Comfort food for somber days: Red Lentil Lasagna

Canadians from coast to coast are mourning the loss of half a junior hockey team and their crew after a tragic accident last Friday in rural Saskatchewan.

Geographically, we’re the second largest country in the world but when in crisis, we’re a small, tight-knit community.  Yes, we’re around some 35 million people, yet I can imagine that the majority of us are keenly feeling this loss. I know I am. As a mother to hockey-loving boys, as a sister to a big brother, as a wife…I just can’t stop thinking about it and the tears keep coming.

I lost two friends when I was in my twenties – one to cancer and one in a freak car accident. That pain of loss is impossible to put into words, but I have experienced it. Twice.

Embracing community is one way I’ve found it possible to heal from grief such as this. Reaching out. Finding connection. If I was in Humboldt right now, I know I would be cooking in some capacity for these families. How I wish I could. Sympathy food has long been a passion of mine; blessing someone with a meal is a small action, compared to such unimaginable loss, but it is love in action.

My connection to Northern Saskatchewan goes back a few generations, to the family farm that my grandparents owned near Melfort, SK.  Melfort is just one hour north of Humboldt, and close enough to the scene of the accident that the town’s first responders were among those to assist. My mother was born and raised in Melfort, and we returned to visit the farm as kids. I remember rolling fields, huge skies, friendly people, tight-knit communities.

From the sky, the southern prairie half of Saskatchewan is a patchwork of meticulously farmed fields, stretching east and west across the province and down to the United States border. I was lucky enough to visit a lentil farm near Regina one June a few years ago, and it was a fantastic learning experience. I always associate places with food, and so when I think of Saskatchewan, I think of lentils.

Forgive me if associating a lentil lasagna recipe with a horrific accident is too much of a stretch for you, but writing helps me to process. I’ve already donated to the Go Fund Me account, and all of our hockey sticks are out on the front porch, but it’s not enough. From where I am there’s not much that I can do for the Humboldt Broncos community, and so I write this post, and share in their sadness.

If you can, bake a lasagna and share it with someone in your community – create an opportunity for togetherness. Invite someone over or drop it off for someone who could use a meal. For me, food bridges gaps between people. It has unique abilities to bring us together, because there is something about sitting around a table that invites connection, and intimacy.

And I believe that is true, no matter where you live.

Ricotta and Red Lentil Lasagna recipe

This vegetarian lasagna is no more complicated than stirring cooked red lentils into a marinara sauce and proceeding as usual with your favourite lasagna recipe. It hardly requires a recipe, but I snapped these iPhone photos while I was making the lasagna one night and so here we are.

This lasagna feels like a special occasion meal, but really, it’s a dressed up week-night meal. If I have time, I’ll make many of the components from scratch, like my creamy ricotta in the photo above. I whip up a batch of my four-ingredient tomato sauce and maybe even make some pasta sheets.

But usually, I’m opening a jar of sauce and a tub of ricotta from the store. I grab pre-shredded cheese, because that is easy. It’s a semi-homemade dinner and that is perfectly okay.

The red lentils are very simple to cook up from scratch, so I simmer a pot on the stove and stir them into my sauce once they are cooked. This two-ingredient sauce makes up my very uncomplicated ‘lentil bolognese’ and the base of the lasagna.

You can choose to add in wilted spinach or not. I’m always trying to incorporate more vegetables into our diet, so I will add thin slices of zucchini or aforementioned spinach in with the ricotta layer.

This lasagna was even better on the second day, after the flavours had a chance to mingle and mellow. It also freezes very well, both raw (after assembly, before baking) or when it has been cooked and cooled. Definitely add this recipe to your batch cooking roster and make two while you’re at it next time.


Ricotta and Red Lentil Lasagna
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Recipe type: Dinner
Cuisine: Vegetarian
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves/Yield: Serves 6-8
Lentils boost our fibre intake and are delicious in this vegetarian take on a comfort food classic. By combining cooked red lentils with Marinara sauce, I make an easy 'lentil Bolognese' for layering in the dish.
Ingredients
  • 1 package lasagna noodles
  • 4 cup Marinara sauce, canned or homemade
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked red lentils
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 1/2 cups Creamy Homemade Ricotta
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly oil a 9x13 baking dish.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the lasagna noodles according to the package directions. Drain, rinse and cool the noodles.
  3. Stir the red lentils into the Marinara sauce, then spread a cup of sauce on the base of the baking dish. Top with a quarter of the cooked lasagna noodles.
  4. Wilt the spinach in a pan with the butter, then chop and add to the ricotta. Crack an egg into the mix and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Spread the ricotta mixture over the layer of lasagna noodles. Top with more noodles to cover. Add 2 cups of lentil bolognese, followed by the last of the noodles.
  6. Top with the remaining lentil bolognese, spreading it evenly over the noodles. Sprinkle the parmesan and cheddar cheese over the top. Arrange the tomato slices on the cheese, then pop the pan in the oven.
  7. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the lasagna is bubbling around the edges and the cheese is melted and golden. Remove form oven. Let sit for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

 

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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Comments

  1. I flew in to Saskatoon yesterday (for a conference) and the news is everywhere. It’s so heartbreaking.

  2. There are no words, but here is something from my friend from Vancouver:
    When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say,
    “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
    To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that
    “There are still so many helpers; so many caring people in this world.”
    Prayers from Oklahoma, United States

    • I believe that is a quote from the great Fred Rogers. <3

    • These words are actually from Mr. Rodgers (the children’s TV show) and they were words told to him by his mother when he was a child. He said he never forgot them because they were so true. “Look for the helpers.” I’m sure your Vancouver friend heard them from him. Undoubtedly, no matter who spoke them, they are wonderful words.

    • Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Aimee, I grew up in Winnipeg but moved to Saskatoon several years after being married. The 5 years I lived in Saskatoon were some of the best years of my life. The Saskatchewan people are truly the salt of the Earth. I’ve lived just outside of Toronto for 30 years now but my heart still belongs to Saskatchewan and it’s people. The accident was a terrible thing to hit those people.

    On a more cheerful note, your recipe looks absolutely delicious!! I’m on a restricted diet for the next week due to an unpleasant dental experience this afternoon but I will be chowing down on this recipe next week for sure. I LOVE lentils and this recipe looks to be the perfect marriage of ingredients! I have even met Saskatchewan lentil growers! 😆

  4. Aimee, can you explain your method of laying noodles? It looks like some are poking out at the top and I bet that would create a spectacular crunchy cheesy bite.

    On a more sombre note, currently listening to the National in the background. This tragedy is felt across Canada so deeply. Thank you for finding a way to sooth our tender hearts.

    • Hey Meghan, I layer a lasagna like anyone would, but then after the top layer of cheese, I always toss on the little bits of noodles that have fallen off the strips – usually the wavy edges. You’re right, they are the yummiest!

  5. Aimee, can you explain your method of laying noodles? It looks like some are poking out at the top and I bet that would create a spectacular crunchy cheesy bite.

    On a more sombre note, currently listening to the National in the background. This tragedy is felt across Canada so deeply. Thank you for finding a way to sooth our tender hearts.

  6. I’m so sorry to hear of the accident last month. But I agree that food has a way of helping, even though it can’t actually fix anything. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and this recipe!

    I came across your recipe yesterday, right when I was trying to figure out how to fix a supper we would feel full after without going back to the store, and the idea of putting red lentils into marinara sauce was a winner! Thank you 🙂 I truly don’t think my kids (6 and 3) knew the difference between this and red sauce with ground beef, and my littlest guy devoured it too.

  7. Margaret Vitale says:

    Would like to make and freeze for vegetarian guests. What do you think?
    It sounds such a great recipe/ Many thanks.

    • Margaret Vitale says:

      Made this today….. Will be freezing it….. As its for my vegetarian D I L…. It was a labor of love. As it was all from scratch….. It took me forever…🎈😂.
      Still waiting to hear if it will be okay to freeze?

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