Lentil bolognese has a bold taste and beautiful rich texture; it’s packed with flavor and umami, and it’s hearty, nutritious, and satisfying.

It’s an excellent recipe for those trying to incorporate more plant-based protein and fiber into their diet, and it’s delicious with pasta, grains, gnocchi, and lasagna.

Lentil bolognese with a fork

Dietary Note: this recipe is suitable for a vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diet.

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What is lentil bolognese?

lentil bolognese in a dutch oven

Lentil bolognese is the meat-free version of a classic Italian sauce, ragù alla Bolognese.

Lentils are an excellent ground meat replacement because they have a rich earthy taste, keep their texture, and are rich in minerals, iron, and plant protein.

Want to learn more about how to use them? Check out our guide on how to cook lentils; with 23+ delicious recipes.

They are whole food, healthier, and more affordable than ultra-processed meat replacement and fake meats.

Here, we try to stay close to the original Italian recipe and cook 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!

Lentil bolognese video

Ingredients & Substitutions

Lentil bolognese ingredients

Quantities are in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.

Olive oil

We use extra virgin olive oil to make the flavor base.

Extra virgin olive oil is commonly used for cooking in Italy. It’s a superior quality oil that handles heat beautifully thanks to its high amount of polyphenols (antioxidants) that keep it stable at high and prolonged cooking temperatures.

Substitute regular olive oil for extra virgin.

Onion, celery, and carrot

Chopped onion, celery, and carrot add flavor to this bolognese sauce. We gently fry them in extra virgin olive oil to enhance their flavor.

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.

Rosemary

Use fresh rosemary and bay leaves to add that classic bolognese aroma to the sauce.

There’s no dried oregano or other herbs in Bolognese.

Mushrooms

Use white, brown mushrooms, or portobello mushrooms grated with the large holes of a box grater.

Mushrooms add flavor, juiciness, and texture. They also make the sauce meatier and richer.

Lentils

We use dry brown or green lentils. Lentils are a great meat replacement for flavor, nutrition, and texture for this sauce.

If you feel like trying other varieties of vegan Bolognese, our tempeh bolognese, mushroom bolognese, and tofu bolognese are good alternatives.

We don’t recommend red lentils for this recipe, especially if they are hulled or split.

Wine

Dry white wine, sometimes red wine, is used in the original bolognese recipe to provide flavor and acidity.

Substitute vegetable stock or water for wine.

Tomato puree

We recommend Italian tomato puree or passata 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.

Vegetable stock

We use vegetable stock for cooking the lentils. You can make the broth yourself or use a store-bought one.

Milk

Milk is optional. It’s added to the original Italian bolognese recipe to help break down the meat’s fibers and add 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

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, serve it with gluten-free pasta and use a soy sauce alternative such as gluten-free tamari sauce.

Lentil Bolognese with a silver fork

How to make lentil bolognese

US cups + grams measurements in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.

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 holes of a box grater.

Rinse the lentils and ensure there are no foreign objects such as stones, soil, or dirt.

prepped vegetables

Warm up the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pot, then gently fry onion, carrot, and celery for 5 minutes. This is the soffritto, or flavor base.

onion, celery, and carrot in dutch oven

Add grated mushrooms, rosemary, and bay leaves.

Sauté on medium-high heat for 5 minutes; when the pan is dry, add the wine and let it evaporate completely.

grated mushrooms in the pan

Add lentils

Add vegetable stock, tomato puree, rinsed lentils, salt, and pepper to the Dutch oven.

broth, lentils, and tomato puree

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.

lentil bolognese is almost ready

Add milk and soy sauce, stir, then remove the rosemary sprig and bay leaves.

soy sauce and milk added to the bolognese

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.

blend some lentil bolognese with immersion blender

Simmer for a few more minutes, stir, taste, and adjust for salt. Your lentil bolognese is ready.

lentil bolognese in a dutch oven

Serving suggestions

The best way to serve lentil Bolognese is with tagliatelle or fettuccine; 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-grated parmesan or vegan parmesan cheese.

spaghetti with lentil bolognese

Or, if you want to do it like the Italians, undercook the pasta for 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.

Lentil Bolognese on a white plate with a fork

You can also use lentil bolognese to make lasagna or as a sauce for homemade gnocchi or sweet potato gnocchi.

Serve with a side of veggies or salad. Our favorite side dishes for lentil bolognese are:

Storage

lentil bolognese stored in a glass container

Make ahead: This lentil bolognese is the perfect recipe to make ahead of time, as its flavor improves as the sauce sits in the fridge.

Refrigerator: You can make it up to 5 days in advance and store it in an airtight container in the fridge, ready to be spooned onto your everyday meals.

Freezer: You can also make a big batch, doubling the recipe, and store half of it in the refrigerator and half in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let it cool down completely before freezing.

Thaw in the refrigerator over a few hours or in the microwave with the thawing function. Do not freeze multiple times.

Questions

Do Italians use spaghetti for Bolognese?

Spaghetti is never used with bolognese in Italy. It’s one of those strict rules Italians have about food, like no cappuccino after 12:00, no cream in carbonara, and so on.

Ragù alla Bolognese is served with egg-based pasta types, like tagliatelle and fettuccine, which also originated in Bologna. It’s also popular in Lasagna and sometimes served with gnocchi.

Can I use canned lentils for lentil bolognese?

You can use canned lentils; however, canned lentils are softer and don’t keep their texture as dry ones.

If you use canned lentils, you won’t need to add as much vegetable broth (use only half a cup of broth) and simmer for a shorter time (about 10 to 15 minutes).

Why is it called Bolognese?

Bologna city skyline
A view of the city of Bologna in Italy.

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 from hundreds of local shops selling 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.

Ragù alla bolognese is one of the most well-known dishes made in Bologna.

More pasta sauces

More lentil recipes

Lentil Bolognese on a plate

Lentil Bolognese

By: Nico Pallotta
5 from 47 votes
Our lentil bolognese has a bold taste and meaty texture; it's packed with flavor and umami, and it's hearty, nutritious, and satisfying.
It's an excellent recipe for those trying to incorporate more plant-based protein and fiber into their diet, and it's delicious with pasta, grains, gnocchi, and lasagna.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 8 servings
Course: Main, Sauce
Cuisine: American Italian

Equipment

  • Immersion blender (optional)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 1 rib celery chopped
  • 1 large carrot chopped
  • 1 sprig rosemary + 1 bay leaf optional
  • 8 ounces mushrooms grated with large holes of a box grater
  • cup dry white wine or vegetable broth
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 24 ounces (one glass bottle) tomato puree or passata
  • 1 cup dry lentils green or brown
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 twists black pepper
  • cup milk we use unsweetened soy milk
  • ¼ cup soy sauce reduced sodium

Instructions 

  • Fry 1 medium onion, 1 rib celery, and 1 large carrot (all chopped) in 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for 5 minutes.
    onion, celery, and carrot in dutch oven
  • Add 1 sprig rosemary, 1 bay leaf, and 8 ounces mushrooms grated with the large holes of a box grater.
    Cook on medium-high heat for 5 minutes until the pan is dry.
    Add ⅓ cup dry white wine and let it evaporate completely.
    grated mushrooms in the pan
  • Add 4 cups vegetable stock, 24 ounces (one glass bottle) tomato puree, 1 cup dry lentils, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 twists black pepper.
    Simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes or until the lentils are cooked and the sauce is thick.
    Tip: rinse the lentils to ensure there are no stones.
    lentil bolognese is almost ready
  • Stir in ⅓ cup milk and ¼ cup soy sauce. Remove herbs then blend some sauce with an immersion blender.
    lentil bolognese in a dutch oven
  • Taste and adjust for salt and serve with your favorite pasta.
    Lentil Bolognese on a white plate with a fork

Video

Lentil Bolognese ("meaty" dinner idea)

Notes

Nutrition information is an estimate for one serving of lentil bolognese out of eight servings.
STORAGE
Make ahead: This lentil bolognese is the perfect recipe to make ahead of time, as its flavor improves as the sauce sits in the fridge.
Refrigerator: You can make it up to 5 days in advance and store it in an airtight container in the fridge, ready to be spooned onto your everyday meals.
Freezer: You can also make a big batch, doubling the recipe, and store half of it in the refrigerator and half in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let it cool down completely before freezing.
Thaw: In the refrigerator over a few hours or in the microwave with the thawing function. Do not freeze multiple times.
ALSO ON THIS PAGE

Nutrition

Calories: 192kcal, Carbohydrates: 29g, Protein: 10g, Fat: 4g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 3g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Potassium: 832mg, Dietary Fiber: 10g, Sugar: 8g, Vitamin A: 2252IU, Vitamin B6: 0.3mg, Vitamin C: 13mg, Vitamin E: 2mg, Vitamin K: 9µg, Calcium: 57mg, Folate: 145µg, Iron: 4mg, Manganese: 1mg, Magnesium: 66mg, Zinc: 2mg
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Nico and Louise in the kitchen

Hi! We are Nico & Louise

Welcome to The Plant-Based School, a food blog with easy, tasty, and wholesome recipes.

Our aim is to help you and your family eat more veggies through delicious recipes with simple ingredients.

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Recipe Rating




32 Comments

    1. Fantastic, Carolina 🎉 I’m very happy you enjoyed the bolognese!
      Thank you for your comment here!! BEst, Louise

  1. 5 stars
    Delicious! Always looking for new lentil recipes because of iron and protein content for my low-ion running daughter. Terrifically savory and satisfyingly hearty recipe! Thanks!

    1. That’s wonderful, Kate – I’m very happy you and your daughter enjoyed this meal.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment here ❤️ Kindest, Louise

    1. Hi Peggy,

      Not at all silly! Milk is optional. It’s added to the original Italian bolognese recipe to help break down the meat’s fibers and add 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 🙂

      I hope this helps! Kindest,

      Louise

  2. Looking forward trying this recipe! What opinion do you have on Beluga lentils? Do you think that it could be a good replacement for the green/brown lentils?

    1. Hi Michael,

      We love beluga lentils. We just found a local farmer that grows them organically, got excited, and we wrote a guide on how to cook black lentils.

      Anyhow, yes, I think they would be perfect in lentil bolognese.

      I hope this helps 🙂
      Nico

  3. Really enjoyed this. Chucked everything in the blender so quick and easy to make. Much prefer the lentils to faux mince. Only change I made was to add cayenne pepper which isn’t very authentic but just my personal preference. Thanks for sharing this recipe. This will be a staple for me now

  4. 5 stars
    Omg!!!! My entire family gobbled this down! Even my husband, the meat eater, asked me to make it again!!

    I doubled and froze some. Love your recipes but this one is 5 stars!

    1. That’s fantastic, Lynn – I’m delighted to hear that your husband liked it too!

      Thank you for leaving a comment here, and have a wonderful rest of your week.

      Kindest,
      Louise