Real Living – Food
Holidays have always given me nostalgia. Ever since I moved from my hometown of New Orleans in 1998 I had been searching for some sort of connection with culture. If you ever visited New Orleans, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Not only do we have a unique sense of hospitality, we also take pride in our Creole Cuisine, Limitless genres of music and well we love to Laissez les bon temps rouler (let the good times roll)!
I decided in 1996 to fast from eating meat and to become a Vegetarian. And I was successful for 3 years until I went to visit my parents in New Orleans during the holiday break. I decided that enough was enough with Ramen Noodles and Tuna Sandwiches and that real food was where the heart is! I’m talking about Gumbo, Stuffed Peppers, Macaroni and Cheese, Greens, Dirty Rice, you name it! And since then it took me nearly 10 years to revert back to my goal of being Vegetarian. But with a new found self discovery of having a dairy allergy, I decided to go Vegan.
Becoming Vegan came with its challenges but luckily I had a spouse that already ate plant-based and when we would visit my family in New Orleans my mother would make Vegan Gumbo, Lasagna or Fried Eggplant. This inspired me a lot because I could still enjoy all of my favorite Creole dishes without compromising the flavor and texture. There were so many times that I tried to make African, Indian or Mexican Vegan food and while the taste was great, the connection wasn’t there. I began to apply my knowledge of textures in protein to traditional Creole recipes and my family enjoyed it so much. I decided that I wanted to share this style cooking with the community and teach them how to make Creole Vegan food. so I started a catering company, Creole Vegan, that specializes in Meal prep and Catering Vegan and Gluten Free Plant Based Meals. We even host an Annual Masquerade Dinner where you can try most of our catering menu, dance to the sounds of New Orleans and show off your mask in our Best Mask Contest.
Here is a recipe for a savory Butternut Squash Lasagna inspired by the Fall and Winter, the seasons of pumpkins. Roasted butternut squash, sautéed spinach with seasonings and Creole Spices and layers of blonde roux, finished with Vegan Mozzarella Shreds. This dish is perfect for Holiday gatherings.
Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna
1 box of Lasagna
1 whole butternut squash cubed
(season with 1 tsp Creole Magic Spices, ¼ tsp basil, ½ tsp onion powder, ½ tsp garlic powder, 1/8 tsp red crushed pepper, ½ tsp dots of Vegan Butter spread all over squash or use 1/8 cup olive oil)
1 10-ounce bag of chopped spinach
1 large yellow onion, minced (divide half for spinach and half for squash)
2 cloves garlic, minced (one for squash, one for spinach)
3 tablespoons of olive oil for sautéing spinach
4 cups of your favorite Vegan Mozzarella Shredded cheese
Vegan Butter for dotting top of Squash and lasagna
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.
Peel and cut butternut squash into bite-sized cubes. remove seeds from middle. Season squash with olive oil or butter spread, season salt, onion and garlic powder and a little bit of basil and crushed red pepper. Sprinkle diced onion and mix in with squash. Roast squash in an oven safe pan, cover with foil and bake at 375 for about 25 minutes or until semi-soft. Remove from heat and set aside.
4 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup chickpea flour
2 cups warm milk (I used unsweetened use coconut milk)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
cayenne pepper (a pinch)
Warm milk in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil) Remove from heat; keep warm by covering. Melt butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat until melted. Reduce heat to low, add flour, and whisk until smooth, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the warm milk, whisking constantly to avoid any lumps. If the sauce seems too thick add a little more milk to the mixture. Cook for about 10 minutes (whisking the entire time). Stir in the nutmeg and salt. Season with cayenne pepper. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
In a large skillet heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the minced onion and garlic. Sautee until soft, about 3 minutes, add in the chopped spinach. Stirring well, reduce heat to medium. Season the spinach with 1/8 tsp of onion powder, garlic powder and Creole Magic Spice. It should take about 5 minutes to semi-wilt the spinach. Once the spinach is semi cooked, remove from heat and set aside.
Spray the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Arrange 3 noodles on bottom. Place the butternut squash as one layer. Add a thin layer of bechamel sauce. For the second layer place another row of noodles, top with spinach, then a thin layer of bechamel sauce. Third layer add another row of noodles, remainder of bechamel sauce, spread cheese evenly and dot all over with butter.
Cover with foil for 30 minutes, remove foil and bake an additional 5 minutes or until sauce begins to bubble around the edges. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!