Tempeh bolognese is an earthy, rich, and flavorful sauce that you can make in just about 20 minutes. I am not a big fan of tempeh, but it’s a flavor-packed plant-based protein when cooked this way.
This easy tempeh recipe is perfect with spaghetti, gnocchi, lasagna, and polenta. It’s a family favorite bolognese version, with loads of nutrition and umami.
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What is tempeh?
Tempeh, or tempe, is a traditional Indonesian, more precisely, Javanese food made with whole, fermented soybeans.
It’s very popular across Southeast Asia, where it has been used for centuries as a staple source of protein.
The main difference between tempeh and tofu is that tempeh is made with whole soybeans that are fermented.
This results in higher protein content, more dietary fiber, more vitamins. Tempeh is basically a vegan superfood in my opinion.
It also reminds me of aged cheese a lot. It has a firm texture and an intense flavor that gets stronger and more pungent as it ages.
And that is the main problem with tempeh, at least for western palates. Its flavor is quite strong, especially if you are not used to it.
I personally never really enjoyed tempeh, at least until I learned how to cook it to please my Italian taste buds.
So, if like me you are not a big fan of tempeh, give this recipe a chance. It’s really a worthy vegan bolognese sauce and a great recipe for vegan beginners too!
And I promise: you won’t taste the tempeh much! It’s just gonna be a rich, meaty, healthy, delicious sauce.
What is tempeh bolognese?
Tempeh bolognese is a tomato-based ragu that is perfect to replace the original meat-based bolognese sauce.
It’s easy to make, we fry it in a pan with some onions, carrots, celery, and tomato passata, to make an earthy meat replacement in our vegan bolognese sauce.
It’s a crowd-pleasing vegan pasta recipe, perfect with spaghetti, in lasagna, with homemade gnocchi, and even with nachos, as a dip.
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Tempeh: we use it as our meat replacement for this vegan bolognese
- Tomato passata: we use a smooth one, from a bottle.
- Onion, carrot, celery: the building blocks to make a tasty sauce. Try to put all of them, as they have loads of flavor.
- Olive Oil: to get everything started and build a flavor base.
- Red wine: it adds acidity, which gives the sauce a flavor boost. You could replace it with vegetable stock.
- Soy sauce: for saltiness and umami. It really works well to enhance both the tomato and the tempeh. You can replace it with tamari for gluten-free.
- Salt and pepper
- Basil: this is optional, but I always add some fresh basil leaves once the sauce is cooked.
Start this sauce with a “soffritto” to build a strong flavor base. That is, finely chop onion, celery, and carrot and add them to a pan with olive oil.
I like to use a food processor to do that.
Fry them gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, till they get soft. This step really helps boost the flavor of the sauce.
Now add the tempeh. Crumble it with your hands while you add it to the pan. Then stir, and let it fry for a minute or two with the vegetables.
When the pan is hot, add the red wine. Careful as it will splash a bit. Stir with a wooden spoon and let the wine evaporate. The acidity of the wine adds a great amount of flavor.
When the wine is gone, add the tomato passata, the soy sauce, two pinches of salt, and some pepper.
Stir and let simmer on medium to low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes, taste, and adjust for salt if necessary.
Then turn off the heat and add some fresh basil if you like, although this is optional.
- Make the soffritto: starting this sauce with chopped onion, celery, and carrot and frying it in oil for a few minutes makes all the difference. This technique is used all the time in Italian cooking.
- Soy sauce for a boost: since there is no meat, we need something that salty, umami flavor to the bolognese. And that’s the soy sauce.
- Don’t add water: or at least try not to. With this sauce, we are trying to recreate a rich, intense, meaty flavor. If you add water (for instance to rinse the passata bottle) you’ll need more time to cook the sauce.
If you enjoy vegan bolognese and rich tomato sauce, check out our favorite variations here:
- Mushroom bolognese: This variation of vegan bolognese is a rich and tasty mushroom-based sauce that goes perfectly with spaghetti, tagliatelle, on top of polenta, or in vegan lasagna.
- Lentil bolognese: pairs well with any pasta type. We even use this sauce to put on top of tacos, inside tortilla wraps, or as a topping on roasted veggies.
- Tofu bolognese: rich, earthy, and satiating. Our tofu pasta is an easy dinner and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.
- Tofu meatballs: technically not bolognese, but it’s a worthy variation with its umami-packed marinara sauce.
- Tofu in pizzaiola sauce: a perfect lazy vegan meal as its ready in 12 minutes and made with staple ingredients
- Tomato basil pasta: if you love tomato sauce, start here. This basil pomodoro sauce is perfect for vegan beginners who want an aromatic and satiating meal.
What is your favorite version of vegan bolognese? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!
For many more pasta ideas, check out our pasta category page.
- 24 ounces tomato passata or canned tomatoes
- 3 ounces tempeh
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk celery
- ½ cup red wine
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ teaspoon pepper
- Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery. You can use a food processor to speed things up.To a pan, add 2 tbsp of olive oil, then on low heat, fry the chopped onion, celery and carrot till soft.
- Now add the tempeh, crumbling it with your hands. Fry it with the veggies for about 1 minute.
- Add the red wine. If you prefer, you can replace the wine with vegetable stock.
- When the wine has completely evaporated, add the tomato passata, salt, pepper, soy sauce and let simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- You should have a thick and rich tomato sauce to use on pasta, gnocchi, lasagne, and other preparations. Finish with some fresh basil if you like.