With a deeply rich and robust sauce, this plant-based Lentil Bolognese is every bit as delicious as a traditional bolognese. Family members will love it and guests will swoon!
I can’t think of anything more satisfying than a big pot of ragú bolognese. This plant-based bolognese skips the meat but it is just as rich, profoundly flavourful, and spectacularly delicious as a meaty bolognese.
Earthy lentils simmer in a sauce that’s starts with a traditional base of onion, carrots, and celery. The addition of mushrooms, garlic, nuts, tomatoes, red wine, and balsamic vinegar provide depth and complexity.
- Why You Will Love This Recipe
- Soffritto: The Secret To The Best Bolognese
- Ingredients And Notes
- Chopping The Vegetables by Hand Or With a Food Processor
- How To Make Lentil Bolognese
- Expert Tips
- How To Store And Reheat
- Lentil Bolognese Recipe
- More Ideas
When it’s chilly outside, this is the sort of dish I crave — hearty, substantial, yet good for you. Bonus that you might even have all the ingredients in your pantry/fridge to make it.
You can keep it simple and serve the bolognese over pasta but it is also lovely with polenta, spaghetti squash, sautéed zucchini, or even tucked into tortillas. If you’re looking for more delicious plant-based meals, try this!
Why You Will Love This Recipe
- Easy prep. If you use a food processor to chop the veggies, there is very little hands-on time involved to make this dish.
- Good for meal prep. Lentil bolognese is great dish to use for meals throughout the week and it also freezes beautifully.
- Budget-friendly and mostly pantry staples. Aside from a few of the veggies, and perhaps wine, many of the ingredients here are pantry/fridge staples. It also feeds a crowd which means you can stretch the budget considerably.
- Cozy, comforting and hearty. Even without the pasta, this lentil bolognese is stick-to-your-ribs satisfying and perfect for the colder months ahead.
- Healthy. The foundation of this vegan bolognese sauce is made with whole food ingredients like lentils, vegetables, and nuts which are loaded with fibre and protein. Use whole wheat pasta to make it even healthier or serve with gluten-free options spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles.
- A plant-based meal even meat lovers will love. Don’t think for a second this lentil bolognese meal is merely a sacrifice to eating less meat. The flavours are rich and the texture is wonderful. All the meat lovers I have served this to are pleasantly shocked and thrilled at how delicious it is.
Soffritto: The Secret To The Best Bolognese
Whether you are making a plant-based bolognese, or a meat bolognese, soffritto is the base magic to a great bolognese. The aromatic flavour base that is composed of finely diced onion, celery, carrot and sometimes garlic, is the building block of many Italian dishes. In Italian, this mix of vegetables is also called battuto.
Slowly sautéed in olive oil until soft and just starting to caramelize, the soffritto adds complexity and dimension to a bolognese sauce. Some argue garlic is never included in a traditional bolognese, but I find it to be a worthwhile addition. Particularly in a plant-based bolognese, I find it essential for more deep flavour.
Make sure you give the soffritto plenty of time to cook so the veggies soften and intensify in flavour. It is this crucial step that will reward you with an exquisitely flavourful sauce.
Ingredients And Notes
The ingredient list may seem long but keep in mind these are mostly pantry/fridge staples that you either already have on hand or are no trouble grabbing quickly from the store.
- Lentils – French lentils are perfect for this bolognese because they hold their shape and cook fairly quickly. See more on which lentils to use in FAQ’s below.
- Soffrito – Onions, carrots, celery and garlic make up the base of the soffritto for this lentil bolognese. Note that this recipe does not include sugar — the carrot adds all the sweetness you need.
- Mushrooms – Italian soffritos do not include mushrooms. In this plant-based bolognese, however, cremini mushrooms add substance and meatiness to the dish.
- Extra virgin olive oil – For sautéing the soffrito. We use quite a bit because there’s a lot of vegetables and because it adds great flavour to the sauce.
- Italian seasoning – I use a pre-made blend but you could just use dry thyme and/or oregano.
- Tomato paste – Adds body and richness to the sauce. We use quite a bit of tomato paste in this recipe so if possible, use tomato paste from a tube or glass jar. Italian brands are a little pricier, but worth it. Tinned tomato paste has an unpleasant after taste that lingers in the sauce. The Kitchn has a great article on this.
- Red wine – If at all possible, do not omit the red wine. It adds a lot of body and character to a bolognese sauce, particularly a plant-based bolognese. A dry red wine is ideal but a dry white wine will also work.
- Tomatoes – Bolognese sauces contain just a small amount of tomatoes so here we add just enough to make a nice sauce.
- Low-sodium vegetable stock – I like this brand of vegetable stock or you could use veggie bouillon with water. If not vegan or vegetarian, chicken broth is also great.
- Bay leaves – Optional, but I like the fragrance they lend to braises.
- Walnuts or pecans – Similar to mushrooms, nuts provide more heft and texture to this lentil bolognese. I typically use walnuts in a plant-based bolognese but pecans will also work. When photographing this recipe all I had was pecans and they were just as tasty and meaty as walnuts.
- Balsamic vinegar – Offering both sweetness and acidity and an almost umami flavour to the sauce, I find this to be a very essential ingredient so use the best quality you can afford.
- Pasta – Optional for serving. See FAQ’s below for suggestions on which pasta to use.
Love lentils? Give this curried red lentil soup recipe a try – warm, cozy, and delicious!
Chopping The Vegetables by Hand Or With a Food Processor
The vegetables in a traditional bolognese should always be finely (finely!) diced. This is so they have a chance to soften and melt into the sauce. A lentil bolognese will cook for significantly less time so it is even more important to chop the vegetables super small. Otherwise, the little chunks of vegetables and nuts will be crunchy and larger than the lentils which is not as texturally pleasing.
Unquestionably, there is a lot of chopping involved to make a good bolognese. This means it may not be the most weeknight friendly dish. That said, if you use a food processor to chop the veggies, you can have this dish made in about 1 hour.
You can absolutely use a sharp knife and go at it. But to save time and effort, let the food processor, or a mini chopper, do the work for you. Just make sure you don’t process them into a paste — a few pulses and the veggies will be good to go.
How To Make Lentil Bolognese
Roughly chop vegetables and add them to a food processor. Pulse the veggies and nuts a few times until finely chopped. Do not over-process. Alternatively, chop the veggies with a knife until very finely diced.
Heat olive oil in a large pot or deep skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped vegetable mixture, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes (if using), salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until very soft and just starting to lightly brown, about 12 minutes. Push the veggies to the side and add tomato paste; cook, stirring often, until it slightly caramelizes and darkens in colour, about 1-2 minutes.
Pour in the red wine and allow to cook-off for about 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves and broth, stirring to scrape any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in the lentils, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low.
Simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft and tender and most of the liquid has cooked off, about 30-35 minutes (cooking time will vary depending on the type of lentil you used). Stir in the balsamic vinegar; taste and adjust seasoning adding a little more salt, pepper, or vinegar, if necessary.
Serve with pasta, spaghetti squash noodles, zucchini noodles, or this creamy polenta. Optional toppings: chopped parsley, parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast, vegan cheese.
- Cook down the veggies. Don’t rush this step. You want the veggies to melt into the sauce and though this takes a bit of patience, you will be rewarded with a more flavourful sauce in the end.
- Don’t skip the red wine. I consider red wine almost a main ingredient in this dish. The acidity provides a big flavour impact that will be noticeable if omitted. Any dry red wine will work here, even an inexpensive one.
- Cook down the tomato paste. Give the tomato paste a few minutes to cook before adding any liquid. This will help add more depth of flavour to the sauce.
- Don’t add too much broth. Bolognese sauce should be thick and not too saucy so don’t add more liquid than the recipe calls for.
- Add red pepper flakes. If you enjoy a little bit of heat, add a few pinches of red pepper flakes.
What are the best lentils for lentil bolognese?
I am partial to French lentils which are pleasant earthy and cook a little faster than green lentils. Black lentils would also be wonderful for this lentil bolognese. They cook quickly, hold their shape, and have a nice texture and flavour. Green lentils will also work but will need to cook a bit longer. I haven’t tried brown lentils for this recipe but I suspect they would be fine. I would avoid red lentils which will turn very soft and mushy when cooked.
What is the best pasta to serve with bolognese?
In Italy, ragù dishes are typically served with thicker pasta noodle shapes as opposed to thin spaghetti noodles. This is because thicker noodles such as tagliatelle, pappardelle and fettuccine will hold the chucky sauce better.
Short, tubular-shaped pasta such as penne or rigatoni, will also work.
Can lentil bolognese be frozen?
Just like meat bolognese, this plant-based bolognese (without pasta) freezes beautifully. Simply cool completely then store in a freezer safe container and freeze for up to 3 months.
What sides to serve with lentil bolognese?
If serving the bolognese over pasta, polenta, or spaghetti squash, I suggest having a leafy green salad, lightly dressed, alongside. Roasted broccoli or broccolini would also be fantastic.
How To Store And Reheat
- Storage: If possible, store the bolognese sauce separately from the pasta. Refrigerate cooled bolognese in an airtight container for 4-5 days.
- Reheat: Place refrigerated bolognese in skillet with a few splashes of broth. Reheat gently until warmed through. Thaw frozen bolognese in the fridge overnight, then reheat as indicated.
More Vegetarian Recipes To Try
- Pappardelle with Mushroom Sauce
- Butternut Squash Risotto
- Stuffed Delicata Squash
- Lentil and Brown Rice Soup
- Bean and Cheese Burrito
If you give this Lentil Bolognese recipe a try, please feel free to leave a comment and/or a star rating below. We appreciate and welcome all your feedback. Thank you!
Lentil Bolognese Recipe
- 1 large onion roughly chopped
- 2 medium-sized carrots roughly chopped
- 2 celery stalks roughly chopped
- 4 garlic cloves peeled and roughly chopped
- 6 cremini mushrooms roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup walnuts or pecans
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes optional
- kosher salt
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1/3 cup tomato paste
- 2/3 cup red wine
- 1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 1 1/4 cup French lentils rinsed and drained
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Optional garnishes/toppings: chopped parsley, parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast, vegan cheese.
- Place the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, mushrooms and walnuts (or pecans) in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until everything is finely chopped. Do not over-process. Alternatively, chop the veggies with a knife until very finely diced.
- Heat olive oil in a large pot or deep skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped vegetable mixture, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes (if using), 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are very soft and just starting to brown, about 12 minutes. Push the veggies to the side and add tomato paste; cook, stirring often, until it slightly caramelizes and darkens in colour, about 1-2 minutes.
- Pour in the red wine and allow to cook-off for about 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves and broth, stirring to scrape any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stir in the lentils, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft and tender and most of the liquid has cooked off, about 30-35 minutes (cooking time will vary depending on the type of lentil you used).
- Stir in the balsamic vinegar; taste and adjust seasoning adding a little more salt, and/or pepper, if necessary.
- Serve with pasta, spaghetti squash noodles, zucchini noodles, or a creamy polenta.
- Like most stews and braises, this lentil bolognese is a great dish to make ahead. Once cooled, refrigerate for up to 4 days ahead.
- Depending on the lentils you use, adjust the cooking time. Likewise, some lentils are stronger in flavour and earthiness and will require a bit more salt or they will taste bland.