Our lentil bolognese recipe is inspired by Italian bolognese sauce. It's a flavorful and hearty sauce, perfect with pasta, gnocchi, or lasagna.
Our recipe is simple; it has a rich taste and meaty texture. You can make it for an everyday dinner or meal prep, as it keeps in the fridge for several days.
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Lentil bolognese is the meat-free version of a classic Italian sauce, ragù alla Bolognese.
We substitute green or brown lentils for ground beef and pork in this recipe.
Lentils are an excellent ground meat replacement because they have a rich earthy taste, keep their texture, and are rich in minerals and healthy plant protein.
Our aim with this sauce is to stay as close as possible to the original Italian recipe and cook it with simple everyday ingredients.
Like the original, our lentil bolognese is perfect with pasta - especially tagliatelle, pappardelle, rigatoni, spaghetti, penne, and fettuccine, - with lasagna or with homemade gnocchi.
It's also perfect for adding flavor and nutrition to zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash. Let's see how to make it!
We use extra virgin olive oil to make the flavor base of this recipe. You can substitute the olive oil with three tablespoons of water if you want to make this recipe oil-free.
Onion, celery, and carrot
Finely chopped onion, celery, and carrot are essential to add flavor to the sauce. We fry them gently in a bit of extra virgin olive oil.
We recommend chopping these veggies by hand with a chef's knife, although it takes a little longer. Alternatively, you can blitz them up with a food processor.
We use fresh rosemary and bay leaves to add that classic bolognese aroma to our sauce.
Use white or brown mushrooms grated with the large holes of a box grater. Mushrooms add flavor and texture. They make the sauce meatier and richer.
We use dry brown or green lentils. Lentils are a great meat replacement for this sauce for flavor, nutrition, and texture.
Dry white wine, sometimes red wine, is used in the original bolognese recipe to provide flavor and acidity.
If you prefer not to cook with wine, use vegetable stock.
We like to use Italian tomato passata, which comes in a glass bottle. But any other good-quality tomato puree or canned crushed tomatoes work well here.
Optionally, add a tablespoon of tomato paste to make the sauce richer.
We use vegetable stock for cooking the lentils. You can make the broth yourself or use a store-bought one.
Milk is optional but recommended. They add it to the original Italian bolognese recipe to help break down the meat's fibers and add a sweetness to the sauce.
We like to add unsweetened soy milk or unsweetened almond milk to balance the acidity of the tomato sauce and recreate that touch of sweetness of the original bolognese recipe.
Soy sauce is optional but recommended. We did several tests of this vegan bolognese with and without soy sauce, and there is a clear difference in taste.
Soy sauce adds saltiness, sweetness, and savory (that irresistible umami flavor) to the final dish, bringing this recipe to the next level and making it much tastier.
You can substitute balsamic vinegar for soy sauce.
Salt and pepper
We use sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. If you want to add heat, go for a pinch of red pepper flakes.
To make this recipe gluten-free make sure to serve it with gluten-free pasta, and use a soy sauce alternative such as gluten-free tamari sauce.
Step 1: Make the flavor base
Finely chop onion, celery, and carrot. You can chop the vegetables with a knife or blend them for a few seconds in a food processor.
Grate the mushrooms with the large wholes of a box grater.
Rinse the lentils and ensure no foreign objects such as stones, soil, or dirt.
Warm up the olive oil in a dutch oven or large pot, then gently fry onion, carrot, and celery for 5 minutes.
Tip: To keep the sauce lighter, you can skip the oil. In this case, add the chopped onion to a cold pan. Then put the pan on medium to low heat, and let it warm up slowly.
The onion contains natural oils that will come out when heated up. Move the onion around the pan, and let it cook for a couple of minutes.
Then add the chopped celery and the chopped carrot and keep stirring for two more minutes.
Add grated mushrooms, rosemary, and bay leaves.
Sauté on medium-high heat for 5 minutes; then, when the pan is dry, add the wine and let it evaporate completely.
Step 2: Add lentils
Add vegetable stock, tomato puree, lentils, salt, and pepper to the dutch oven.
Bring to a boil then simmer on medium heat until the lentils are ready. It'll take 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the lentils. Stir occasionally. Add more vegetable broth or water if necessary.
Note: at this point, the sauce should be somewhat thick and the lentils tender but still intact, with a slight bite.
Add milk and soy sauce, stir, then remove the rosemary sprig and bay leaves.
Step 3: Blend some sauce
Blend some of the sauce with an immersion blender to make the lentil bolognese thicker, creamier, and more similar in texture to the original bolognese.
Don't over-blend it, or it'll turn into lentil hummus.
Tip: blending some of the sauce makes it more appealing to kids and adults who don't want to eat lentils.
Simmer for a few more minutes, stir, taste, and adjust for salt. Your lentil bolognese is ready.
The best way to serve lentil bolognese is with tagliatelle; however, you can easily replace those with most other pasta types, such as rigatoni or spaghetti.
You can add a couple of ladlefuls of lentil bolognese on top of your favorite pasta and sprinkle with parsley or parmesan cheese.
Or, if you want to do it like the Italians, undercook the pasta by 2 minutes, drain it, and add it to a pan with a ladleful of reserved pasta cooking water and the lentil bolognese.
Toss gently until the sauce coats the pasta, and serve with fresh basil on top.
Serve with a side of veggies or salad. Our favorites side dishes for lentil bolognese are:
This lentil bolognese is the perfect recipe to make ahead of time, as its flavor improves as it sits in the fridge.
You can make it up to 4 days in advance and store it in an airtight container, ready to be spooned onto your everyday meals.
You can also make a big batch, doubling the recipe, and store half of it in the refrigerator and half in the freezer.
Store lentil bolognese in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 - 5 days. Reheat in the microwave or a saucepan with a dash of water.
To freeze, let it cool down completely at room temperature first, then transfer it to a freezer-friendly container and freeze for up to 6 months.
Thaw in the refrigerator over a few hours or in the microwave with the thawing function. Do not freeze multiple times.
Why is it called bolognese?
Bolognese means Bologna-Style. Bologna is a beautiful and vibrant city in Italy with some of the country's oldest and richest culinary traditions.
Walking through the small alleyways of the old town, you can smell the food coming from hundreds of local shops selling from fresh homemade pasta to all kinds of local cured meats.
Think mortadella (bologna in English), lasagna, tortellini, many types of cured meats, tigelle, parmigiano reggiano, and many other dishes. They all come from Bologna and the surrounding region of Emilia Romagna.
And Ragù alla bolognese is one of the most well-known dishes made in Bologna.
Looking for more Italian-inspired sauces and pasta ideas? Check out our:
- Mushroom Bolognese
- Tempeh Bolognese
- Tofu Bolognese
- Marinara sauce
- Pasta with arrabbiata sauce
- Vegan mushroom pasta
- Roasted red pepper sauce pasta
- Vegan basil pesto
More lentil recipes
Looking for more lentil recipes? Check out the lentil favorites of our readers:
- Immersion blender
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
- 1 medium onion
- 1 stalk celery
- 1 large carrot
- 1 sprig rosemary + 1 bay leaf optional
- 8 ounces white mushrooms
- 1 cup green lentils or brown lentils
- ⅓ cup wine dry white or red
- 24.5 ounces (one glass bottle) tomato passata or tomato puree
- 4 - 5 cups vegetable stock
- ⅓ cup milk we used unsweetened soy milk
- ⅓ cup soy sauce we used reduced sodium soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
MAKE THE FLAVOR BASE
- Finely chop onion, celery, and carrot. You can chop the vegetables with a knife or blend them for a few seconds in a food processor.Grate the mushrooms with the large wholes of a box grater.Rinse the lentils and ensure no foreign objects such as stones, soil, or dirt.
- Warm up the olive oil in a dutch oven or large skillet, then gently fry onion, carrot, and celery for 5 minutes.
- Add grated mushrooms, rosemary, and bay leaves.Sauté on medium-high heat for 5 minutes; then, when the pan is dry, add the wine and let it evaporate completely.
- Add vegetable stock, tomato puree, lentils, salt, and pepper to the dutch oven.
- Simmer until the lentils are ready. It'll take 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the lentils. Stir occasionally. Add more vegetable broth or water if necessary.
- Add milk and soy sauce, stir, then remove the rosemary sprig and bay leaves.
BLEND SOME SAUCE
- Blend some of the sauce with an immersion blender to make the lentil bolognese thicker, creamier, and more similar in texture to the original bolognese.Don't over-blend it, or it'll turn into lentil hummus.
- Simmer for a few more minutes, stir, taste, and adjust for salt. Your lentil bolognese is ready.
- You can add a couple of ladlefuls of lentil bolognese on top of your favorite pasta.
- Or, if you want to do it like the Italians, undercook the pasta by 2 minutes, drain it, and add it to a pan with a ladleful of reserved pasta cooking water and the lentil bolognese.Toss gently until the sauce coats the pasta, and serve with fresh basil on top.
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