If you're vegan and/or gluten free, it's easy to feel left out on pasta night. Our hearty vegan lentil bolognese is naturally vegan and gluten free, and is packed with flavor to elevate your pasta to rich, satisfying heights.
Why We Love This Recipe
- Hearty and filling: The lentils serve as a stand in for ground beef, giving our sauce a full and hearty texture.
- Layers of flavor: We use fresh and dried herbs, red wine, and cook the lentils in veggie broth to create well-rounded and luxurious flavors.
- Use up that stuff you forgot in the pantry: We're willing to bet you have a pack of lentils that's been sitting on the shelf for a few months, alongside cans of tomato sauce, and a bunch of unopened spices on your spice rack. This recipe is a great way to avoid wasting them!
- Easy dinner that freezes well: Once you've made the vegan lentil bolognese sauce, you can store in a tupperware and freeze. Just reheat when you're ready, and you have an easy and satisfying dinner that's ready in 15 minutes.
- Great source of plant-based protein: lentils are a fantastic source of protein for vegans, with about 12g of protein in ½ cup of cooked lentils. They're also a great source of fiber, iron and potassium.
Here are the key ingredients you'll need to make this vegan lentil bolognese:
- Lentils: We recommend using green or brown lentils. Other lentils, like french green lentils, would be OK, but green and brown lentils are bigger and softer than other varieties. Their texture is a better match for al dente pasta.
- We don't suggest using red or yellow lentils, which tend to get super mushy and soft. The goal in this bolognese is to keep the texture of the lentils so it's similar to a ground beef sauce.
- Crushed tomatoes / tomato paste: It's important not to skimp here, so we'd recommend going with a higher quality brand like Mutti, Cento or Muir Glen. Lower quality sauce will have a tinny, acidic flavor.
- Red wine: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chianti, and Zinfandel all pair very well with tomato-based recipes. You don't have to use an amazing bottle. Something in the $6-$10 range will work just fine. Also, the alcohol will cook off, so don't worry about any alcohol content in the sauce – it just adds flavor!
- Italian seasoning blend: instead of using 5+ different dried herbs, we use an Italian seasoning blend, which is found at pretty much any grocery store. It typically contains herbs like parsley, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme and garlic powder, so you can improvise with those herbs if you don't have a blend on hand.
(1) Cook lentils according to package directions in either vegetable broth or water + a large pinch of salt. Drain and set aside. (You can also wait to do this while the sauce is cooking, but I like to do it at the beginning so I don't forget!)
(2) Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pot, then sauté the onions for 7-10 minutes, until translucent and softened. Add garlic and continue cooking for 3-5 minutes.
(3) Add carrots, celery and continue cooking for 7-10 minutes, stirring often. Add tomato paste, red wine vinegar, Italian seasoning, salt, coconut sugar, pepper, red pepper flakes and bay leaves. Add red wine and let reduce for a few minutes, stirring.
(4) Add tomatoes and simmer for at least one hour, stirring occasionally.
(5) When sauce is finished, use an immersion blender to roughly blend sauce - you don't want any large chunks of vegetables remaining, but you also don't want a complete puree. Just a few pulses will do.
(6) Stir in lentils and fresh parsley.
Serve over pasta of choice and enjoy! I like topping mine with more fresh basil and red pepper flakes.
Expert Tips and FAQs
- Cook your lentils in vegetable broth: To add a bit of extra flavor to lentils (which can be relatively bland), we suggest cooking them in vegetable broth instead of water. A large pinch of salt in the cooking liquid will help, too.
- Let it simmer: The longer this vegan lentil bolognese cooks, the more flavorful it will be. I suggest at least an hour of simmer time, but longer won't hurt. If it simmers for too long, you can always add a splash or broth or more tomatoes to loosen up the sauce.
- Choice of pasta: For most of the year, I like to keep things traditional with regular pasta. Spaghetti, fettuccine, pappardelle, tagliatelle, rigatoni, penne – they'll all work. In the warmer months, however, I sometimes swap pasta with zucchini noodles for a lighter version. Especially during summer when we have a lot of extra zucchini on hand, it's a great way to use up our bounty.
- Blending the sauce: Make sure you leave some texture when you blend. You're aiming for chunks, not a smooth pureé. We usually use an immersion blender, but a regular blender will work just as well. Make sure to blend in 10-15 second increments so you don't accidentally over blend the sauce.
Yes, this vegan lentil bolognese sauce freezes very well in a tupperware container for up to 6 months.
The best way would be to take it out of the freezer and leave it in the refrigerator overnight to thaw the night before you will use it. If it's not defrosted thoroughly, you can pop it in the microwave, checking it frequently. Once there are no frozen bits, heat it back up in a sauce pan, toss your pasta in the sauce, and serve.
Yes and no - the alcohol flavor will burn off, but the residual flavors of fruit, smoke, vinegar, and herbs will remain, adding depth of flavor to the sauce.
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This hearty vegan lentil bolognese is packed with flavor for a rich, satisfying pasta sauce. Make a big batch ahead of time and freeze excess for future dinners.
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 ½ cup finely diced yellow onion (about 1 medium onion)
- 4-5 cloves minced garlic
- 1 cup carrot, diced (2-3 medium carrots)
- 1 cup celery, diced (3-4 stalks)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp Italian seasoning blend
- 2 ½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp coconut sugar or regular sugar
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ cup red wine
- 42 oz crushed tomatoes (no salt added)
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 cups dried green or brown lentils (2 cups cooked), cooked according to package directions in water or vegetable broth
- Heat olive oil in a large sauce pot, then sauté onions for 7-10 minutes, or until translucent and softened. Add garlic and continue cooking for 3-5 minutes.
- Add carrots, celery and continue cooking for 7-10 minutes, stirring often. Add tomato paste, red wine vinegar, Italian seasoning, salt, coconut sugar, pepper, red pepper flakes and bay leaves. Add red wine and let reduce for a few minutes, stirring.
- Add tomatoes and simmer for at least one hour, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, cook lentils according to package directions in either vegetable broth or water + a large pinch of salt. Drain and set aside.
- When sauce is finished, use an immersion blender to roughly blend sauce - you don't want any large chunks of vegetables remaining, but you also don't want a complete puree. Just a few pulses will do. When finished, stir in lentils and parsley and serve over pasta of choice. Enjoy!
Lentils: Green or brown lentils work best in this recipe. We don't suggest using red or yellow lentils, which will get mushy.
High-quality tomato products (paste + puréed tomatoes) will go a long way towards making your sauce taste great. We recommend using brands like Mutti, Cento or Muir Glen.
You can skip the red wine if you have a dietary restriction, but if not, we highly recommend using good, cheap bottle. It will add flavor and complexity.
Pretty much any style of pasta will work. We especially like using zucchini noodles in the summer.
Patience is key. The longer you simmer this sauce, the better it will taste.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Italian
- Serving Size: 1 helping of sauce
- Calories: 454
- Sugar: 21.6 g
- Sodium: 2066.5 mg
- Fat: 15.7 g
- Carbohydrates: 67.2 g
- Fiber: 14 g
- Protein: 18.7 g
Keywords: vegan bolognese