GF/DF vegan mushroom lasagne

I’ve based this recipe on Ottolengh’s fab spicy mushroom lasagne from his ‘Flavour‘ recipe book, making the necessary changes so that it’s suitable for vegans, as well as gluten and dairy free.

This recipe is true to Ottolenghi’s exotic cooking style; definitely not a whip-it-up-quickly meal.  The layer upon layer of a lasagne translates to several ‘meanwhiles’ in the method section, but don’t let that put you off.  This is truly a recipe to enjoy, a lesson in being present with all the processes in play, from chopping to blending, roasting, soaking.  You name it, it’s happening here!  And this is why it’s such a winning recipe, all these delicious layers upon layers.  I’ve numbered the steps, which wasn’t in the original, but I think it might’ve helped me along.

Luckily a lot can be cooked in advance – always good news. An asterisk marks the point you can prepare it the day before refrigerating overnight.

Instead of the original Ottolenghi double cream, parmesan and pecorino I’ve used oat cream, vegan cheddar and a gluten & egg-free lasagne like Freee rice lasagne, easy peasy.

An aside: many cheeses like parmesan and pecorino (in the original recipe) use animal rennet  – eg. from sheep’s stomach – in the cheese-making process. There are, however, vegetarian rennets readily available so check your cheese labels, or stick to the vegan cheddar-lookalike I’ve used here. Perhaps where you live there are also vegan parmesan-type cheeses? (also perhaps where I live, but they’ve eluded me 🙂 Do share if you’ve found them).


For 6 people
Equipment: large cooking pan, large and small bowls, sieve, measuring jug, food processor (or very sharp chopping knife… and some willing helpers!), rimmed oven baking tray, rectangular baking dish 30cm x 20 cm, and probaby a few other bits I’ve forgotten, but I’ve listed the stand-outs for me

800g chestnut mushrooms halved
500g oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
60g dried porcini mushrooms
30g dried wild mushrooms
130ml olive oil
chilli, 2 dried, roughly chopped.  If you like extra hot, leave in the seeds
1 red onion, peeled, quartered
5 garlic cloves, chopped or grated
500 ml hot veg stock
1 medium carrot, rough chunks
2 tomatoes c 250g, quartered
80g tomato paste
130ml oat cream
160g Violife grated vegan cheddar cheese,  or another vegan ‘hard cheese’ equivalent (or two different ones)
5g basil leaves, finely chopped
10g parsely leaves, finely chopped
250g Freee Rice lasagna, or a vegan lasagna of your choice
sea salt and ground pepper to taste


1) The oven:  Preheat to 230 degrees C fan oven (250 conventional oven; 446 Fahrenheit).

2) The fresh mushrooms: Either chop by hand or put the oyster and chestnut mushrooms into a food processor in batches, and pulse till finely chopped.  Add to a large bowl with 4 tbsp of the oil and 1 tsp salt, mix, then spread on a large parchment-lined rimmed baking tray so that it’s an even layer.
Bake for 30 minutes, stirring a few times so it doesn’t catch.  The result will look considerably less as a lot of the water has been baked away.  All good!
Remove and put aside, then turn down the oven to 200C (c. 390F) and sit with a cuppa whilst you read on…

3) Meanwhile, the dried mushrooms:  Combine in a medium bowl both sorts with the chilli and your hot veg stock.  Let soak for half an hour then strain the liquid, squeezing as much as possible from the mushrooms so you end up with c340 ml (just top up with water if you have less, or squeeze those ‘shrooms a bit more).
Set aside the liquid.  Chop the rehydrated mushrooms and finely chop the chilli, and also set aside.

4) Now to the onion, carrot and garlic!  Chop them in the food processor – or by hand – then put into a pan with 60ml of your olive oil and fry for 10 mins, stirring till soft and golden.

5) The tomatoes:  Pulse them in the food processor till finely chopped and add, together with the 80g tomato paste, to your fried onion/carrot pan.
Salt and pepper this to your taste and cook for about 10 mins, stirring now and again.

6) Add the chopped chilli and all the mushrooms – those roasted ones, the rehydrated ones – to your carrot/onion/tomato pan and cook for 10 mins.

7) The ‘ragu’ (or ragout, whatever you prefer), is almost there, hooray!  Stir in the reserved stock and 500ml water.  Simmer for 20-30 mins, adding more water if your meaty-looking ragu looks like it’s getting too dry.
Stir in 100 ml oat cream and simmer another few minutes (just to ensure it’s well mixed).  Remove from the heat, and sit back, take a slow breath and be happy that you have just created a delicious meaty-textured mushroom ragout which you will now (or tomorrow) layer into a lasagne.
* At this point you can pop it in the fridge, covered, and continue the following day.

8) The cheese:  Mix the grated vegan cheddar (and/or parmesan-ish vegan cheese) and the chopped basil and parsley in a bowl and prepare to start assembling your layers.

9) Layering your lasagne:
Spread approx 1/3* the mushroom ragu in the bottom of a 30cm x 20cm rectangular dish.
Top with approx 1/3 of cheese mixture, then top this with your lasagne sheets, breaking it into bits to fit corners.
*Ottolenghi states 1/5, not 1/3.  I’ve made this three times now, and so far 1/3 works best for me.
Repeat until you finish with a final layer of mushroom sauce and vegan grated cheese.

10) drizzle 1 tbsp oat cream and 1 tbsp oil and cover with foil or baking paper.
Bake approx 15 mins before removing the foil/paper.
Increase your oven temp to 220 C fan (240C conventional; 425 F) and bake another 10 minutes, turning your rectangular dish around so everything is evenly browned.
11) Set aside to cool, drizzle over the remaining cream and oil and sprinkle with parsley.

12) Bravo! You’re ready to serve.
And after all this, just a leafy green salad with chopped herbs and any other salady bits you have at hand will be perfect 😉

A nerdy note to share with practitioners/foodie peeps trying a low FODMAP diet*
(For all other readers, you’ve been warned!)

I was working with three SIBO clients, all keen on the low FODMAP* diet, at the time I was playing with this vegan version. I decided to try turning this recipe into a low FODMAP (why???  Most mushrooms, tomato, tomato puree, garlic, onion, chilli…are all high FODMAP foods).
Yes…. well, there was a wild-eyed glimmer of hope when I saw that oyster mushrooms are low in FODMAPS.  Tomatoes, too, in small amounts, ie. 45g of chopped and 25g tomato paste, according to the Monash FODMAP guide
So I only used oyster mushrooms and a smaller amount of tomato and paste.  I replaced the onion, high FODMAP, with the chopped green part of a leek (low).
No chilli as it’s high FODMAP, hey ho, so the ‘spicy’ component of the recipe vanished.  However, any of my clients with SIBO related gut distress will totally go along with this.  I made more of the basil by making an olive oil, basil, pinenut type pesto (pine nuts are low FODMAP nuts).
Aged dairy cheese is a lower FODMAP food, but sticking to the vegan option you can use something like Violife’s grated ‘mature’ ,as I’ve done in the above vegan recipe, as it’s free from dairy, preservatives, lactose, gluten, nuts and soya.

For those who have stuck to the end of this read, huge congratulations!  This low FODMAP version is indeed a very different meal to the one I’m posting today, but it was very tasty plus a good option for anyone who loves mushrooms and wants to add to their low FODMAP vegan repertoire.

*Low FODMAP diet is a short-term diet restricting certain poorly absorbed carbs which can ferment in the colon and cause IBS-ish discomfort in some people.  Some clients do very well on it, as it can calm down inflammation and give the GI tract a break whilst waiting for the results of tests, or trialling some supplements.  It should, however, only be a short-term diet as it excludes too many health-giving foods.
Btw FODMAP is the acronym for the carbs which are too many and complicated to write in the swing of a recipe, but FYI it stands for: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols.  FODMAP, much easier, right?

Mindfulness, what’s in a word?

I’d like to find another word for mindfulness.  Not that it isn’t apt, on the contrary, being mindful in our lives can be life changing, mind blowing.  But we’re hearing the word used so much these days, a little like the hackneyed terms ‘life changing and mind blowing’,  that it can end up falling on deaf ears or meaning nothing at all to some people.

A male client on zoom yesterday rolled his eyes when I mentioned mindfulness.  “No, that whacky stuff’s not for me,” he said.
There’s not much whacky about it; pretty straight forward in fact.  Mindfulness is about tapping into something that was commonplace for our grandparents:  taking each day, each moment, as it came; not having to juggle deadlines, childcare, finances, nights out and traffic holdups.  These days there’s not a lot of Living each Moment, and therein lies a big part of our global chronic health crisis. The speed and stress of daily life is throwing us out of kilter, making many of us sick.

However, saying all that, I get what this client meant.  Even though he hasn’t tried it, he said it sounded too vague, that ‘mindfulness’ didn’t explain enough of what it was about or how to do it.  For him the name seemed to be a big part of why he hadn’t tried it. Hence my search for another word, a new title.

‘Being in the moment,’ or ‘living in the present’ may say more about what it is, but clients have told me they don’t think it’ll work for them, or, like this man, it sounds too ‘out there’.  Someone once told me she was already being careful and didn’t need to do a course on it.
For others it doesn’t sound medical enough, doesn’t carry enough gravitas.  I can’t help wondering if these people are still hanging out for the ‘one thing fixes all’ remedy.  The trouble here is that we’re not living in a one-pill-fixes-all world. Our current chronic diseases are too complex for monotherapies.

The compelling science behind how mindfulness works – how it can kick in a relaxation response that lowers stress & anxiety, how it can lessen gut pain, even body inflammation, and that it’s something that can alter the microbiome and, amazingly, gene expression – all this information seems to only reach those interested in health or lifestyle therapies, and not the ones who might need it the most.  It’s not on their radar until ill health has exhausted conventional medical routes and they somehow find a book or hear about cognitive therapy or an MBCT class (mindfulness based stress reduction), or they start working with a functional nutritionist, like me, who encourages it for helping with anxiety or IBS symptoms.

The thing about starting mindfulness is that we’re already doing it, this living in the present.  Some of us are just not doing it as consciously as we should.  And even though mindfulness is about developing a daily practice that will grow into something bigger and more sustained, into a higher awareness of our days, and of the many ‘present moments’, the key to starting it is to begin small, to keep it do-able.

I’m not a mindfulness expert or teacher, however the weekly mindfulness classes I went to about eight, maybe more?, years ago opened my eyes to the possibility of having a mindful practice in my daily life.
I remember during one of the early classes we were told to walk barefoot in the grass and listen carefully to the sounds around us, and then try doing it at home every day for any length of time we could manage.  It was a lightbulb moment for me, realizing it could be something enjoyable, something I could easily do inbetween work.  Also that I wouldn’t have to sit cross-legged for an hour cancelling all thoughts and finding a higher plane (which of course was my misinterpretation of meditation!)

Slowing down my daily pace in some way, at some point in the day, was key for me when I began (I’m speaking from the perspective of a busy person with a busy mind who likes to pack in lots).

In those early days, the more I read about mindfulness, the more I realized there was no rule about timing, no rule about what mindful practice I should do.  Listening to the breath is often a starting point, and it can be the exclusive daily practice for many.  I love it, all the more so since reading James Nestor’s book, Breath.  However, I’ve met clients over the years who hate it, who say they get anxious listening to their breath, so it really is very individual.
An hour of sewing or gardening might be mindful time for one but torture for another.  Examining pebbles on the beach for an hour might bore most people to tears except me.  Sitting still to watch the day slowly shift from twilight to sunset might be your daily quiet time but only a holiday treat for another. Closing your eyes for ten or more minutes, listening to your breath might be a huge leap of faith.

When I talk about mindfulness to clients I suggest they try whatever they enjoy, something that will slow them down into the Now moment.  Start their practice in small increments and take it from there, not beating themselves up if they need more time to get into a daily routine.  This was the sustaining advice I was given when I was first introduced to mindfulness.  After that, there’s a whole world of excellent books and qualfied teachers out there.

Now back to my first thought.  Is there another word you can think of for Mindfulness, something that might reinject it with oomph, or explain it better?  Something to describe this mindful awareness of our daily moments?  If so, I’d really love to hear from you. x

Time to plug into nature

We’ve been watching far more nature programmes these past months.  So reliably uplifting, nature doing its thing.

Recently Spring Watch was on BBC, a very popular programme here in UK.  Two weeks of learning more about the amazing changes Spring brings with it.  We saw beavers and otters, fish, badgers, butterflies, you name it. 
The main focus, as always, was on nesting birds and their fledgings, with some precarious nests being built on high and others balanced in bizarre places just inches away from predators.  We watched parent birds constantly feed their young until finally most of the fledglings defied the odds and flew off.  A cheering message.  Reassuring to see nature going about normal business at a time when our world is so very far from normal.

The presenters talked about more wildlife and birds being about due to less traffic and noise, less activity in towns and built-up areas.  They shared some breath-taking videos and photos the public sent it.  People who were isolating or not working or on furlough – children still off school – all having more time to notice daily changes in their gardens and nearby parks. 

Every night it felt like an escape from the daily Downing Street updates and world statistics and scenes of angry demonstrators.  And yet nature is just as much a part of our reality as Covid-19 and world news.   A happier part that we can tune into every day – every hour of every day if we want!   Nature can most definitely help us feel better, lifting our mood with a surge of endorphins – those happy hormones – as we watch new life unfold around us.

It was interesting to see how much close-up photography was in the programme this year.  Filming the tiniest insect under a convoluted camera lens.  Seeing a mote of dust floating in water only to discover it was a creature with astonishing talons and fangs.   

It made me think about the macro and micro world we’re living in right now.  How we are changing focus far more than we might normally do.  Moving from the macro picture of what’s going on in our global community, to the micro picture of what’s happening in our personal lives, what we’re eating for dinner tonight.

Changing our focus, our lens, constantly is hard work.  It can be overwhelming thinking on different planes all the time as we try to absorb today’s communal bigger picture whilst looking after our micro world.  Feeding the family, understanding the latest Covid rules, tapping out work emails, seeing second spikes abroad, helping with homework, feeling for angry demontrators, watering the garden.  No wonder so many are saying they don’t want to listen to the news, that it’s too much.   

Most of the posts I’ve shared over the past months have had something to do with plants or gardens, walks or healing foods.  Giving myself and others some mindful space to plug into nature.  Giving those happy endorphins a chance to rise and expand. 

We all need a breather from this bigger macro picture so we can find balance and mindful time in our micro worlds.  This is where nature shines.  It’s right here, outside our windows and front doors.  So easy to bring into our daily lives.  Walking, weeding, cycling, sitting and watching.   Birds peepsing, petals opening, rain falling. 
The sky outside, is it blue or grey where you are right now?  Are buds unfurling or is winter mist drawing in?  Tell me what’s happening around you, I’d love to know.  x