This vegan bolognese is a rich and tasty mushroom-based sauce that goes perfectly with spaghetti, tagliatelle, on top of polenta, or with a vegan lasagna.
But it's also great for any other pasta types. We even use this sauce to put on top of tacos, inside tortilla wraps, or as a topping for roasted veggies.
What is vegan bolognese?
Ragù Bolognese is a traditional Italian ragout, popular around the Bologna area, made with mixed minced meat. It is traditionally served with fresh pasta (tagliatelle al ragù), but is also used to season other types of pasta such as baked lasagna, gnocchi, and polenta.
Vegan bolognese, as the name suggests, doesn't contain meat. Instead, we rely on other ingredients, such as soy sauce and miso paste, to give a rich meaty flavour to the sauce.
To replace the actual meat, there are many alternatives. Here we make a mushroom-based ragu. We just love it so much! Mushrooms make such a thick and rich sauce.
For a texture with more bite, you can replace the mushrooms with red lentils, textured vegetable protein (sometimes called TVP or soy granules) or with crumbled tempeh.
But regardless of the "meat-replacement" you use, if you follow this recipe, you'll be amazed by the result! You'll get a thick, rich and meaty vegan ragu that everyone will love, including the most die-hard meat eaters.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Mushrooms: we use brown champignon mushrooms. You can also use white champignon mushrooms.
You can replace mushrooms with red lentils, textured vegetable protein (TVP), or for an even meatier flavour, with crumbled tempeh.
- Onion, celery, and carrot: used as flavour base for the sauce. In Italy we call this soffritto. It's basically just finely chopped, or quickly blended onion, celery and carrot, gently fried in olive oil or vegan butter.
- Olive oil or vegan butter: to fry the onion, celery and carrot. If you are following an oil-free diet, you can replace the oil with water.
- Red wine: to add acidity and to add that touch of Italian-nes to the sauce. Most meat sauces in Italy are deglazed with wine, so we like to replicate this flavour in our vegan sauce.
If you are a strict vegan, note that some wines are not fully vegan. If you don't want to use wine, you can just leave it out.
- Tomato: we use bottled or canned tomato passata and tomato paste in a tube (sometimes called tomato concentrate). The tomato paste adds umami to the sauce and makes it richer.
- Flavour enhancers (to add a meaty, salty, rich flavour): we use soy sauce, miso paste, nutritional yeast, powdered vegetable bouillon, bay leaves, parsley, salt and pepper.
If you don't have all, then we recommend using soy sauce and powdered vegetable bouillon.
- Soy or almond milk: must be unsweetened. In the original Italian recipe for bolognese, milk is added to reduce the acidity of the tomato and to add creaminess. Unsweetened soy or almond milk are perfect for that.
How to make vegan bolognese
Finely chop carrot, onion and celery. Then in a pot (or in a pan with tall edges) gently fry them in olive oil until soft, for about 10 minutes.
In the meantime, chop the mushrooms in small dice, then add them to the pan with the vegetables and cook until the water of the mushrooms has evaporated.
When the pan is dry and hot, add the red wine and stir.
Let the wine evaporate completely, then add tomato paste, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, miso paste, vegetable bouillon powder, bay leaves, tomato passata, and a glass of water to rinse the passata bottle.
Cover with a lid, and let simmer on low-medium heat for about 1 hour, or until you reach your desired thickness. Bolognese is quite a thick sauce, not watery at all.
Then, towards the end, add the unsweetened soy or almond milk. Also, taste and adjust for salt and pepper. At this point you can also add the finely chopped parsley.
Use it for your favourite pasta dish, or lasagne, like we did here. Turn the heat off and let cool down completely, in the pot, before storing it in the refrigerator, in an air tight container.
- Flavour base: starting this recipe with a soffritto (that is, gently frying carrot, celery and onion in oil or vegan butter) is the most important step to make sure your sauce has a full, rich flavour.
- Let the wine evaporate completely before you add other ingredients, or else your vegan bolognese will taste too much like it.
- Miso, nutritional yeast, and bay leaves really help building a "fake" meaty flavour, and add loads of umami to the sauce. However, you can still make a delicious mushroom bolognese with just some soy sauce instead.
- Change up your "meat": you can easily replace the mushrooms in this recipe with red lentils, TVP, crumbled tempeh, canned chickpeas, or one of the many fake meats available in your supermarket.
- Balance acidity: canned tomatoes tend to build up a lot of acidity that can ruin your sauce. To balance acidity of the tomatoes most people recommend adding sugar, but actually, in Italy traditionally milk is used. Unsweetened soy or almond milk are perfect for that.
Frequently asked questions
You can eat this vegan sauce with your favourite pasta type. Spaghetti or other types of long pastas are perfect for this sauce, but short pasta shapes work well too.
You can also use this mushroom ragu for a vegan lasagna, combined with our vegan white sauce.
Also, this sauce works perfectly on top of polenta, or with gnocchi. We even use it on tacos, in wraps, and on top of roasted vegetables.
Yes, you can prepare it in advance, and that's actually even better. Letting the sauce cool down and rest for a few hours will increase its flavour. You can prepare this sauce up to 3 days in advance.
Red lentils bolognese: replace the mushrooms in the recipe with 2 cups (400g) of red lentils and 2 to 3 cups of water, depending on how thick you like the sauce.
You just need to add the lentils, raw, to the other vegetables instead of the mushrooms. Then cook as instructed in the recipe. It'll take about 1 hour for the lentils to be ready. If you use red-split-lentils, then it'll be faster.
Tempeh bolognese: replace the mushrooms with about 14 oz (400g) of tempeh. Crumble the tempeh with your hands, then add it to the soffritto instead of the mushrooms, and keep cooking as instructed in the recipe.
Textured vegetable protein (TVP) bolognese: replace the mushrooms with about 3 to 4 cups (300 - 400 g) of TVP. Add the TVP to the soffritto and keep cooking the sauce as instructed in the recipe.
Chickpea bolognese: replace the mushrooms with about 2 cups (400 g) of rinsed canned chickpeas. Add the chickpeas to the soffritto and keep cooking the sauce as instructed in the recipe.
You can store vegan bolognese sauce for up to 3 days in the refrigerator, and in an air tight container.
Can I freeze vegan bolognese?
Yes, you can freeze it in freezer bags or in an air-tight container for up to three months. When you want to use it, just take it out of the freezer and warm it up in a pot with a dash of water, until fully warm. You can also reheat it in a microwave.
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 2 carrots
- 2 stalk celery
- 2 onions
- 1 kg (35 oz) mushrooms brown
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 L (35 oz) tomato passata
- 1 cup water
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 200 g (¾ cups) soy milk unsweetened
- salt and pepper
Optional but recommended ingredients
- ½ cup red wine optional
- ½ tbsp vegetable bouillon powder optional
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast optional
- ½ tbsp miso paste optional
- 3 bay leaves optional
- 1 handful parsley optional
- Finely chop carrot, onion and celery. Then in a pot (or in a pan with tall edges) gently fry them in olive oil until soft, for about 10 minutes.
- In the meantime, chop the mushrooms in small dice, then add them to the pan with the vegetables and cook until the water of the mushrooms has evaporated.
- When the pan is dry and hot, add the red wine and stir.
- Let the wine evaporate completely, then add tomato paste, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, miso paste, vegetable bouillon powder, bay leaves, tomato passata, and a glass of water to rinse the passata bottle.
- Cover with a lid, and let simmer on low-medium heat for about 1 hour.
- Then, towards the end, add the unsweetened soy or almond milk. Also, taste and adjust for salt and pepper. At this point you can also add the finely chopped parsley.
- Use it for your favourite pasta dish, or lasagne, like we did here. Turn the heat off and let cool down completely, in the pot, before storing it in the refrigerator, in an air tight container.
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