This dish was totes inspired by my desire to start liking eggplant. I don’t hate eggplant. But if someone said–here, you can have this eggplant for dinner or you can have this *insert almost any other plant here*. I would no doubt choose the other plant. Part of my indifference to eggplant is that I just don’t know what to do with the big purple bulby plant. So my first, yes first, foray into cooking with it was to make the most clichéd eggplant-y dish ever. Cheesy eggplant lasagna. This dish is stacks on stacks of earthy, tender eggplant with basil ricotta, cashew cheese and tomato marinara sauce stuffed in between. A crusty layer of panko crumbs offers a nice textural contrast to the tender eggplant. Since I already had my cashew cheese made and used store bought marinara sauce, it wasn’t too difficult or time consuming to put this together. And layering lasagna is always fun!
Eggplant Lasagna with Ricotta and Cashew Cheese
1 medium eggplant
about 5 1/4 cups of tofu ricotta (I did 1.5X the basil-ricotta recipe in Isa’s Veganomicon. Don’t have Veganomicon? Just google “tofu ricotta” and pick a recipe that looks good!)
Preheat the oven to 350. Prepare the tofu ricotta. Stir the cashew cheese and spinach leaves into the ricotta. Next slice the eggplant lengthwise into thin layers. In a pan lightly coated with oil, cook the eggplant slices until lightly browned and mostly soft on each side (~5 minutes each side). Now it’s time to layer everything in a 2.2 qt glass baking dish (7×11). This is how I did the layers: marinara on the bottom, eggplant, ricotta-cashew cheese, eggplant, ricotta-cashew cheese, marinara, eggplant, ricotta-cashew cheese, eggplant, lots of marinara and panko bread crumbs. Then I placed three slices of tomatoes brushed with a little oil on top. I baked this for 30 minutes covered with foil and then about another 30 minutes without foil. Cooking times may vary depending on your oven and how thick your eggplants are sliced. I checked the tenderness by sticking a bamboo skewer in the eggplant slices. I considered it done when the skewer easily went through all the layers. Was this dish enough to change my mind about eggplant? Well I bought another purple beauty this week and I’ve got my mind set on some eggplant fries.
What’s your favorite way to cook eggplant?
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I like raw food. I do. But sometimes when I eat a raw dish, I think—hmmm, this would taste reeeeally good if it were hot! Like temperature-hot, not Shakira-hot because I’ve eaten some pretty sexy raw dishes before. I’ve made this sundried tomato and basil manicotti (*see footnote) from VegNews in its intended raw format in the past, but this time around I decided to forgo nearly slicing my fingers with a sharp knife trying to get thin zucchini noodles and just make baked stuffed zucchini boats.
I made the sundried tomato and basil cashew cheese as-is and stuffed them in the zucchini. I also made the raw marinara as-is except I chopped up the scooped-out zucchini insides and stirred it in. I simmered the marinara until the zucchini was cooked and then I poured it over the stuffed zucchini and baked everything covered in foil for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees F.
I had no clue how this would come out because I’ve never tried baking a raw dish. While the zucchini baked, I kept thinking—this is so wrong, what am I doing?? But my apprehensions were unfounded because the dish came out creamy-dreamy delicious! The filling was just as full of sundried tomato-basil flavor as it was raw. The marinara was rich and tomato-y and the zucchini was nice and tender with a subtle bite. All the individual components melded nicely as a result of the baking.
* To get to the actual recipe, scroll down until you see “raw manicotti”. The recipe calls for 4 zucchinis and I only had 2 so I had sauce and cheese leftover.
These baked shells are packed full of creamy, cheesy, herby butternut squash goodness in every bite. This dish is easy to throw together and easy to customize.
First I preheated the oven to 450 degrees. Then I sliced a whole butternut squash down the middle and de-seeded it. Wash the outside of the butternut squash and nuke it for 3 minutes to make cutting easier.
I roasted the butternut squash for about 45 minutes (until tender). While it was roasting I prepared the macaroni shells, the big kind used for stuffing. I just followed the directions on the package.
After the butternut squash got all tender and delicious, I scraped both sides all out into a bowl. I then mixed in 1/2 cup of pre-made cashew cheese (recipe below), a handful of chopped basil and chives and salt and pepper to taste. You don’t have to use basil or chives, get crazy and try different herbs, use more, use less…don’t use any at all. I used what happened to be in the fridge. You also don’t have to use butternut squash, try pumpkin like I did here.
Then I stuffed ‘dem shells and placed them in a baking pan. The amount of filling I made stuffed about 12-14 shells. I poured some store-bought marinara sauce over it and baked it at 350 degrees for about 10-15 minutes.
And then I stuffed them stuffed shells into my mouth. These were so flippin’ delicious. It’s really the cashew cheese that brings this dish to that next creamy delicious level. The recipe (below) for the cashew cheese is based on Tal Ronnen’s but without having to prepare it for days because I don’t use probiotics.
2 cups soaked cashews, drained (A couple of hours is best but it works just as well if you only soak it for 20-30 minutes and use a high speed blender)
2 tbs nutritional yeast
2 tbs lemon juice
2 tbs almond milk
1 tsp tahini
1/2 tbs onion powder
1 tsp salt
Throw everything in food processor or high speed blender and blend until smooth. Stick it in the fridge and use in meals like above or as a veggie dip or cracker spread.
Did you know that “za” is an official 2-letter word in scrabble? It’s basically an obnoxious way to say piz-za. Since we recently acquired a pizza stone (or should I say, za stone) from Rachel at Former Fish Taco Fanatic, we decided to test it out by making our own pie with our homegrown basil,
homemade pizza dough (which N can’t remember where he got the recipe from!)
and some fresh sliced tomatoes and Daiya mozzarella. With the pizza stone, we just plopped the raw dough on it, piled on our toppings, baked it and let the stone work its magic. Voila, a beautiful and tasty pizza pie!
I must say the pizza stone is pretty cool (thanks Rachel!). It cooked the dough just right (crisp on the outside and soft on the inside) and homemade dough beats storebought dough in price, taste and texture.
Inspired by the lovely Former Fish Taco Fanatic, we decided to grow some tomatoes and basil a couple of weeks ago. Despite my fears of exposing my ineptness at plant growing, we found ourselves at a real plant store, Farmer D Organics. I am so glad we went there because the people at Farmer D’s were incredibly nice, helpful and enthusiastic! They explained to me exactly which plants would work well in a pot, how to plant and water them and even how to correctly harvest the basil.
When we brought our plants home, N did most of the “dirt”y work, while I took pics.
For our pot, we purchased a wash tub from the local hardware store. N drilled drainage holes in the bottom.
We filled up the pot with the organic potting soil from Farmer D’s and popped in the plants. Here is what they looked like when we first potted them.
Normally, I’m not so good with plants. I usually kill them, but these guys are actually growing quite steadily. There are no tomatoes yet, but at the rate they are growing I should be able to make fresh bruschetta soon!
Though the plants are shooting up, there are some small to large holes in my basil leaves. I have relocated several small bugs from the basil every now and then, so I can only guess that it is those guys who are enjoying my basil. I would love to hear advice from others on how to control insects on plants without the use of pesticides.