Dairy free Lasagna – The Ultimate Comfort Food

Lasagna does not need any special introduction. At least in my opinion. I know there are fancier foods out there, healthier and easier to make. But there is something about lasagna, that makes people crave it badly. One of such people is my dear husband. Whenever I make it (and I make really hefty batches), there is not a crumb more until the end of the day. But, there is a big problem with lasagna. There are two, really. One of them is called dairy, and the other one eggs. So how about an egg free, dairy free lasagna? It can definitely be done, and it even comes with a twist.

So, like I mentioned, lasagna usually comes with eggs in the pasta, milk in the cheese and in the Bechamel sauce. Which makes it a very big no-no for our use, because our little daughter suffers from allergies to the aforementioned ingredients. A big problem, because we live with lasagna’s biggest fan – my husband. I simply needed to find a way to make it without dairy and eggs. The other option was to make the occasional “all in” lasagna for my hubby, but I rarely find that many spare hours lately.

Carrots and onions for our dairy free lasagna.
Carrots and onions for our dairy free lasagna.

What’s so special about lasagna, you ask?

As the expert told me, one of the nicest things about lasagna is the combination of creamy Bechamel and meat sauce. He says bechamel does to sauce what years do to good wine. It makes the taste spikes (acidity, spiciness) a bit mellower without disguising the main tone, and adds depth. I tried to write it  the way he said it, but I doubt I managed to communicate his sentiment.

Getting rid of the eggs is easy. Find egg free sheet pasta in a big supermarket, or make it yourself, because it is no biggie, really. A topic for another blog post, though.

Dairy Free Lasagna isn’t easy at all

Making it dairy free, however, presented me with big compromises. In my last year of trying to recreate classics, but without dairy, eggs and nuts, cheese became something I just learned to live without. I have yet to find something that amplifies taste as much as cheese does.

Even though this is a dairy free lasagna, I decided I should use something that at least resembles bechamel, and adds some of its tenderness. So I used broccoli. Losing your appetite all of a sudden? Don’t!! Bear with me, cook it and tell me then.

I used broccoli for my dairy free lasagna. Gives it some tenderness.
I used broccoli for my dairy free lasagna. Gives it some tenderness.

Ingredients

  • 700g minced meat (mix of beef and pork works very well)
  • egg free lasagne sheets
  • 2 cans of tomatoes (together 800 g)
  • 3 medium or 2 large onions
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 broccoli
  • 2 dl red wine
  • 2 table spoons dried basil
  • 3 diced carrots
  • nutmeg
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil

Procedure

Procedure is more or less similar to that of any ragu or meat sauce, to a point. So if you are familiar with at least one of the classics, you should be able to do it.

First things first, slicing and dicing and knife skills in general. Finely slice onions, crush and slice garlic cloves, and dice the carrots. Dices should be  5mm x 5mm (1/4in) in size.

Heat up a pretty big pot. The one you use for cooking soups or one of a similar size. Bring it to heat, and then add 3 table spoons olive oil. If the meat is very lean, you might need some more oil, but if it is nice and fatty, just a little is enough, because the fat will melt and become a tasty oil substitute. Definitely far from vegan, but tasty as something. By the way, stop being afraid of fats in the meat. Be afraid of sugars they sell you in almost everything you buy, instead.

Start with the meat

Put all the meat in the hot pot with oil and break it down a little until the base of the pot is covered completely. Wait a few seconds and then stir everything up. The brown bits that stick to the bottom a little is what you want. Make sure the heat does not drop a lot. You want to hear sizzling all the time. Stir from time to time, to let more meaty bits touch the pan which will render them delicious.

If the meat is of inadequate quality, it will release water, and then everything stops looking so nice. In case it happens, first use inappropriate language towards your butcher (don’t say it out loud if kids are around) and then, to save the day, increase heat and stir until water evaporates. I figure this is the second best option. The first is to abandon the project and go get fresh meat, but this is unlikely if you have hungry people looking over your shoulder.

Getting all the pieces nice and brown.
Getting all the pieces nice and brown.

Okay, now you have (hopefully) a pot full of browned bits of mince and some brown caramelised residue on the bottom of the pot.

Meat should be smelling nicely by now

Add vegetables, salt, pepper and stir well. Reduce heat and cover. Now the steam of the meat will soften the vegetables and somewhat unstick the brown meaty caramel that formed on the bottom of your pot. That, my friends, is pure taste.

dairy-free-lasagna-meat
Browned minced meat with added vegetables and dried basil. Time to add salt and pepper, too.

After 5-10 minutes, add remaining ingredients – wine, tomatoes and basil. Stir and cook uncovered for a few minutes so that alcohol evaporates. Check for saltiness and add salt if necessary. Cover and cook for half an hour on low heat. You could cook longer for flavors to really blend, but there is no need, because this sauce is getting some additional oven action later.

What makes this a dairy free lasagna?

While the sauce is cooking, we are going to prepare the “dairy free” part of the “dairy free lasagna”. Since most dairy in a non dairy free lasagna is in the bechamel sauce, we will replace it with broccoli puree. Yes, I know, it will never be as creamy as the real deal, but I promise, it makes the lasagna better.

Broccoli mash. I could also make a puree, but I was... lazy. ;)
Broccoli mash. I could also make a puree, but I was… lazy. 😉

Remove the broccoli stalk and cut the rest into manageable pieces. Heat up enough water to cook the broccoli in it and add a tea spoon of salt. Most of it will stay in the water, anyway. Add broccoli and cook it for 10 minutes or until it is soft to the touch. Drain all the water and leave uncovered for the rest to evaporate. You don’t want lasagna to taste “watery”. Not lasagna!

Now you have to make a puree or at least a “mash” of some sort. So, mash the broccoli or blend it into a paste. I was lazy, so I just mashed it, but feel free to use any kind of violence you can think of to make it as smooth as possible. Grate just a tiny bit of nutmeg and put it into puree.

Putting it all together

Preheat your oven to 200°C. Now take your oven proof dish (preferably one that came with a cover) and start layering. Some recipes say you need to grease the dish with butter first, but I have two problems with it. The first one being – butter is dairy, and the second one – why buttering a pot you will need for a pretty “damp” dish? It always seemed to me it was like buttering a pot before cooking soup.

Take your ladle and pour a nice measure of the sauce to the “non-buttered” ovenproof dish. Level it and cover with egg free lasagne sheets. Repeat the process for another layer, and then make a layer of broccoli, then another one or two of meat sauce and another one of broccoli.

When you reach the top of your ovenproof dish, make sure the topmost layer isn’t pasta, but a mixture of meat sauce and broccoli puree. If you end it with pasta, it will dry out and be impossible to cut or eat.

Dairy free lasagna, ready for the oven.
Dairy free lasagna, ready for the oven.

Cover the dish and put it into the oven. 30 minutes should be enough. That’s right, after 30 minutes, it is basically done,  but not quite. Uncover and leave this dairy free lasagna in the oven for another 15 minutes for top layer to dry out/caramelise just a little. Now, it is really finished.

Slice into generous pieces and serve with red wine. It is literally making me jealous knowing someone might be cooking to this recipe right now.

Dairy free Lasagna

Dairy free Lasagna

Ingredients

  • 700g minced meat (mix of beef and pork works very well)
  • egg free lasagne sheets
  • 2 cans of tomatoes (together 800 g)
  • 3 medium or 2 large onions
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 broccoli
  • 2 dl red wine
  • 2 table spoons dried basil
  • 3 diced carrots
  • nutmeg
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil

Instructions

  1. Finely slice onions, crush and slice garlic cloves, and dice the carrots. Dices should be 5mm x 5mm (1/4in) in size.
  2. Heat up a pretty big pot. The one you use for cooking soups or one of a similar size. Bring it to heat, and then add 3 table spoons olive oil. If the meat is very lean, you might need some more oil, but if it is nice and fatty, just a little is enough, because the fat will melt and become a tasty oil substitute.
  3. Put all the meat in the hot pot with oil and break it down a little until the base of the pot is covered completely. Wait a few seconds and then stir everything up. The brown bits that stick to the bottom a little is what you want. Make sure the heat does not drop a lot. You want to hear sizzling all the time. Stir from time to time, to let more meaty bits touch the pan which will render them delicious.
  4. When meat is nicely browned and well done, add vegetables, salt, pepper and stir well. Reduce heat and cover. Now the steam of the meat will soften the vegetables and somehow unstick the brown meaty caramel that formed on the bottom of your pot.
  5. After 5-10 minutes, add remaining ingredients - wine, tomatoes and basil.
  6. Stir and cook uncovered for a few minutes so that alcohol evaporates.
  7. Check for saltiness and add salt if necessary.
  8. Cover and cook for half an hour on low heat. You could cook longer for flavors to really blend, but there is no need, because this sauce is getting some additional oven action later.
  9. Remove the broccoli stalk and cut the rest into manageable pieces.
  10. Heat up enough water to cook the broccoli in it and add a tea spoon of salt. Most of it will stay in the water, anyway.
  11. Add broccoli and cook it for 10 minutes or until it is soft to the touch. Drain all the water and leave uncovered for the rest to evaporate. You don't want lasagna to taste "watery".
  12. Mash the broccoli or blend it into a paste. I was lazy, so I just mashed it, but feel free to use any kind of violence you can think of to make it as smooth as possible.
  13. Grate just a tiny bit of nutmeg and put it into puree.
  14. Preheat your oven to 200°C. Now take your oven proof dish (preferably one that came with a cover) and start layering.
  15. With a ladle, pour a nice measure of the sauce to the ovenproof dish. Level it and cover with egg free lasagne sheets. Repeat the process for another layer, and then make a layer of broccoli, then another one or two of meat sauce and another one of broccoli.
  16. When you reach the top of your ovenproof dish, make sure the topmost layer isn't pasta, but a mixture of meat sauce and broccoli puree.
  17. Cover the dish and put it into the oven for 30 minutes.
  18. After 30 minutes, uncover and leave the lasagna in the oven for another 15 minutes for top layer to dry out/caramelise just a little.
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