March 7, 2012

Lasagna - Gluten-Free, Vegan Italian Goodness

A delicious pasta dish without the wheat or gluten!

There's nothing like a hot pan of lasagna to welcome you in from the cold!  I hadn't made lasagna for a long time since we have been dairy-free for my kids' allergies.  A couple years ago I had made some tofu lasagna but it tasted too much like tofu to merit making again.  I'm really excited to tell you that my recent success with vegan quiche and frittata has given me new hope!

Dairy-free ricotta cheese is pretty hard to find.  Tofutti makes one that I tried recently but just as soon as it was available it seemed to disappear!  No worries though.  It was expensive and had a super long ingredient list -- lots of processing.  Ricotta has a fairly mild taste so it was actually not too difficult to create a tofu substitute with a comparable texture and taste.  I used the combination of nutritional yeast, firm tofu, cornstarch, and soy milk -- same combo that I used for the Swiss chard frittata -- and liked the results.

One recent life development that could potentially derail my quest for a safe lasagna is that I have developed a mild intolerance to gluten.  I haven't taken any tests but have observed my symptoms and eating habits over the past few months.  I know for certain that if I eat a lot of bread, a few hours later I am buckled over with abdominal cramps and bathroom issues.  I get super tired -- not sure if it's from the physical stress of dealing with abdominal pain or it's sluggishness as a result of the gluten.  Either way, it's no fun and I've almost completely eliminated gluten and wheat products from my diet.

If you are living the gluten-free/wheat-free life, you know that GF pasta is really expensive and sometimes not so tasty.  I scoured the net for the best GF lasagna noodle (I didn't want to waste precious bucks on tasteless food!) and saw that someone mentioned using dry rice noodles in place of wheat pasta.  This sparked my interest -- I already had some dry spring roll rice paper sheets in the pantry!  I experimented with the 9" round sheets that I had and liked it so much that I went back to the Asian supermarket for the lasagna-friendly 9"x9" square sheets.

Vietnamese spring roll wrappers in lasagna: Asian fusion cuisine?

I used a glass pie plate for my first GF lasagna since
the 9" diameter rice paper was too big for my 8" round cake pan.

A very tasty lasagna even if the circular shape was a little odd.

The rice paper sheets made for an inexpensive wheat-free, gluten-free substitution to lasagna noodles.  They were easy to use since they required no extra cooking time.  And the taste was light.  My only complaint about preparing this gluten-free lasagna is that the vegetables seemed to shrink during the baking process.  I had reached near the top of the 13"x9" baking pan with a total of four layers of rice paper sheets and three layers of filling, yet the finished product ended up sinking deep into the pan, losing 1.5 inches in height.  I guess the thin sheets of rice paper do not help this entree stay as sturdy and puffy as regular wheat noodles.  But for a delicious, cramp-free experience, I can happily overlook this minor detail and stay with the rice paper!

Below is my recipe.  It looks like a lot of vegetables (they do shrink down during the saute and baking) but if you want to try puffing up your lasagna even more, consider adding even more kale or a 1/2 batch more of the dairy-free ricotta mixture.

Gluten-Free Vegan Lasagna
Vegan ricotta is adapted from Susan Voisin's recipe for Mini Crustless Tofu Quiche
1 jar of your favorite marinara or spaghetti sauce (I like Trader Joe's economic selection of organic sauces)
12 pieces of 9"x9" rice paper sheets (dried spring roll wrappers)
Oil for sauteing 
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup carrots, peeled and sliced (about 3 large carrots)
4 cups broccoli florets, chopped
2 cup mushrooms, sliced
4 cups kale leaves, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

Daiya Vegan Shreds - the stuff of dairy-free dreams
For the dairy-free ricotta/mozzarella mixture:
14 oz. firm tofu
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup soy milk
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups mozzarella-style Daiya Vegan Shreds

Pepper to taste
  1. Heat a little oil in a large wok or saucepan.  Saute garlic, carrots, and broccoli for 5 minutes stirring every couple of minutes.  Add mushrooms and kale.  Cook for an additional 3 minutes then turn off heat and set pan aside.
  2. While vegetables are cooking, mash tofu and nutritional yeast together.  Add cornstarch, soy milk, and salt and continue mashing until well combined.  
  3. Stir 2 cups of Daiya Vegan Shreds into tofu mixture.
  4. Add vegetables into tofu-Daiya mixture.  Stir until vegetables and other ingredients are well distributed.
  5. Add pepper to taste.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  
  7. Grease a 13"x9" rectangular pan.
  8. Spread one quarter of the jar of pasta sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Lay two rice paper sheets to cover the bottom.  The sheets will overlap in the middle of the pan.  Cut a third rice paper sheet in half and lay the two halves over the left and right edges of the rice paper.  Now there should be two layers of rice paper "noodles" covering the bottom.
  9. Evenly spread one third of the veggie-tofu-Daiya mixture over the noodles/rice paper.  Lay 2 rice paper sheets and a cut-up third sheet over the veggie mix to form the two layers of "noodles".  Then top with a thin layer of pasta sauce.
  10. Repeat Step 8 twice more so that there are three layers of veggie-tofu filling. 
  11. Cover pan with aluminum foil.  Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes removing the foil for the last 15 minutes of cooking.  Lasagna should be pulling away from the side of the pan and sauce or rice paper will be bubbling on the top.
9" square rice paper can be found in Asian supermarkets.
The two squares will overlap in the middle.  Just cut another sheet in half
to add a second layer left and right of the middle.
A two-layer gluten-free lasagna right before being placed in the oven. 
In a follow-up batch, I increased the vegetables and added an additional layer of filling. 
The pan was filled to the top but sank almost 1.5 inches by the end of the baking time.

The lasagna recipe is flexible.  I chose to make ours with vegetables only but you can change around the fillings by substituting spinach for some of the vegetables or adding browned Italian sausage or ground meat to the sauce. is my favorite online resource to find cooking ideas and inspiration.  Enjoy!


  1. so you don't have to soak the rice paper sheets before using them?

  2. Hi Malloreigh,
    No need to soak. Pop them between layers of your filling and sauce and they will soften and cook nicely just like that!

  3. Hi,
    I just tried this - AMAZING! I adapted it and used left over bolognese sauce and I didn't read the recipe properly, and soaked the wrappers before hand , However it was amazingly good - A new family favorite