A healthy deconstructed Lasagna (noodle-free)

 

I know what you’re thinking: Deconstructed? what does that even mean in relation to food? … but actually, that’s not what you were really thinking. You were thinking “A healthy lasagna that’s also noodle-free?” come on.

I don’t blame you. I have previously danced to the drums of recipes that swore their low-fat, low-calorie, or even ‘healthy’ recipes maintained taste and were delicious when in fact that wasn’t true.

I understand that the definition of ‘healthy’ changes from one person to another. What we attribute to health and the foods we believe are healthy for us can be incredibly subjective.

However, I will tell you why I think you should try this healthy, sodium-reduced, and carb-free lasagna recipe that is healthy and still tastes good, but not before I go into a short discussion on why I think it is important to recognize and understand the difference between these word formations and inflections (not from a linguistics aspect) that are on food labels daily. Our comprehension of these phrases can substantially impact our eating habits.

First, and as a side note, I have personally made the mistake in previously naming recipes on my blog as ‘low-fat’ or ‘low-calorie’ without really understanding the depth of this topic. Although my recipes were undoubtedly reduced in fat and/or calories, words have meanings (as a linguist would tell you) and meaning is very important for comprehension (as a teacher would tell you).

After some research, I have learned this:

Calories are units of energy, and all foods contain them; we know that. However, a low-calorie recipe is one that is reduced and controlled in calorie intake, and often has 25% less calories than the original serving (per 100 grams/ or about ¼ cup). Low calorie recipes often omit or substitute ingredients for a lighter version (example: omitting oil, eggs, butter, etc…; or substituting regular milk for low-fat milk; or full-fat cheese to lower fat cheese, etc..).

When reading labels, you’ll also find a different definition attributed to each of these phrases: reduced calories and light calories. Typically, ingredients with a ‘reduced calorie’ label on it means that there are 40 calories or less per serving in it and it contains less than 0.4 calories per gram.  And ‘light calories’ means that there are 1/3 fewer calories than the regular, full calorie version of that product. Interesting, right?

What about low-fat recipes?

Fat is said to be essential for controlling inflammation, blood clotting, brain development, energy, healthy skin and hair, and absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K (see citation below). Fat comes in three forms: unsaturated fat, saturated fat, and trans fat. Controlling the intake of these three in a smart, yet mindful manner helps maintain a healthy heart, body, and mind (personal opinion). And when it comes to cooking, a low-fat recipe also means that the total amount of fat, saturated fat, and unsaturated fat is controlled.

When we break it down, it constitutes to this: low-fat recipes have 3 grams of fat or less per serving (per 100 grams of food).

Consequently, companies frequent the use of reduced fat, less fat, and fat free on their labels.  Here’s what they mean. ‘Reduced fat’ means that the food product contains 50% or less fat than what is found in the regular version. ‘Less fat’ means 25% or less fat is found in the product in comparison to the full-fat product. And finally, ‘fat free’ means the product has less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving (and this could also mean that there is no added fat or oil to the product).

Beneficial, is it not? Now try to remember it all.

Yet the question that remains unanswered, and one I bet even Blaise Pascal would have wagered on, is this:

What is the definition of ‘healthy’?

Everybody has their own theory on what healthy means. You, me, our friends, our families, our co-workers, etc. If the answer to this question had a high ratio of likability to the masses, fad diets, pop-up new ingredients, and unqualified persons claiming ‘new’ and ‘quick’ ideologies surrounding health and fitness wouldn’t exist on a daily basis.

The truth is, what it means to be healthy is simple. However, we complicate it because we are complicated. We come from various cultural, religious, and sociolinguistic backgrounds. We are embedded in tradition of foods and ingredients that are geographically accessible to us. We grew up with vast knowledge of what our local ingredients can do for us: we either helped or watched them be harvested, heard or tasted these ingredients used as remedies for wellness and restoration, or simply, we have stood beside mom or dad cooking these ingredients, and in our memories remain permanent photographs of many likes to these gatherings.

It is this: our meaning of food is universal: our definition of it is not.

But I can’t leave it here, can I? I read a very brief definition of healthy once a long time ago that stuck with me. Here it is:

“Something that is healthy will help maintain or improve your physical or mental condition. A food source that is healthy will have good short-term and long-term effects for your mind and/or body. Conversely, something that is unhealthy will have bad short-term and long-term effects for your mind or body.”

Short, sweet, and perhaps we all could agree on it. But we don’t have to. That’s not the point.

Now, for this coveted recipe that I have ridiculously prolonged. I can’t say if it is low-fat or low-calorie, or even healthy, but I will say that I used low-fat and low-calorie reduced ingredients in it and therefore—I will deem it healthy as it suits my version of healthy eating habits, lifestyle, and personal fitness goals.

Deconstructed Noodle-less Lasagna Recipe

Total time: 60 minutes (includes cooking time)

Serving Size: 2-4

Ingredients

Tomato sauce: 

  • 2 lbs. tomatoes
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ tsp. dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp. cinnamon powder
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped

Filling:

  • 3/4 cup low-fat or reduced fat ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

** you can also add 1/3 cup fresh basil pesto as the original recipe calls for. However, I did not use it in my recipe. But, it does sound like a good option.

Stuffed Eggplant:

  • 2 medium-large eggplants (about 1 lb. each)
  • 2-3 TBSP olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • all of the ricotta/pesto filling
  • all of the tomato sauce
  • ½  cup freshly grated parmesan or low-fat shredded cheese of choice, divided
  • ½ cup toasted pine nuts
  • extra fresh basil, for garnish

Process

For the tomato sauce:
  1. Seed the tomatoes, and chop roughly. In a large non-stick skillet. Add the olive oil, garlic, oregano, crushed read pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Saute for 1-2 minutes over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, increase the heat to high, and cook until the tomatoes have softened and broken down into a sauce (about 15-20 minutes). Make sure you have a smooth texture. This can also be achieved by using a food processor to pulse the sauce into a smooth, silky texture. Return the sauce to the pan and stir in the basil and balsamic vinegar. Taste, and add more salt as needed. Set aside.
For the filling:
  1. Mix the ricotta and parsley together in a bowl. Taste, and add a bit of salt if needed. Set aside.
For the eggplant: 
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment.
  2. Remove the top and bottoms of the eggplants, and slice lengthwise into ¼-1/2 inch thick slabs. Arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets, and drizzle both sides lightly with olive oil, turning the slices to coat. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast eggplant in the oven at 375 degrees F. for about 30 minutes, or until softened but not mushy. Roast until the eggplant slices are soft and golden brown. Remove from the heat and let cool. Set aside.
  4. Pour all but about ½ cup of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a 9×12 inch baking dish.
  5. Spoon 1-2 of filling onto one end of each slice of eggplant. Roll the eggplant up around the filling, and place seam-side down into the sauced baking dish. Repeat until all of the eggplant is rolled and placed into a single layer in the sauce. Top the stuffed eggplant with the remaining sauce, sprinkle your cheese, and bake until bubbly and hot all the way through (about 15-20 minutes in the oven at 375 degrees F.).
  6. Garnish with the remaining parmesan, toasted pinenuts, and basil.

See original recipe for pictures: http://www.willcookforfriends.com/2016/08/eggplant-involtini-with-ricotta-and-pesto.html

Lessons Learned: I loved this recipe a lot. It was very simple and quick to make, and I found that most of the ingredients were already in my fridge. I also like its versatility– it’s deconstructed (meaning it takes less time to assemble it compared to a traditional lasagna) which makes it look like it’s a little upside down.. As though one started the lasagna from the bottom up, rather than top to bottom. In comparison to taste, it was right up there. I liked the idea of how using light shredded cheese to sprinkle on top, which also added taste. The only lesson learned here is to not forget this recipe in the future!

 

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2 thoughts on “A healthy deconstructed Lasagna (noodle-free)

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