If you love pasta, you need to try my vegan bolognese sauce with red lentils. In this plant-based twist on a classic Italian pasta sauce, legumes replace the meat for a deliciously hearty and healthy alternative. Red lentil bolognese FTW!
As February comes to a close, we’re running out of time to eat all the cozy, comforting, warm-you-from-the-inside meals. I couldn’t help but try to sneak in one more stick-to-your-ribs pasta dish before all the bright and fresh springtime favorites start coming into season.
This delectable red lentil bolognese has all the rich flavor you crave but without any divisive ingredients like fake meat, tofu, mushrooms, or nuts, so the whole family is sure to love it. This plant-based “meaty” red sauce is also perfect for serving in any number of applications, from lasagna to pizza, spaghetti to veggie dogs.
What is Bolognese?
Hailing from the Italian city of Bologna, ragu alla bolognese is a meat-based red pasta sauce that is often served with spaghetti, lasagna, or tagliatelle. To make this lentil bolognese vegan, we swap in legumes for the beef to give the sauce its characteristic “meaty” texture.
You only need a handful of ingredients to make this Vegan lentil bolognese, most of which are pantry staples. Here’s what to grab:
- Pasta - If you plan on serving your vegan bolognese in the traditional manner, you’ll need some noodles. Feel free to use any shape you prefer, swapping in gluten-free if needed!
- Onion, Carrot, & Celery - Also known as mirepoix in French, this trinity of flavor-building veggies is used as a soffritto (Italian for “sautéed aromatics”) in this lentil bolognese. Feel free to use prepared mirepoix (found in the refrigerated produce section or in the frozen veggies) to cut down on prep time.
- Garlic - Fresh will offer the most potent flavor, but feel free to swap in minced jarred garlic, frozen garlic paste, or even dried minced garlic in a pinch.
- Tomato Paste - This delectable paste adds concentrated tomato flavor and a hint of umami. I suggest buying the kind that comes in a tube for easy storage and a longer (refrigerated) shelf-life.
- Oregano & Thyme - These Italian herbs are central to the classic dish. While I used dried because they’re always in my spice cabinet, feel free to use 3x as much fresh. Also, please note that Greek or Italian oregano (a.k.a. “true oreganos”) are preferable to Mexican oregano (which is closer to marjoram) in this recipe.
- Veggie Broth - You can also use water, but you’ll lose out on a bit of complexity if you do. Feel free to use store-bought or homemade broth or stock, or you can use vegetarian bouillon paste instead.
- Canned Crushed Tomatoes - If you don’t have any on hand, feel free to blitz canned diced tomatoes (or fresh peeled and quartered tomatoes) in your blender or food processor until mostly smooth but slightly chunky.
- Red Lentils - I love the consistency and complementary color of red lentils (a.k.a. Masoor dal) in this tomato-based sauce. Feel free to swap in yellow lentils (a.k.a. Moong dal) in a pinch, but be prepared for them to take slightly longer to cook.
- Balsamic Vinegar - For a touch of sweetness and acidic complexity.
Pro Tips for Vegan Bolognese
- Soak the lentils. In an ideal world, you’ll soak your lentils for a minimum of 6 hours. This is important on several fronts: it helps to remove the phytic acid for easier digestion and nutrient absorption, plus it makes the lentils cook more quickly and achieve the perfect consistency.
- If you’re in a rush, you can shorten the soak time by boiling the soaking water first before pouring it over your bowl of lentils. Let it soak for 30-45 minutes, then drain and rinse before starting the recipe.
- Salt your pasta water. Unless you’re using oven-ready lasagna noodles (which absorb their seasoning from whatever sauce you use), you only get one shot to add seasoning to the pasta. Don’t miss out!
- Chop your veggies evenly. Coaxing the most flavor from your aromatics requires that you cut the mirepoix ingredients into the same size. This will ensure they cook within the same time frame!
What is vegan bolognese made of? It all depends on the recipe. In this vegan bolognese sauce, we use red lentils as a deliciously convincing meat substitute.
Can I make lentil spaghetti bolognese ahead of time? Absolutely! This lentil bolognese sauce is ideal for meal prep. Make a batch on the weekend, divvy it up into airtight containers, then refrigerate it for up to a week or freeze it for up to 3 months. When you’re ready for dinner, simply boil up a pot of pasta and heat the sauce for an easy, peasy meal on the fly!
How To Make Vegan Bolognese Sauce with Red Lentils
- First, rinse and pre-soak your lentils. Then, preheat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the oil and onions, and sauté for 3-5 minutes until fragrant, stirring occasionally. Then, add the carrots, celery, garlic, salt, and pepper, and sauté for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add in the tomato paste, oregano, and thyme, and stir well to completely coat the vegetables. It should be a thick paste consistency.
- If using wine, pour the wine over the veggies and give everything a good stir to deglaze the pan. Simmer for 1-2 minutes until the alcohol burns off. If not using wine, add about 1 cup of vegetable broth or water to deglaze the pan. Then, pour in the remaining broth or water, crushed tomatoes, and lentils into the pot, give everything a good stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover tightly, and cook for 20-25 minutes stirring occasionally until the lentils are cooked through.
- While the lentils are cooking, cook your pasta of choice according to the box instructions in salted water. When the pasta is done cooking, drain and set aside.
- Once the lentils are cooked, allow the sauce to simmer more if it is still too thin for your liking or add a bit more broth or water if the sauce is too thick for your liking. Then, stir in the balsamic vinegar.
- Serve the lentil bolognese sauce while warm over pasta and garnish with vegan parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast, fresh basil, or fresh parsley. Enjoy!
- Store the sauce separately from the pasta in an airtight container for 3-4 days. Reheat on the stovetop or microwave until warmed through.
As much as I love this lentil bolognese recipe just as written, there are a few ways that you can make it your own. Here are a few variations to consider:
- Swap in Wine - For the richest, most complex bolognese possible, swap out 1 cup of your veggie broth (or water) for your favorite dry red (or white) wine.
- Add Mushrooms - Add extra umami flavor and additional meatiness with the addition of mushrooms. I suggest processing them in a food processor until they are roughly the size of meatless crumbles, then sautéing them in batches with oil, salt, and pepper until all the liquid is released and evaporated and the mushrooms are browned. Remove them from the pan, then start at step 2 of the recipe as written. Add them back to the sauce in step 8.
- Make it Spicy. Adding crushed red pepper flakes gives this pasta sauce a bit of kick that we LOVE. If you’re feeding little ones or folks with sensitive palates, I suggest keeping the chiles to the side.
- Add Some “Cheese” - A generous dusting of vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast gives your final dish an air of sophistication.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
Aside from being a pretty darn convincing dupe for the original, my vegan red lentil bolognese sauce recipe is also:
- Made With Only 12 Ingredients - I’d bet you have at least half on hand already.
- Wholesome & Nourishing - Using all whole-food ingredients means that this sauce will fuel your body with all the best nutrients.
- Cozy & Comforting - Tagliatelle or lasagna bolognese are some of the heartiest, homiest meals around. Make this whenever you need a hug in a bowl.
- Simple & Easy - It’ll only take about 20 minutes of active kitchen time to get this Italian-inspired masterpiece on the table!
Let me know if you try this vegan bolognese sauce with red lentils, and if you do, I would love it if you left a rating and review below! Make sure you are also following along on Instagram and Pinterest for more food inspiration.
More Yummy Vegan Recipes:
- Sheet Pan Fajita Bowls
- Mediterranean Buddha Bowl
- Tofu poke bowl
- Chipotle burrito bowl
- Pasta al Limone
- Crispy orange tofu
- Yellow curry
- Pineapple fried rice
- Falafel sandwich
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