With our main man away on business, Emilia and I have been devouring this wholesome twist on the traditional lasagne for lunch AND dinner this week.
I love that this meal is so balanced and well-rounded. It contains vegetables, meat, seeds, legumes, and dairy (if you opt to use the cheese, which I recommend) which I just think is so cool! It ticks the healthy variety box, and is also nourishing for the soul. Because who doesn't have fond memories of eating lasagne with their family? It's a meal simultaneously satisfying and comforting. The best kind of meal.
Here are some of the reasons why this recipe has made it into my repertoire of family favourites.
- Everyone loves it. It keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days, and we all greedily gobble up the leftovers in the meantime.
- It's easy to make. Seriously, after making it once you will be able to make it in a pinch. Just make sure you remember to put the cashews on to soak.
- Lentils "pad out" the meat sauce, making it cheaper, creating an interesting texture, and increasing the phytonutrient content.
- The vegetable layers can be changed according to your preference and what's available. Options include, but are not limited to... kumara (sweet potato), parsnip, carrot, spinach or silver beet leaves, zucchini, eggplant... Oh, the possibilities! My favourites were eggplant and kumara.
- No need to serve with a side of veggies, (but feel free to!) as this meal packs the plants in. Somehow, when slathered in cashew béchamel and melted grated cheddar, these veggies get gobbled up. We have been eating ours with steamed broccoli and baby spinach leaves anyway (go us!).
- It freezes well, and is a great meal-gift for a family in need.
Why use a cashew-based béchamel sauce?
Quite simple really. I was inspired by this recipe to use cashews, and the idea was quite revolutionary to me. Creating a traditional french béchamel sauce sans lumps is basically an art and puts you at serious risk of developing RSI in your wrist from all that whisking. That and - with toddlers clambering up your leg and trying to touch the hot oven - means that traditional béchamel sauce is simply too much effort for us mums.
Cashew béchamel is as easy as: put ingredients in blender and whizz. Done. (Just remember to put the cashews on to soak earlier in the day).
Another point to mention is that the cashew béchamel sauce sits much more lightly in the stomach. Milk solids can irritate the gut (even if you aren't intolerant) so it's nice to reduce them in this meal, creating a lighter version that is just as comforting.
P.S. Do you know that cashews are actually the edible seeds of a poisonous fruit? Read more about that in this post.
Vege lasange w/ Cashew Béchamel Sauce
Serves 6 / GF, GF, SF, DF option
For the meat sauce:
Olive oil, for frying
1 large onion, finely diced
1t each dried oregano, dried rosemary & dried thyme (or 1T mixed herbs)
2t (heaped) smoked paprika
3 cloves garlic, minced
800g prime beef mince
1x 400mL tin of crushed tomatoes
1x 400mL tin brown lentils (or extra beef mince)
1t flakey sea salt, more to taste
1/2t ground white pepper (optional, if you don't have this you may wish to add more freshly ground pepper at the end)
20 grinds of black pepper, more to taste
For the cashew béchamel sauce:
1 1/4C unsalted cashews or cashew pieces
2/3C milk of choice (I used cow's milk)
3 small cloves of garlic (or 2 medium)
1/2t sea salt
Handful of fresh chives
Handful of fresh basil leaves (note - if you do not have fresh herbs, try using 1t dried mixed herbs, if you must!! fresh herbs are where the flavour's at)
15 grinds black pepper
For the vegetable layers:
1 large zucchini
1 golden kumara (sweet potato)
Lots of grated cheddar cheese, about 100g feta cheese, to add to the layers and sprinkle on top.
Extra basil or parsley, to serve
For the meat sauce:
1. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy, non-stick frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until transparent. Add the dried herbs and smoked paprika, toasting them until fragrant. Reduce temperature to medium, add another glug of olive oil and minced garlic. Cook for a further minute, stirring occasionally.
2. Add the beef mince to the pan and break up with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon. When all the meat is browned, add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes (or longer if you have the time).
3. Add the lentils, and cook for a further 5-10 minutes.
For the cashew béchamel:
1. Put cashews in a bowl and cover with lots of fresh water. Leave to soak for at least 1 hour, preferably 3. (Sometimes I put them on to soak in the morning - this is longer than required but suits me when I'm out all day!)
2. In a high powered blender, combine all ingredients until smooth.
For the vegetables:
1. Wash and remove the ends of the vegetables. Halve and then slice into thin pieces.
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
2. In a lasagne dish, spread 1/3 of the meat sauce. Then place one layer of vegetable slices so that they overlap slightly. Then spread 1/3 of the béchamel sauce over the vegetable layer. Add a sprinking of grated cheddar and crumbled feta. Repeat this process twice.
3. Bake for 30 minutes in a hot oven, or until golden and bubbling. Allow to cool for five minutes before cutting and serving.
That's it! I know it looks like a lot, but really it is easy and you will find it so simple the second time around. Please let me know if you make it and if it's a hit with your family!