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Lentil & Kumera Lasagne

We love lasagne so I’ve been trying some new recipes and this one is our favourite.

There’s no story today, just the recipe because its amazing!

Ingredients:

For the filling

1 red onion, finely chopped

2 small carrots, grated

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 tsp dried mixed herbs

1 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed and drained

1 tbsp Braggs liquid seasoning

2 tbs balsamic vinegar

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp white miso paste

1 700 ml jar of passata + the empty jar filled with water

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 medium orange kumera, sliced into 1 cm discs (any thicker and you’ll have to pre cook them)

3 dried wholemeal lasagne sheets, ready to cook

 

For the cheese sauce:

2 cups cauliflower, steamed

1.5 cups cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours (overnight is best)

1/2 cup Braggs nutritional yeast

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp Braggs liquid seasoning

3/4 cup of water

*Vegan Parmesan for the topping

 

Method:

Pre heat your oven to 200° and move the rack to the centre

Add all the filling ingredients to a large saucepan and stir

Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover

Cook for 25 minutes until the lentils are nearly cooked. Check the sauce every 10 minutes. You may need to add extra water, half a cup at a time to ensure the sauce doesn’t dry out and the lentils don’t become gluggy. Stir after every addition of water

Remove the lid and continue cooking until the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your taste

Once cooked, remove from the heat and allow to cool

In a high powered blender, add all the cheese sauce ingredients, (except the vegan Parmesan) and pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your taste. Add a little more water if needed to ensure the sauce is smooth

In a large rectangular oven proof dish, add 1/2 of the filling and shake the dish to ensure it is even

Layer the kumera on top of the lentil filling

Layer the remaining lentil filling on top of the kumera

Layer the lasagne sheets onto the lentil filling, breaking them to fit

Spoon the cheese sauce onto the lasagne sheets and ensure all of the sheets are covered

Sprinkle the sauce with vegan Parmesan

Cook in the middle of the oven for 45-50 minutes until the kumera is cooked (check with a fork)

Once cooked, allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting

Serve with a salad and enjoy!

 

  • If your oven dish is small, adjust the amount of lentil filling you use. Otherwise it will drip all over your oven
  • Place a clean baking tray on the shelf below just in case of dripping
  • If you’re using tinned lentils, reduce the cooking time of the filling. It will only take 10-15 minutes for the veggies to cook. Also reduce the amount of water you add by half. You won’t need to add any extra water while cooking either
  • If you don’t use all of the cheese sauce, store it in the fridge for up to a week. It makes a lovely pasta sauce

 

 

 

 

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What every vegan needs to know about iron

True or False: The iron that our bodies require is the same element found in a cast-iron skillet.

 

 

This question fools a surprising number of people. Iron is greatly misunderstood as a nutrient, especially when it comes to vegan and plant based diets.

The mineral is found all over the earth and is essential to red blood cells transporting oxygen and nutrients to every cell in our body, connecting us directly to the land we live on. Pretty amazing, right?

But iron deficiency is a very common nutrient deficiency. Symptoms include fatigue, pale skin, weakness and inability to maintain body temperature. And as vegans, it’s worth paying special attention to make sure we’re getting enough.

So how much iron do we actually need?

Recently in the U.S., the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) gave new recommendations for iron, specifically for vegetarians, that are 1.8 times higher than the general population. As Jack Norris points out, this increase is not based on actual research on vegetarians, but simply because the iron in plant foods is not as easily absorbed as the iron in animal products (more on this in just a minute).

As a result, many experts in vegetarian nutrition believe that these recommendations are much higher than needed.

My take on it: if you eat a varied, healthy plant-based diet that includes a balance of grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and fruits and vegetables — and follow the recommendations below — I don’t believe it is necessary to keep close track of iron intake. As I always say however; I am not a nutritionist so please consult your doctor if you have concerns about your iron levels.

Iron from plants vs. iron from animals

To better understand what we need to do to ensure our bodies are getting enough iron, we first have to accept two facts about iron — painful as they are for vegetarians and vegans to hear:

  1. There are two types of iron — heme, which is found in animal foods, and non-heme, which is from plants. It is true that heme iron (the kind from animals) is better absorbed than non-heme iron.
  2. Vegetarians and vegans may have lower iron stores than omnivores.

But don’t fret over these issues. We’ll see that in fact it’s not all that difficult to get the iron you need on a plant-based diet.

As for #2, it’s important to note that while vegetarians have lower stores of iron than omnivores, they do not have higher rates of anemia. In the research, many vegetarians’ stores are “low-normal,” but this does not mean less than ideal! Actually, there’s some evidence that says low-normal iron stores are beneficial: improved insulin function and lower rates of heart disease and cancer.

How to get enough iron on a plant-based diet

You can start by making sure that you’re eating foods that contain substantial amounts of iron. Some of the best plant sources of iron include:

  • Legumes: lentils, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, lima beans
  • Grains: quinoa, fortified cereals, brown rice, oatmeal
  • Nuts and seeds: pumpkin, squash, pine, pistacio, sunflower, cashews, unhulled sesame
  • Vegetables: tomato sauce, swiss chard, collard greens,
  • Other: blackstrap molasses, prune juice

But here’s the key: It’s not how much iron you consume, but how well you absorb it.

So paying attention to make sure you’re absorbing your iron is just as important as making sure you’re taking in enough. And fortunately there is a lot you can do to increase the absorption of non-heme iron!

5 ways vegetarians and vegans can absorb more iron

1. The less you eat, the better it is absorbed.

Seriously! I know people who take one 15 milligram pill a day and think they are covered, but it doesn’t work that way. When consuming higher amounts of iron at one time, the percentage that our bodies absorb is actually lower than when your meal contains only a few milligrams. Plant-based foods may contain less iron than animal foods, but eating smaller amounts throughout the day is a great way to increase absorption.

2. Eat non-heme iron foods with vitamin C foods, and absorption can increase as much as five times.

Five times! Culturally these combinations are already happening: think beans and rice with salsa, falafel with tomatoes and hummus with lemon juice. The iron in beans, grains and seeds is better absorbed when combined with the vitamin-C found in fruits and vegetables. Bonus: some iron sources, like leafy greens, broccoli, and tomato sauce already contain vitamin-C.

3. Avoid coffee and tea when eating high-iron meals.

Coffee (even decaf!) and tea contain tannins that inhibit iron absorption. I recommend avoiding them an hour before or two hours after your meal.

4. Cast-iron skillets increase iron absorption.

The answer to the true or false question is true! Cooking with an old school cast-iron skillet increases the iron in your meal — especially when you cook a vitamin-C containing food in it.

Even better, a cast-iron skillet purchase puts you in the realm of official serious cook. I bought mine almost 10 years ago for $8 and it is one of my most valued possessions. (Yes, I’m that much of a food nerd that a skillet is one of my most valued possessions!)

5. It pains me to say this, but you may want to avoid spinach as an iron source.

Spinach contains oxalates that block absorption. Sucks, right? There is some disagreement in the research about this, but with all of those other iron-containing plant foods, why not try some new ones?

And for the record, even if you take an iron supplement, you should still follow the advice above.

Iron doesn’t have to be a problem in a plant-based diet

Follow these principles, eating good sources of iron throughout the day and keeping up with the absorption principles above, and you’ll find that it’s not hard to get enough iron in your diet, even as a vegetarian or vegan.

All of that said, iron is one of the few nutrients where a deficiency both immediately affects your health and is detectable, so if you have any iron-deficiency symptoms I recommend getting blood tests with your doctor. It is affordable, reliable and easy to interpret. And iron levels bounce back quickly when using the methods above or supplementation.

I’ll leave you with a fun fact about iron in plant-based diets (well, fun to a food nerd at least):

Some research shows that vegans have higher iron levels than vegetarians.

How?

The difference between vegetarians and vegans is eggs and dairy products, and the latter contain almost no iron. When someone goes from vegetarian to vegan they are replacing dairy products with plant-based ones, all of which contain some iron, therefore increasing the total iron in the diet.

With this information and a little effort you can get all of the iron you need from plants to be healthy and strong!