In the past, I found Veggie Lasagna to be disappointing and gross. The pre-fab frozen versions were depressing. My own attempts with noodles and sauce and cheese (yes! Even using REAL cheese!) made an icky, runny, vegetable slop.
But in my head, I still like lasagna and want to eat a healthy, meat-free version.
A lifetime ago someone prepared eggplant “lasagna” for me that had heavenly flavors(but was really more like eggplant steaks covered in sauce and cheese, more than a layered lasagna) and the memory resurfaces to haunt me from time to time.
I have made many dismal attempts at preparing Eggplant in any manner that did not result in a shapeless gray loogie, and finally, FINALLY, my friends, I bring you a Veggie Lasagna, with Eggplant “Noodles” that ACTUALLY TASTES GOOD!!!
*be forewarned: these instructions might seem long, complicated and time consuming, but I assure you it is worth it, and it will get easier the more times you make it. PLUS, you could make two smaller lasagnas and freeze one before baking, for future dining enjoyment.
Ingredients for the “Noodles”
2 large eggplants or 5-6 japanese eggplants
¼ cup salt
8 -10 cups water
Peel the eggplants and cut into thin, (approximately 1/8 inch) slabs. You can achieve this with a very sharp knife, or with a mandolin (I found this to be an excellent opportunity to use the ridged blade. I thought it made the eggplant look more “noodle-y”)
Dissolve salt in the water in a large pot. Submerge the eggplant “noodles” (you COULD do the prep work for Eggplant Noodle Spaghetti at the same time and brine all the noodles at once. Conserve Salt… Conserve Water… Conserve Time…. Everybody wins!)
After the “Noodles” have been submerged at least 30 minutes, remove them from the pot (reserve the liquid).
Spread the noodles on clean, dry towels (multiple layers), cover with additional clean, dry towels, and lay a flat, weighted object over them. This presses the moisture out of the eggplant. I like to change out the damp towels for dry towels after a few hours, leaving the eggplant pressing overnight and continue the lasagna assembly the next day, but I realize not everyone likes to take an entire week to prepare a single meal. SO, press the noodles for at least 2 hrs, exchanging the damp towels for dry towels as often as necessary.
Ingredients for White Filling:
3 cup cauliflower, “Riced”
1 cup parmesan
½ cup feta
1 Tbs packed fresh basil (minced)
1 Tbs fresh marjoram (minced)
Discard the outer leaves and thoroughly wash your cauliflower. Cut Cauliflower head into quarters and remove the stem. “Rice” the cauliflower by shredding it in a food processor, or by using the largest holes on a box grater (be careful with your fingers!). Cauliflower should end up crumbly and sort-of rice-like.
Bring the brine reserved from the noodles to a boil. Once it is boiling, add the cauliflower. Boil very briefly (about 5 minutes), then pour through a fine colander/screen. (you COULD prepare additional cauliflower in this fashion at the same time, and make Tasty Nuggets or cauliflower pizza crust for future enjoyment.)
Once cauliflower is cool enough to be touched, press out as much liquid as possible. Allow cauliflower to cool and dry on a clean, absorbent surface.
Combine Eggs, Parmesan, Feta, minced Basil and cool, moisture free cauliflower until evenly dispersed. Set Aside.
Ingredients for Brown Filling:
4 cup portabellas (chopped)
4 clove garlic (minced)
2Tbs fresh basil (minced)
½ Tbs olive oil
Heat oil in a skillet. Toss all ingredients in the oil, on medium heat, stirring occasionally. The mushrooms will release quite a bit of moisture into the pan. Continue to cook until all liquid has cooked off. Remove from heat and set aside.
2-2.5 cups marinara (my lovely low carb recipe is here)
2 cups mozzarella cheese
Oil (for the pan)
Instructions for Lasagna Assembly:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spread a thin-thin-super-thin layer of oil over the interior of the 9×13 inch pan. Pour ¼ cup marinara into the bottom of the pan and evenly distribute (it is fine if there is not complete coverage.)
Lay the eggplant “noodles” in a single layer across the bottom of the pan.
*eggplants are irregular, natural objects, and no two “noodles” will be identically shaped. I try to make sure my bottom layer is made of the nicest pieces to provide stability when serving it. The rest of the layers I just do my best. I try to keep the pieces going in the same direction as much as possible, since eggplant is fibrous and won’t just bend-to-the-will of a plastic spatula the way traditional noodles do.
Spread half of “white filling” over the noodles.
Spread half of the “brown filling” over the white.
Spread ¾ cup marinara over the brown.
Place another layer of “noodles.”
After placing the top layer of eggplant noodles, smear with 1/4 -1/2 cup of remaining marinara and sprinkle 2 cups mozzarella over the whole surface.
Bake on 350 degrees for 40 minutes, until nice and bubbly, cheese is melted and starting to brown.
It is a ton of fun to make noodles out of veggies. As previously mentioned , I have a simple vegi-noodle-making device that I picked up from a discount retail store. It does a perfectly satisfactory job turning sweet potatoes, cucumbers and zucchini into pasta shaped strips.
But what is a gal to do when she gets the idea to make spaghetti out of an eggplant? I went my local Asian Market to get a bag full of purple-phallus-shaped-Japanese-eggplant thinking “these will be PERFECT for shoving into my cheapo veggie-noodler since they are already the right shape and size!
The Japanese eggplants turned out to be uncooperative assholes. I felt like I was trying to sharpen a sponge in a pencil sharpener. SUPER DISAPPOINTING.
Did I let it stop me? HELLZ NO!
Next Strategy: Fancy-Mandoline-that-was-a-much-appreciated-gift-because-I-would-not-spend-that-much-money-on-Myself! I pushed enough buttons and turned enough knobs that eventually it revealed a row of upright razors in addition to the normal straight cutting edge. I peeled the eggplant, tossed aside the recommended safety veggie-holding apparatus and went-to-town.
Zip ZipZip. Beautiful noodles… Until I got about halfway through the eggplant and then I was back to the ol’ “sponge in a pencil sharpener” problem. However, once I start making a little progress I cannot be derailed, so I proceeded by hand and was able to make nice noodles using a paring knife and a cutting board.
So really, it’s not HOW you get the noodles that’s important, it’s what you DO with them that really makes this lunacy seem like a perfectly valid expenditure of energy!
Eggplant Noodle Spaghetti
4 cups eggplant “spaghetti noodles”
6 cups water
¼ cup salt
1 Tbs olive oil (or preferred oil)
1 cup low carb marinara sauce (like this one!)
Dissolve salt in the water in a large pot or bowl. You may be thinking “WTF?!?!? ¼ CUPS of SALT?!?!?” I know. It’s scary. It’s brine now. Just do it and move on 😉
Submerge your freshly “noodled” eggplant into the brine. You may have to set something over the noodles to hold them under. Let them soak for at least 30 minutes.
Remove the noodles from the water and spread them out on a clean, dry towel (it’s even better if the towel is doubled or tripled over).
Cover the noodles with more layers of clean, dry towel and place something flat with a bit of heft on top of it (imagine the process involved for preserving plants for your plant collection in school. This is similar, except you probably don’t want to put the noodles in your favorite hard-backed tome.)
**I like to start this process a full day before I plan to eat it. I swap out the damp towels for dry towels at least once. However, you could achieve satisfactory results after a couple of hours of the noodles being pressed.
Once your “noodles” are ready, heat your oil in a skillet and then add the noodles. Toss the noodles to evenly coat with the oil. I love it if the noodles get a tiny bit seared… it really brings out an amazing nutty flavor. Once noodles are sufficiently seared and softened, top with 1/2 cup marinara and serve immediately.
Makes 2 Servings
Marinara is a wonderful thing… Even if someone serves me a “bad” marinara, it’s still going to be pretty darn good. When I was a broke college student I had a pantry stocked with various cheap/no-name jars&cans of marinara and plain ol’ spaghetti noodles. I sure thought I was living in “high cotton”!
If you don’t have any dietary restrictions, aren’t disturbed by processed foods and you already have a preferred brand of marinara, then by all means: stick with it. However, I’ve got a Big Love of marinara and I find myself surrounded by more-and-more people who are trying to be conscious of what they are consuming; so I fiddled around and developed this low-carb, gluten free, corn free, nut free vegan marinara that would fool/satisfy even the most rigid Standard American Diet eater.
3 28 oz canned tomatoes (low sodium, without sugar)
6 clove garlic
1/3 cup basil
1 Tbs fresh marjoram
¼ cup red cabbage
1 red bell pepper
6 whole tomatoes
¼ tsp smoked paprika (optional)
Sea salt to taste (optional)
1 Tbs monk fruit sweetener or Madhava Agave5 (optional) *
*I really hate promoting specific brands and I am in no way telling you to run right out and by the Agave5… do your research and decide which sweeteners you think are good-vs-evil and make the best choice for yourself. I bought the Agave5 on an impulse and though it worked nicely in this recipe, but I am still undecided about alternative sweetener in general.