Our lentil bolognese is an Italian classic with an ultra-rich and hearty sauce, perfect with pasta, lasagna, or zucchini noodles.
It's a recipe, with plenty of flavor and texture. Yet, this is a simple everyday meal, perfect for prepping in advance and storing for those busy mid-week dinners.
What to expect
Lentil bolognese is the vegetarian version of a classic Italian sauce, ragù alla Bolognese.
Our Lentil bolognese replaces meat with green or brown lentils.
We try, however, to stay as close as possible to the original recipe, cooking with simple everyday ingredients.
Like the original, our lentil bolognese is perfect with pasta - especially tagliatelle - with lasagna, and also with gnocchi or spaghetti squash noodles.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Olive oil: used to cook the soffrito, which is a flavor base with carrot, onion, and celery. If you want you can make this recipe without oil.
- Onion, celery, and carrot: to build the flavor base of this dish. I'd recommend using all.
- Rosemary: our herb of choice. You can also add a bay leaf for a richer, more aromatic flavor.
- Mushrooms: 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.
- Lentils: we use either brown or green lentils. Lentils are a great meat replacement for this sauce. If you feel like trying other varieties of bolognese, our tempeh bolognese and mushroom bolognese are good alternatives.
- Wine: dry white wine, and sometimes red wine, is used in the original bolognese recipe to provide flavor and acidity. Here we prefer to use red wine for a richer flavor, but white wine works too. If you prefer not to cook with wine, just use vegetable stock.
- Tomato puree or passata: the one that comes in a glass bottle.
- Tomato paste: optional, we skip it in this version, but you can add 1 tablespoon for a stronger tomato flavor.
- Vegetable stock + water: you can make the vegetable stock yourself, or you can get one of those pre-made cartons. Either way is fine.
- Milk: (optional but recommended) milk is added to the original recipe to help break down the fibers of the meat and to add a touch of sweetness to the sauce.
- Here we use 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: (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 a touch of salt, sweetness, and savory (that irresistible umami flavor) to the final dish that brings this recipe to the next level, and simply put, makes it a lot tastier.
- Salt and pepper.
Start with the flavor base
Put a large pot or large skillet to medium heat, and warm up olive oil, then add finely chopped celery, carrot, and onion.
We can chop the vegetables with a knife or blend them for a few seconds in a food processor.
Fry gently for 5 minutes till the vegetables are soft and shiny.
If you like, you can also make this flavor base without oil. Sometimes we like to do that if we want to keep our meal a little lighter.
To make the soffritto without oil, 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.
Add herbs and mushrooms
When the onion is soft and starts to brown, add a sprig of rosemary and optionally a bay leaf.
Now clean 8 ounces or 250 grams of white mushrooms with a kitchen cloth to scrap the soil.
Then grate the mushrooms with the large holes of a box grater and add them to the pan.
Tip: I would not recommend rinsing mushrooms with water, unless really necessary. The mushrooms will absorb the water which will come out during cooking and dilute their flavor.
Grated this way the mushrooms will dissolve in the sauce, giving it a rich flavor and somewhat meaty texture.
Sauté the mushrooms with the other vegetables. You’ll see that they start releasing some of their water.
Then when the pan is hot and dry, add ⅓ cup or 80 grams of dry white wine, or red wine - use vegetable stock if you prefer not to cook with wine.
Tip: You can of course grate the mushrooms and chop the vegetables beforehand if you want to have everything ready before you start cooking.
Let the mushrooms cook in the wine for a few minutes, and in the meantime prepare 1 cup or 220 grams of lentils.
For this bolognese sauce, I’d recommend green or brown lentils, I’m using green lentils here.
Put the lentils into a strainer, then have a quick look for small stones that could be hidden with the lentils, then rinse them under running water.
Add the lentil to the pan with the mushrooms and stir.
Tip: The reason we rinse the lentils is to make sure there are no foreign objects such as stones, soil, and dust that could end up in your sauce.
When the wine has evaporated completely, add 4 cups or 1 liter of vegetable stock, one bottle of tomato passata or crushed tomatoes, that’s 24.5 ounces or 700 grams, a teaspoon of salt, and a few twists of black pepper.
Stir the passata, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook the lentils until they are soft.
Lentils' cooking time varies depending on the type of lentil, but for green and brown lentils it should be between 30 and 45 minutes.
Stir the lentils occasionally while they simmer, to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan, then if necessary add another 1 to 2 cups of water.
Again, this really depends on their cooking time, if the lentils need more time, they’ll also need more water.
Then when the lentils are cooked al dente, add ⅓ cup or 80 grams of unsweetened plant milk. We use soy milk or almond milk.
Milk is actually added to the original Italian recipe of Bolognese sauce to help break down the fibers of the meat used in the recipe and to add a touch of sweetness to the sauce.
Here we use unsweetened soy milk to balance the acidity of the tomato sauce and recreate that touch of sweetness of the original bolognese recipe.
Stir in the milk, cook for a few more minutes, remove the bay leaves and the rosemary, then take an immersion blender and blend some of the lentils.
Blending some of the lentils will make the sauce thicker, creamier, and more similar in texture to the original bolognese.
So give it a little blend, without overdoing it or you’ll end up with lentil hummus.
Give it another stir, and now it’s time to taste the sauce. What we are looking for is a thick, creamy, earthy sauce, with a full, almost meaty flavor. You will probably need to adjust for salt at this point.
Also, if you want to give an umami boost to this vegan bolognese recipe, you might want to add ⅓ cup or 80 grams of soy sauce.
This is optional, but we have tested this recipe several times with and without soy sauce, and there is a clear difference in taste.
Cook the bolognese for a few more minutes, stir, and you are done.
Soy sauce adds a touch of salt, sweetness, and savory (that irresistible umami flavor) to the final dish that brings this recipe to the next level, and simply put, makes it a lot tastier.
This lentil bolognese is the perfect recipe to make ahead of time as its flavor actually improves with time. So the next day the sauce will be richer, creamier, and more flavorful.
We always make a big batch, often doubling the recipe, and store half of it in the refrigerator and half of it in the freezer.
- Serve with pasta, preferably tagliatelle pasta, and make it a complete meal. You can easily replace the tagliatelle with gluten-free pasta. Boil the pasta as advised on the package. Toss in the pasta, cooked al dente, and finish cooking in the sauce, till the tagliatelle is fully coated. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley or leaves of fresh basil. It's one of our favorite dinners on Sunday nights!
- Make lasagna. You can use our vegan white sauce and vegan ricotta, and buy the lasagna noodles in your local supermarket.
- Increase your veggie intake and serve the lentil bolognese with a side of healthy greens. Our favorites are fennel and orange salad, steamed artichokes, tomato and cucumber salad, and even shaved brussels sprout salad or crispy baked kale. You hardly realize you're eating greens when they're paired with a luxurious bolognese sauce 🙂
If you love lentils and legumes as much as we do, take a look at these wholesome recipes:
- Lentil soup
- Lentil curry
- One-pot chickpea stew
- Italian bean stew
- Tuscan bean soup
- Vegan creamy pasta
- Tempeh bolognese
- Vegan carbonara
What is your favorite way of cooking with lentils? We'd love to hear, let us know in the comments.
Why is it called bolognese?
Bolognese simply means Bologna-Style. Bologna is a beautiful and vibrant city in Italy with some of the oldest and richest culinary traditions in the country.
Walking through the small alleyways of the old town, you can clearly 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.
Store the leftover sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or freeze it for up to 3 months.
You can thaw the sauce in the refrigerator overnight, or directly on a pan with a dash of water.
- 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 (optional)
- 24.5 ounces (one glass bottle) tomato passata or tomato puree
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 2 cups water (optional - depending on your lentils cooking time)
- ⅓ cup unsweetened plant-milk (soy, almond, or oat milk)
- ⅓ cup soy sauce (optional for a flavour boost)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
Prepare the ingredients
- Finely chop onion, celery, and carrot. Grate the mushrooms with the large holes of a box grater. Rinse the lentils under running water and check if they hide small stones.
Make the lentil bolognese
- To a large pan or in a pot add olive oil, onion, celery and carrot. Gently fry for 5 minutes.
- For the oil-free version: to a pot add the onion and stir continuously on low heat for 3 minutes. Add celery and carrot and stir for another 2 minutes.
- Add a sprig of rosemary and a bay leaf, then add grated mushrooms. Stir, then when the pan is hot and dry, add the wine.
- When the wine has evaporated completely add lentils, vegetable stock, tomato passata, salt, and pepper.
- Let simmer gently for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on your lentils. Stir occasionally. When almost cooked, add unsweetened plant milk, stir, and blend some of the lentils with an immersion blender.
- Taste, adjust for salt, and if you like a richer lentil bolognese, add the soy sauce. Finish cooking for a few more minutes before serving.
Serving suggestion with egg-free tagliatelle
- Put some sauce in a pan, toss in the pasta cooked al dente, add a ladle of pasta cooking water and finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, till the tagliatelle are fully coated in it. Arrange on a plate, add some sauce on top, a couple of leaves of basil, and a drizzle of olive oil, and enjoy.
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