A crowd pleasing meat lasagna that is keto friendly, low-carb and gluten-free: The pasta layers are made with cabbage leaves, which are super easy to cook and layer and taste wonderful together with the meat sauce and loads of melted mozzarella!
Why you’ll love this keto lasagna
Although a simple casserole dish, lasagna takes just soo looong! Because of all the pasta cooking, layer building, making two different sauce toppings, the meat one generally simmering for over an hour, plus time in the oven…
This easy keto cabbage lasagna takes very few key ingredients, and you’ll make only one sauce, as we fake the white sauce with near a buttload of mozzarella. All this cheese will melt into a thick layer of gooey deliciousness that will make you rethink the need of cooking a white ricotta sauce for lasagna ever again!
I will also give you many options for substitutions and ideas for extra things you can add, if you’d like it to be more elaborated. The choices are yours!
Cabbage makes the structure of the keto lasagna layers. I haven’t found another low-carb vegetable that’s as easy to work with and that wields such a delicious lasagna! You can also use thin slices of zucchini or eggplant, cut longitudinally. Read on for tips on how to use these.
Ground beef is the classic choice for lasagna, but ground pork, chicken and even sausage meat are good options as well.
Mozzarella is my cheese of choice, because it melts so well that if you use it in enough quantity there’s your white sauce! I know, classic lasagna should have a béchamel style white sauce, or an American style rich ricotta and egg concoction. But hear me out: if you want to keep things simple and fast, and have less washing up to do, making thick layers of mozzarella is the way to go!
You can use any other easy melt cheese that you enjoy, or even mix up cheeses, really there’s no reason why not. The only rule is: use cheeses taste good together and melt relatively easy. And just dump them on! Buttloads of cheese! I put half a kilo (about a pound) of cheese in this keto lasagna, but NOTHING is stopping you from going over that number!
If you want a keto lasagna that’s even creamier but keeping it easy, another great lazy idea is the strategic placement of spoonfuls of cream cheese in between the lasagna layers.
And tomato paste. In the spirit of making the easiest keto lasagna ever, I used tomato paste instead of homemade tomato sauce. If you prefer to use fresh tomatoes, or canned tomatoes, that’s great and most likely your lasagna will taste even more delicious and fresh.
Carbs in tomato paste, is it keto?
That’s a meaningful question, as tomatoes are believed not to be keto friendly. Although tomatoes are fruits, they are not high in sugar, and can be enjoyed in moderation in a ketogenic diet. The problem is that store-bought tomato based products are usually loaded with extra carbs and sugar, added in as thickeners and flavor enhancers.
To make sure you are buying a keto and low-carb safe tomato sauce, puree, paste or juice, read the label. If the only ingredient listed is tomato, with the occasional mention of water, salt or citric acid (a natural preservative, used to extend shelf-life), then take it home! No hidden sugars to worry about.
How to avoid a soggy lasagna
There’s two steps to prevent a soggy, soupy lasagna:
First, drain well and pat dry the cabbage leaves: vegetables give out liquid when being cooked, instead of absorbing it, like regular lasagna pasta.
Second: make the meat and tomato sauce thick, either by simmering long enough to evaporate the excess water, or by adding a keto sauce thickener, or both.
To give this keto cabbage lasagna sauce a thicker texture, I used a little bit of unflavored pea protein. You can also use nutritional yeast. These are optional, and you can perfectly make the lasagna without it. You just might have to cook the sauce for longer to evaporate more of the moisture, and avoid a soupy lasagna.
Some recipes advise draining the water from the cooked meat before adding the tomato sauce, but I don’t like doing that. The meat juices are rich in flavor, so I’d rather simmer with the sauce for a bit longer to concentrate the flavor.
How to make
Prepare cabbage leaves for layering
Core the cabbage head, inserting a knife and cutting around the stem at an angle. Use a sharp knife and be careful, you might need some force to stab the knife in. The hole should go about 3 inches inside the cabbage, to make it easier to remove the leaves later (1).
Boil the cabbage, with the carved hole down, submersed in water for about 20 minutes, until the leaves are soft and coming out by themselves (2). While the cabbage is boiling, you can start the preparation of the meat and tomato sauce.
For zucchini or eggplant variations
If using zucchini instead of cabbage: cut the slices lengthwise, lightly sprinkle them with salt and let sit for about 15 minutes for the salt to bring out the water. Pat them dry with paper towels before assembling into the lasagna layers.
For eggplant, do the same, and then rub in some olive oil and arrange the slices on a baking tray, and bake them at 200 °C (395 °F) in a preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. This is important to remove the bitterness and bring out the rich eggplant flavor.
How to make the sauce
In a large pan or deep skillet, heat up 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and fry the chopped onions until they are soft and transparent. Add in the crushed garlic, and fry them together until golden (4).
Add the ground beef, salt and chili flakes. Mix it with the onion and garlic. Sometimes the minced meat clumps together when cooking, specially if it has been defrosted. Be sure to break the meat chunks that might form, to get an uniform sauce. Continue cooking until the meat just starts to brown (6).
Add the Worcestershire sauce, herbs, olives and tomato paste, (7) mix it in, and simmer until the moisture is mostly evaporated and the sauce is thick. It shouldn’t take long, if you are using tomato paste, that’s already pretty condensed. You may also add pea protein or nutritional yeast to thicken the sauce. Set the sauce aside to form layers.
How to arrange the lasagna layers
Set up the layering station: Drizzle some olive oil at the bottom of a large lasagna or casserole dish (13″x 9″ or equivalent). Around it, have the pan with the sauce, the shredded mozzarella (or other cheese and cream cheese, if using), the cooked cabbage head, drained of water (try to squeeze it out as much as you can), and a some paper towels or a dry tea towel.
Gently remove the cabbage leaves whole, one by one as you need them, and pat them dry with the paper towels or tea towel. Assemble the first layer of cabbage over the olive oil. You’ll need only 2 or 3 leaves per layer. There’s no need to overlap. There will be some cabbage left at the end of the keto lasagna assembly, which you can keep in the fridge to use later on, for a stir-fry, for example.
If using zucchini or roasted eggplant slices, you’ll probably need more slices per layer. Just set the vegetable slices side by side, as you would with regular lasagna pasta.
Add a few spoonfuls of sauce, and tap it down to spread as evenly as possible. For a 13″x 9″ casserole / lasagna dish, this should make three layers of sauce.
Add about one cup of mozzarella cheese, or any other easy melt cheese of your choice (like gouda, edam, emmental, raclette or gruyere, for example) or a mix of cheeses. You can also add spoonfuls of cream cheese.
Add another layer of cabbage leaves, then sauce and another cup of cheese. Repeat until you have 3 layers of sauce (for a 13″x 9″ dish). The lasagna will have then a total of four layers, including the top one.
For the top layer of the keto lasagna: Add 1 layer of cabbage leaves, the last cup of mozzarella cheese, sprinkle Parmesan cheese, and drizzle some olive oil (13). The Parmesan on top of the mozzarella will help create a beautiful, golden gratinated crust.
Baking the cabbage lasagna
Bake the keto cabbage lasagna in a preheated oven at 200 °C (395 °F) for about 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Then, turn on the broiler (top heating element) for about 5 minutes to gratinate the top cheese layer. Watch it closely not to burn, as cheese can burn really fast. Remove the keto lasagna from the oven when the cheese starts to crust, getting slightly browned.
Now, the most difficult part: Leave the keto cabbage lasagna rest outside the oven to set for about 20 minutes before cutting the slices.
And one last, important tip: this keto lasagna tastes EVEN BETTER on the next day. If you can leave something for tomorrow, you’ll be awesomely rewarded.
Storage and freezing
This delicious cabbage lasagna is an ideal meal prepping recipe! It’s a really large recipe, so unless you have a huge family or are serving it at a gathering you’ll have enough keto lasagna for 2 or 3 meals.
The left-overs will last covered in the refrigerator for three days. Re-heat in microwave before serving.
The keto cabbage lasagna can easily be frozen for up to six months. Wait for the lasagna to cool completely before freezing. Cut it in the desired serving sizes, and put them in airtight containers or wrap them in wax paper, then seal inside heavy duty freezer bags.
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