan as you can find. Sometimes if the lasagna is too high, I will cook it without the top layer of cheese and at 15 minutes before completion, remove the tin foil and then add the shredded cheese and let it cook the last 15 minutes or until the cheese is good and bubbly toasted. You don’t want all your cheese stuck to the foil.
➤ It’s always wise to put a large cookie sheet on the rack beneath the lasagna in case of spills.
➤ I love to serve a bright green salad with a tangy dressing beside my lasagna along with some warm fresh bread and butter for sopping up the flavourful bits.
➤ For a fun and fancy alternative, you can make individual lasagnas in small dishes. Just break the noodles to whatever size you need.
➤ In truth, the best piece of lasagna is the one you have the following morning for breakfast….
A Study of Ayurvedic Healing
Ayurvedic Healing is a grand adventure that takes the seeker through the journey of self and seasons with creative awareness.
And on that journey an Ayurvedic Consultation can be helpful to experience some learning, motivation and accountability.
But you can also simply practice in your own kitchen with beloved dishes that bring you and yours comfort and joy!