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July 3, 2014

The Best Vegan Lasagna You Will Eat. Ever. ~ Molly Patrick {Recipe}

vegan lasagna

I drove 26 hours without stopping and then it all went to hell in a handbasket.

I was tired. Really damn tired.

I had been driving for 20 hours straight and the only stops I had made were to fill up the gas tank and go pee. I didn’t even care if I ate.

Up through New Mexico, through the tip top of Texas, through Oklahoma, up through Missouri, on to Illinois, past Chicago and into a little town where my heart was currently residing.

I had never experienced tired like this. I started seeing things that weren’t there. Everything started to look funny. I started feeling funny.

Only six more hours, I told myself and I’ll be there. Just keep driving.

Okay. Splash cold water on my face, turn up the music. Wait, the batteries to my disc man and janky speakers had died hours ago and there were no speakers in my shitty Ford Tempo. It’s not even like they didn’t work, they just weren’t there for some reason. A road trip with no music is like death to a 20-year-old.

That’s how much I loved her.

I didn’t even care that 15 hours of my 26-hour drive was in total and complete silence.

It was the kind of love that hits you hard and fast, and before you know it, this person is your whole, entire world. The kind of love that when you’re next to this person the thought, “I can die now and it would be okay” is normal. The kind of love that makes you sick and dizzy and happy and crazy and angry all in the same disgustingly beautiful moment.

It was that first love.

That love that will never compare to anyone you’re with ever again. Sure, loves will come along that are better in many ways—way better, in fact—but it’s never the same as that first, painfully imperfect perfect first love.

26 hours and five states later I arrived on her doorstep.

My palms were sweaty as I stood on her porch and knocked on her door. I felt nauseous and exhausted and excited all at the same time. I felt all car ride-y and I needed a shower in the worst of ways, but I didn’t care. I hadn’t seen her in three months, and the anticipation was enough to power a small country for at least 30 days.

She came to the door and my stomach felt like it was literally going to jump out of my body.

In that moment, my world stopped. A bomb could have gone off and I would not have noticed. This was my bliss.

Unfortunately, my world was also about to come crashing the fuck down. 

A few days into my visit, I met some of my girlfriend’s family. Her mom, her auntie… you know, the usual nosey suspects who wanted to meet the girl who drove all the way  from New Mexico to visit. One afternoon, the topic of my diet came up. Everyone was shocked to learn that I had never eaten meat. The usual questions started up: “What do you eat?” and “Where do you get your protein?”

Keep in mind, this was circa 2000 and plant-based eating wouldn’t become mainstream and acceptable (especially in the Midwest) for at least another decade. I did my best to answer their questions. I gave them examples of what I ate and I told them that I had always been healthy, even without eating meat.

At this point, my girlfriend’s mom announced that I would be cooking a vegetarian meal the following night. I accepted the offer because it was more of an announcement than a request.

Here’s the thing. I was crap at cooking.

I had survived on Ramen noodles and beer in college. I had no idea what I was going to do.

So, I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do: I called my mom.

I asked her for some recipes so that I could plan my menu (again, it was 2000, Foodgawker didn’t exist yet). She gave me her tofu “Wish Sticks” recipe and suggested that I make a nice salad and serve some yummy bread on the side.

It was settled.

I had my meal plan set, my shopping list made, and I was ready to put my heart and soul into this meal.

Long story short, I did my damn best.

The store that I bought my ingredients from didn’t have everything I needed, and I wasn’t crafty enough in the kitchen yet to substitute things and come up with creative and yummy workarounds. But I went for it anyway, and I made the meal. I was nervous and I knew it wasn’t going to be the best dinner in the world, but I gave it my all with what I had to work with.

We sat down at the dinner table, the mom took one bite of her food and she said (I quote) “What am I eating, a car tire? This has about as much flavor as rubber”. She then brought her food into the kitchen, dumped it in the garbage and started cooking.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to run out of the house and put my head in one of the holes that used to house my car speaker, but the extent of my embarrassment had me paralyzed to the bone.

My trip only went downhill from there. I found out (from her aunt of all people) that my girlfriend had been seeing someone else for the past three months and that my invitation to come see her was merely a test to see who she wanted to keep seeing.

She did not choose me. 

Shortly after the announcement, I packed my bags and told her goodbye. With Bush’s “Glycerine” playing in the background, I gave her one last look, knowing I would never see her again. I wanted to vomit. I got in my crappy but surprisingly reliable car and started the long drive home.

I thought the drive there was terrible. But the silent 26-hour car ride home with a shattered heart was one of the hardest things I have ever done. To date.

I got back to New Mexico, crawled in bed and spent the next month and half there. My mom would sometimes lay down next to me and tell me that “This too shall pass” and how she wished she could take some of my pain away. I didn’t say anything, but I heard her and I knew I had the best mom in the world.

It took me a long time, but I eventually got over her.

I can’t say that my ex-girlfriend’s mom directly motivated me to learn how to be a bad-ass in the kitchen, but I can say that her words have lingered in my head for the past 14 years, and a very small (and ego-centered) part of me would love to cook for her again, circa 2014.

If I ever got the chance, I would make her this:

Vegan Butternut Squash and Sage Lasagna with White Sauce (AKA the best vegan lasagna you will eat. Ever.)

1. Make the Squash

What you need

1 Butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into bite-sized pieces (about 5-6 cups)
6 garlic cloves, left whole
1/4 cup (8g) chopped fresh sage
2 tbsp (3ml) olive oil
1 tsp (6g) sea salt
1/2 tsp (3g) black pepper

How to do it

1. Preheat oven to 400° F (204° C).

2. In a large bowl, mix the squash, garlic cloves, sage, olive oil, salt and pepper.

3. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes (take the baking sheet out of the oven and flip the squash after 20 minute; put back in the oven for the remaining 15 minutes).

4. When squash is done cooking, transfer into the bowl and mash all ingredients together with a fork. The mixture doesn’t have to be 100% mashed, but you do want to make sure that the garlic cloves are mashed up. Set mixture aside.

2. Make the vegan ricotta

What you need

2 cups (290g) firm organic tofu
1/4 cup (20g) nutritional yeast
1 heaping tsp (4g) garlic powder
1 heaping tsp dried dill
1 teaspoon (6g) sea salt
1 tbsp (15ml) apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup rejuvelac (this isn’t totally necessary but it makes the ricotta very cheesy tasting. Find out how to make rejuvelac here or you can pick some up at your health food store.)

Place all of the vegan ricotta ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth—about 1 minute.

3. Make the White Sauce

What you need

1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
1/4 cup (35g) yellow onion, finely chopped
4 tbsp (60g) flour (use rice if making gluten free)
4 cups (945ml) plain organic soy milk
1/2 tsp (3g) salt
10 turns fresh black pepper
1/8 tsp allspice

How to do it

1. Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 3 minutes.

2. Add the flour and stir continuously for 3 minutes. Make sure the flour does not get brown. If it starts to get brown before 3 minutes, jump to the next step before the 3 minutes are up.

3. Add the soy milk and whisk.

4. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and allow to come to a simmer.

5. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens.

6. Add salt, pepper and allspice.

4. Assemble and Bake

1. Preheat oven to 350° F (175°C)

2. Place 1/2 cup of white sauce on the bottom of an 8×8 baking dish.

3. Layer the rest as follows:

Layer of noodles
1/3 of the squash mix
1/3 of the vegan ricotta
1/2 cup of white sauce
Layer of noodles
1/3 of the squash mix
1/3 of the vegan ricotta
1/2 cup of white sauce
Layer of noodles
Remaining squash mix
Remaining vegan ricotta
Layer of noodles
Remaining white sauce

4. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.

5. Take off foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

Note: You can easily make the squash and the ricotta a day in advance to save time.

 

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Apprentice Editor: Jamie Khoo / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Author’s own

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