Vegetarian Bolognese Recipe – a.k.a. My No-Bull-Ognese

This Lentil Bolognese Recipe is so delicious, nutritious, and hearty; you’ll want to make it every week. It also keeps very well and freezes well. I like to make a big batch in one go and freeze a bunch for those crazy busy (or super lazy) days. When we went Vegetarian, Bolognese sauce was something I found myself missing big time! I wasn’t missing the beef but I really wanted a sauce that would be as hearty and rich and warming as the Bolognese I knew from my childhood. So after some serious recipe testing, this vegan bolognese sauce is now ready for your kitchen too. 

Vegan Bolognese Recipe, Vegetarian Bolognese Sauce, Lentil Bolognese

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Make it Vegan Bolognese Sauce

As much as I love beans (see other recipes) I knew that this would want a different texture, plus it’s good to step away from the beans for a moment. Enter red lentils for the win in this vegetarian bolognese sauce. They are the perfect substitute with just enough bite but also creaminess, they provide the perfect texture. You can also turn this into a vegan bolognese recipe by omitting or replacing the parmesan cheese.

Vegan Bolognese Recipe, Vegetarian Bolognese Sauce, Lentil Bolognese

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Other Hearty Vegetarian and Vegan Meals options

I love to pair this Lentil Bolognese with my Kale Salad with Lemon Olive Oil dressing. It is the perfect accompaniment to the Bolognese. With the light bright Lemon Olive Oil sauce and the freshness of the Kale working so well with the deep rich flavors of this sauce. If you like this Vegan Bolognese Sauce I’m thinking you should also try my Vegan White Chili. It doesn’t have lentils in it but it’s hearty and filling with barley, kale, beans, and deep smoky spices.

Vegan Bolognese Recipe, Vegetarian Bolognese Sauce, Lentil Bolognese

Lentil Bolognese Recipe

Print Recipe
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 4 people
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A Vegetarian Pasta Sauce that is rich and decadent and packed full of nutritious and delicious ingredients. This is my take on a vegetarian Bolognese, I call it my No-Bull-ognese. It can also be a vegan Bolognese if you omit or replace the cheese.
Quick Pro-tip: The finer you chop the vegetables the smoother and richer your end sauce will be and the better it will coat your pasta. It's worthwhile to do the chopping properly. So grab yourself a glass of wine and your favorite podcast and get that finely chopped action going.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons healthy cooking fat, avocado oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil
  • 1 large onion, super finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, super finely chopped
  • 2 large portobello mushroom caps, super finely chopped (could also use button mushrooms)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Tomato paste, 4-5 ounces (can increase or decrease a bit depending on desired tomato-ness
  • 1 cup 120 mL dry red wine, could also use white wine if you don't have red (optional)
  • 3 cups 720 mL vegetable broth
  • 1 14.5-ounce/410g can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup 185g red lentils, soaked (see step #1)
  • ¼ cup 32g walnuts, chopped super fine
  • 1 tablespoon high-quality aged balsamic vinegar
  • 10-15 oz fresh baby spinach leaves, depending on how spinachy you want it _Optional nutrition boost! (it's not traditional bolognese but it's delicious and even healthier :)_
  • salt, to taste
  • fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
  • A handful Italian parsley and/or fresh basil, chopped or slivered (optional)
  • Parmesan or Vegan Cheese Substitute, If desired for topping

Instructions

  • Soak your red lentils in water (at room temperature) for at least 30 minutes (can soak up to 1-hour - I prefer 1-hour soak for softer lentils, but if you're in a time crunch, 30 minutes is just fine too). Make sure the lentils are fully covered under at least extra 2 inches of water. They will plump up and absorb the water. When ready to use - drain and rinse well before adding to the recipe.
  • Heat the cooking fat in a large pot over medium heat.
  • Cook the onions low and slow for about 10 minutes, allow them to get soft, and caramelize a little into a golden brown (we want to develop the sweet, rich flavor). Do not let them burn; you can occasionally deglaze with a bit of wine or water to keep them from burning.
  • Add the mushrooms and carrots and cook for another 5-8 minutes or until all the vegetables are softened and cooked a bit.
  • Add the garlic, dried oregano, and thyme, and cook for about 1 minute to allow the garlic to be cooked a little.
  • Add the tomato paste, and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure that all vegetables are coated.
  • Pour in wine (if not using wine, skip this step and increase the broth by wine amount lost) and give it a good stir to ensure that nothing is stuck to the bottom of the pot. Cook for a few minutes to allow the alcohol to be cooked off and let it reduce until all of the vegetables are a jammy consistency.
  • Add the vegetable broth, crushed tomatoes, red lentils (drained and rinsed after soaking), and finely chopped walnuts.
  • Cook for 45-60 minutes at medium to medium-low temperature uncovered. You want it at a low simmer to allow the sauce to reduce and thicken and develop in flavor. Give it a good stir every 15 minutes to ensure it isn't sticking or burning. At 45 minutes, the sauce is rich and delicious, but the longer you cook it, the more developed the flavors will be, the softer the lentils get, and the richer and thicker the sauce will be.
  • Optional nutrition boost: Add fresh spinach leaves and stir them under and let the heat of the sauce soften and wilt them into the sauce
  • Stir in the balsamic vinegar, fresh parsley, and basil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • If using, you can stir in or simply top with Parmesan or Vegan Cheese
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