This Easy Lentil Bolognese is totally plant-based and a truly delicious vegan pasta sauce. The rich flavor comes from caramelizing the lentils with onions, some garlic, carrots, celery, and fresh herbs. Ready in just 30 minutes, this is a vegan and completely gluten-free sauce the whole family will love!
I bet if you check in your pantry you’ll have all it takes to make this flavorful sauce. And I do promise you’ll surprise even your die hard meat ragu’ fans. This sauce is rich and has all the flavors you’ll find in an authentic ragu’.
I always make lentils for the new year and I happened to have a very large container of leftovers in the refrigerator. I was debating on making this lentil soup with caramelized onions or even this Italian lentil soup (both are my absolute favorites…all year long!)…and settled on this simple sauce!
Simple, for sure, if you happen to have some lentils already cooked up. But even if you don’t, this is no-fuss and comes together rather quickly!
Now I’ve made a vegan meat sauce using tofu and vegan crumbles, and I just don’t like the flavor. I also wasn’t too crazy about the texture. But they are a great way to satisfy a craving for a familiar sauce that you can't make any more, if you've cut meat out of your diet. Let’s talk about the beauty of this sauce.
The secret to making a vegan Bolognese sauce is the creating the flavor layers, like you do with the meat based original sauce. So even though there isn’t any ground meat in this sauce, you’re getting to enjoy the iconic sauce, but the base is actually humble lentils!
Is this an authentic Bolognese sauce?
I have family and dear friends in and around the incredible city of Bologna, in the delicious Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. I have friends from Bologna that live right next to me (that are like family).
Let me explain (because besides being Sicilian, by birth, Emilia-Romagna is probably the next region of Italy I feel so attached to, and where I have spent the most amount of time)...this is NOT an authentic Bolognese, because it is not made with meat.
The sauce begins the process by making the soffrito: the Holy Trinity of Italian cooking! The carrots, onions, and celery are cooked up in the extra-virgin olive oil. After that, this is when the sauce goes into a veganized version of a Bolognese.
So for those of you, like me, that DREAM of an authentic Bolognese, I do have one for you here: gnocchi con patate e zucca con ragu' alla Bolognese. Also, if you're dreaming really big, I have a lasagne Bolognese here that is out of this world!
But back to this "vegan version" of a beloved sauce. If you are vegan. If you're trying to cook with less meat (for whatever reasons), I TRULY believe you will just LOVE this sauce!
Why a lentil Bolognese is so loved
Here are some reasons to make you run to the kitchen and try out this easy and healthy lentil sauce:
- Most of the ingredients will probably be right in your pantry (yes! you can start this sauce right away!). And since these are typical pantry ingredients, it’s also super budget friendly!
- Robust and rich flavor in every bite. There is not any actual meat in the sauce, but it definitely brings the flavor elements of true Bolognese.
- Besides lentils, there are some ground walnuts in this sauce. And they are both are really good for you, so this sauce is not only hearty and delicious, but also healthy!
- Total vegan Italian comfort food. Yes, that is a thing! And this is a prime example of how there are really easy ways to make a vegan version of a favorite Italian dish (and I’m not saying there would ever be a way to compare an authentic Bolognese to a vegan version, but this is really tasty!!).
What pasta shape is served with a Bolognese sauce
I have friends and family in Bologna (and other parts of Emilia-Romagna)and you will typically find a true Bolognese sauce served with homemade tagliatelle or even pappardelle (the wider homemade pasta). But yes, you can make this spaghetti.
And honestly, I love this with rigatoni or even penne. Basically, keep it simple and use whatever pasta shape you have on hand. Even the lovely bean pastas would go great with this sauce.
How much dry pasta to use per person?
Keep in mind a serving is about 2 ounces (56 g) of dry pasta per person).
What ingredients are in a lentil Bolognese
Here is all you need to make this absolutely delicious vegan sauce:
- extra-virgin olive oil
- onion (white or sweet or even a shallot)
- lentils (I used brown)
- garlic cloves
- walnuts (or pecans), crushed finely
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- tomato paste
- dry red wine (optional)
- vegetable broth
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand or 1 jar of strained tomatoes
- pasta (tagliatelle, pappardelle, spaghetti or even a short pasta is fine)
How to make a lentil Bolognese
The first step is to cook up the lentils. If you are a meal prep person that preps lentils for the upcoming week, you will need about 2 cups of cooked up lentils. I mention above, I had so many lentils leftover from NYE.
IF you do not have lentils cooked up, no problem!
Gather up your ingredients and begin the sauce.
I used my mini food processor to process onions, carrots and celery. You could chop the whole thing by hand.
If you do not have lentils cooked up:
Be sure to rinse them the lentils and strain in a colander. Add them to a medium sized sauce pan covered in water (1 cup dried brown lentils to 3 cups of water). Add a bay leaf and bring to a boil. Add a 1-2 teaspoons of salt to the water. Let that simmer until the lentils are al dente (if you're using brown lentils, should take about 20-30 minutes).
When the lentils are al dente, drain them well in a colander.
Next step is to heat up the olive oil on medium heat(I always prefer a good quality extra-virgin olive oil) in a Dutch oven or large sauce pan. Once it's heated up, add in the carrots, onions and celery. Add in the al dente lentils. Add in your fresh herbs.
On medium heat, add in the tomato paste (I used about 2 tablespoons...canned or tube is fine, whatever you have on hand).
Stir together to combine. Add in a splash of red wine (I had a bottle on hand of some dry red wine, but you could also omit and add some vegetable broth). Stir and combine the wine (or broth or water) with the tomato paste, vegetables. Stir in the chopped walnuts.
Add in the lentils and stir to combine.
Next, add in the tomato sauce.
I sometimes use strained tomatoes or plum tomatoes. I prefer San Marzano. You could use your hands to break up the tomato pieces (pull off the tough end of the tomatoes). If you used strain tomatoes, add some water to the jar and shake to get out the last bits of tomatoes. Add to the sauce and stir.
*If you used canned tomatoes, fill the can 1/2 way with some water and add to the sauce.
Stir the sauce together and add in a bay leaf. Salt and pepper the sauce and check the flavoring. Once it starts to simmer, lower and keep an eye on it. Keep stirring let it simmer for about 30-45 minutes. The sauce may thicken more as it's cooking. Add a little more water and stir.
The longer the sauce simmer, the richer and more robust the flavor. It has more time to all melt together and develop into the most delicious sauce. When it's towards the end of simmering, cook up the pasta. You could also serve with polenta. Even grilled pieces of polenta would go great with this sauce.
Can you use a different nut?
Yes! You could use walnuts (that's what I had on hand). You could also use pecans.
Could I use red lentils or green lentils?
Yes, red lentils will work great! They cook down softer than brown (or green lentils). I prefer brown lentils for this recipe. They are a little firmer and also don’t cook down to a soft mush (which is nice for a lentil soup).
Also, I prefer the brown lentils for the little bit of chew you get with each bite.
How much does 1 cup of dried lentils yield?
One cup of dried brown lentils yields 2-2.5 cups cooked lentils. You will add one cup of dried lentils to 3 cups of water.
Can I make this lentil sauce with a gluten-free pasta?
Yes, no problem! Use whichever GF brand you love the most.
Can I freeze a lentil sauce?
Absolutely! Yes, a lentil Bolognese freezes very well. Simply allow it to cool down to room temperature. Once it's cooled
You could spoon it into small freezer safe zipped lock bags in individual portions (date the bags), or in airtight freezer containers.
Defrost overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
How to reheat lentil Bolognese sauce?
Place the sauce in a sauce pan and heat on medium-low heat. Bring it to a simmer (raise to medium heat once it starts to simmer)and stir and keep an eye on it (it could stick to the bottom of the pan). If it’s too thick, add a bit of water to help loosen it up. When it’s simmered and heated all the way through, it’s ready to serve with your pasta.
Some other delicious sauce recipes to try:
- Vegan Mushroom Coconut Pasta
- Vegan Cheese Sauce Pasta
- Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce
- Vegan Pumpkin Pasta with Sage
One last thing…I promise 🙂
Just a quick request: if you enjoyed the recipe as much as we did, would you kindly leave me a 5-star rating and a short (or long!)comment–the ratings are what helps get my recipes and hard work discovered, so I can keep leaving you more delish recipes!
Your comments mean the world to me….and I really SMILE when I read them. Thank you so much! XX
Easy Lentil Bolognese
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 carrots peeled finely chopped (~ 1 cup)
- 2 celery stalks finely chopped (~ 1 cup)
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- ½ cup walnuts chopped fine, or pecans (could pulse in food processor a 1-2 times)
- 1 cup lentils I used brown (1 cup dry lentils cooked yields 2-2.5 cups)
- ½ cup red wine or vegetable broth (or water)
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 28- ounce can San Marzano plum tomatoes or 1 jar of strained tomatoes
- salt and pepper to taste
- a few sprigs fresh basil-for garnish
- 2 teaspoons sea salt plus more, to taste
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 12-16 ounces 340-454g pasta (spaghetti, tagliatelle, pappardelle, or fettuccine; or a short pasta like rigatoni, penne or even farfalle. Polenta also nice)
- Flat-leaf Italian parsley or fresh basil chopped (optional)
- The first step is to cook up the lentils. If you are a meal prep person that preps lentils for the upcoming week, you will need about 2 cups of cooked up lentils. I mention above, I had so many lentils leftover from NYE.
- IF you do not have lentils cooked up, no problem!
- Lentils: There are a few options. You could soak the lentils for about 1 hour (if you use red lentils, they’ll be ready quicker. I prefer brown lentils for this sauce). Strain and rinse when ready to start sauce.
- Second option is to cook up the lentils even the night before (or the day of).If you cook the night before, rinse the lentils and strain in colander. Add the lentils to a medium size sauce pan. Cover with 3 cups of water. Add 1-2 teaspoons salt and a bay leaf. Let the lentils come to a simmer. Cook until al dente. Drain in a colander. Let cool completely and store in a an airtight container in the refrigerator until your’e ready to cook the sauce. They will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days.
- If you cook the same day, it’s the same process. Add the lentils to a medium size sauce pan. Cover with water. Add 1-2 teaspoons salt and a bay leaf. Let the lentils come to a simmer. Cook until al dente. Drain in a colander. Set aside the al dente lentils and star the sauce.
- Start the sauce:
- Begin by prepping the vegetables. You could chop by hand or if you have a mini food processor, pulse the carrots, celery, and onions.
- Next step is to heat up the olive oil on medium heat(I always prefer a good quality extra-virgin olive oil) in a Dutch oven or large sauce pan. Once it's heated up, add in the carrots, onions and celery. Stir until the onions are translucent (about 5-6 minites).
- Next add in the chopped walnuts and stir together for 1 minute. Add in the al dente lentils and your fresh herbs. Stir to combine (2 minutes).
- On medium heat, add in the tomato paste (I used about 2 tablespoons...canned or tube is fine, whatever you have on hand). Stir together to combine. The tomato paste should begin to darken a little in color and caramelize a little (take care that it doesn’t begin to brown too much, so keep stirring) (about 2 minutes).
- Add in a splash of red wine (I had a leftover bottle on hand of some dry red wine, but you could also omit and add some vegetable broth). It’s about 1/2 cup total. If you don’t have wine on hand, add 1/2 cup vegetable broth (or water).
- Stir and combine the wine (or broth or water) with the tomato paste, vegetables and lentils. Let it evaporate and cook down a little (about 3-4 minutes).
- Add in the tomato sauce: I sometimes use strained tomatoes or plum tomatoes. I prefer San Marzano. You could use your hands to break up the tomato pieces (pull off the tough end of the tomatoes). If you used strain tomatoes, add some water to the jar and shake to get out the last bits of tomatoes. Add to the sauce and stir. If you used canned tomatoes, fill the can 1/2 way with some water and add to the sauce.
- Simmer the sauce: Stir the sauce together and add in a bay leaf. Salt and pepper the sauce and check the flavoring. On medium-high, bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Let the sauce come to a simmer. Check on the sauce and stir occasionally to make sure lentils don’t stick to the bottom. Once it starts to simmer, lower and keep an eye on it. Keep stirring let it simmer for about 30-45 minutes. The sauce may thicken more as it's cooking. Add a little more water and stir.
- The longer the sauce simmers, the richer and more robust the flavor. It has more time to all meld together and develop into the most delicious sauce. Check the sauce flavorings and season with more salt and pepper, if needed, to your taste.
- Cook the pasta: When it's towards the end of simmering, bring a large pot salted water to a boil. Cook up the pasta according to the directions on the box. Keep in mind, you will be straining it a minute before it’s al dente. *You could also serve with polenta. Even grilled pieces of polenta would go great with this sauce.
- Finish off the sauce with the pasta: Add some of the sauce to a large skillet or saute’ pan and have it on medium-high heat. You'll be spooning out the portion you'll need to serve. Figure about a 1/2 cup per serving (depending on how much sauce you like with your pasta).
- When pasta is ready, drain (reserve about 1/2 cup pasta water). Add the pasta to the skillet with the sauce and use tongs or a spoon to combine the pasta in the sauce.
- Add some of the reserved pasta water or a bit more sauce (depends on how much pasta you cooked up. Keep in mind a serving is about 2 ounces (56 g) of dry pasta per person).
- Stir together with the pan on medium-high heat (be sure not to keep it longer than 2 minutes, so the pasta won’t get over cooked and mushy).
- Check the seasoning: If needed, add more salt, if needed, and freshly ground pepper.
- Serve the pasta and sauce: Add the pasta to a serving bowl or platter. Drizzle on some really good extra-virgin olive oil.
- Sprinkle on some vegan parmesan, chopped Italian parsley (or fresh basil) and red pepper flakes (if you’re using). Enjoy!
Please keep in mind that the nutritional information presented below is an approximation and may vary depending on the exact ingredients used.