This basic (but really very brilliant) Vegan Lentil Bolognese recipe is a staple in our kitchen. Lentils are not only delicious, they're cheap, filling, full of protein and incredibly versatile, and have a lovely meaty texture that just works in this classic vegan version of Bolognese sauce. Simple ingredients, cooked well makes this a recipe you and your family will love.
Bolognese Sauce is essentially a ragu from Bologna in Italy. Traditionally made with minced beef or pork, along with finely diced carrots, onions, celery, tomatoes and herbs. This version takes the classic base ingredients, swaps the meat for lentils hey presto! We have Lentil Bolognese.
This is a great base recipe and can be a key component for all kinds of other meals such as vegan shepherd's pie, lasagne and Moussaka. It makes also a great filling for Vegan Sausage Rolls . And don't just stick to the classic spaghetti (Although Spaghetti Bolognese is so comforting) try it with rigatoni, as part of a baked ziti or with pappardelle.
If you want to know more about the best sources of vegan protein plus some other high protein recipes, I have a super helpful guide here!
- Soffrito (carrots and onions plus optional celery and garlic. ) A classic Bolognese is built on the 'trio' or soffrito of carrots, celery and onion, gently cooked down in olive oil. I don't always have celery to hand, but add it in if I do. I also like to add garlic to my base.
- Cooked Green or Brown Lentils - to me the best lentils to use to make bolognese are green or brown lentils as they keep their shape, plus have a lovely slightly peppery flavour. You can use red lentils, however these cook really quickly so tend to get a bit mushy. You can choose to cook your own lentils from scratch or use tinned or canned lentils.
- Chopped peeled tomatoes - I tend to use on standard tin/can of chopped tomatoes.
- Tomato paste - A large spoon of tomato paste adds to the depth of flavour and umami richness.
- Red wine - double-check it's vegan. Many supermarkets label their wine now as vegan so it's become much easier to check. I love this vegan red wine. If you choose to leave out the wine, you might want to add a little balsamic vinegar to balance the flavours.
- Herbs - thyme, oregano and bay leaf (use fresh or dried). Rosemary is also good.
- Vegemite / Marmite These are yeast extracts and although optional, I love them because a spoonful gives a savoury deep, umami flavour, which goes a long way to helping out with the 'meaty' flavour you want in a ragu. You can leave it out or use a dash of soy sauce instead.
🍲How to pre-cook lentils
This recipe calls for 500g (6 ½ cups) of cooked puy or green lentils. You can choose to use tinned or canned lentils, but I tend to cook my own in batches as it's cheaper!.
To batch-cook lentils, I like to cook a whole 500g pack (2 ¾ cups) of dried lentils all at once, adding two bay leaves and a halved onion to them. To cook, cover the lentils generously with water & simmer for around 45 minutes. Be careful not to let the water run dry. The lentils are cooked when they are squishy and tender.
I then portion them out into containers & freeze what I don't use, ready to pop into whatever it is I'm cooking. I love these glass clip-top containers as they're better for the environment.
You can also use pre-cooked tinned or canned or packaged green or brown lentils for this recipe.
This delicious vegan lentil bolognese is very simple. In summary you:
- get your ingredients ready. For the cooked lentils, you either cook them yourself from dried or can use tinned/canned lentils.
- finely chop the carrot, onion, garlic and celery (if using)
- sweat the onion with the carrot and garlic until soft.
- add the tomatoes, lentils, wine and herbs. Simmer!
- cook for about 25 minutes or until the flavours have mingled.
1. Finely chop carrot, onion, garlic and celery.
2. Sautee the onion, garlic, carrot and celery in olive oil until softened. Add the tomato paste and cook it down until it bubbles (this makes the best flavour)
3. Add lentils, herbs, tomatoes and red wine. Simmer for 25 mins so the flavours mingle and the lentils break down slightly.
4. The lentil bolognese is cooked when the lentils are softened. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve.
TOP TIP: Keep a little water or veggie stock to hand while cooking the bolognese and add if it looks like it's getting dry.
🥕Subsitutions and Variations
I've included a few variations below, all of which I add depending on what I have in the fridge. Add them all... or none. Switch it up according to your tastes. Or get creative and add other extras. Different herbs, a few extra tomatoes or some other veggies can all easily be added to create interest and new flavours (and sneak in extra veggies!)
- Soya Mince: Add extra texture and protein by adding in 100g of dried soya mince. You'll need to add extra stock or wine to rehydrate the mince (add at the same time you add the lentils)
- Bell Peppers: Finely chopped red bell peppers add a sweet note. Add at the same time you cook the carrots etc.
- Courgette/Zucchini: A great way to sneak extra veggies in! Finely chop and add at the same time as the carrots and onions.
- Mushrooms: Finely chop some mushrooms and add at the same time as the carrots and onion. They give a great umami flavour and add extra texture.
- Eggplant/Aubergine: I often use up a sad eggplant by mincing it up and using it in the bolognese. The trick is to finely chop it, then cook it down in olive oil before adding in the carrots/onions etc.
Don't just use this vegan Lentil Bolognese over spaghetti, it's also brilliant as a pie filling, under a layer of pillowy mashed potatoes for a shepherdess pie or even to make vegan sausage rolls with. The best is my moussaka recipe!
Here are the top FAQs for this vegan lentil bolognese.
I suggest Puy, Green or Beluga Lentils. You can use tinned / canned lentils, or cook lentils from dry yourself (scroll up for how to do this!).
You can just leave it out. Or add a little bit of balsamic vinegar.
To cook a whole 500g pack of dried weight lentils (6 ½ cups) add two bay leaves and a halved onion in a pan. To cook, cover the lentils generously with water & simmer for around 30-45 minutes. How long they take depends on their type and how old they are. Be careful not to let the water run dry. The lentils are cooked when they are squishy and tender.
Pasta is great.
Or mashed potatoes.
Use as a pie filling.
Or underneath mashed potatoes as a Shepherdess Pie.
They make a great burrito or taco filling too.
Yes! Just put in Tupperware or any air-tight container. It's great for those nights you don't want to cook.
Add in lots of extras. I like to add
Extra veggies such as peppers, celery, zucchini or eggplant.
Spices such as smoked paprika
Herbs such as rosemary, bay and thyme.
🥫Storage and Leftovers
I like to make a big batch of lentil bolognese, because it does take a little while to cook. Make double and freeze into single or two person portions. It will keep well in the freezer for up to 3 months, or just in the fridge for 3-4 days.
And If you have leftover pasta mixed with bolognese sauce, you can also make this Leftover Pasta Frittata.
I like to serve my lentil Bolognese with some vegan 'parmesan' (also known as Pangritata) - Find my easy to make recipe for it here: Pangritata (Pangrattato) Crispy Breadcrumbs for Pasta
I'm a big fans of pasta, so why not try some of my other favourite pasta recipes..
- Garlicky White Beans & Greens Pasta
- Vegan Smoked Garlic & Wild Mushroom Pasta
- For a super quick recipe: Vegan Creamy Cannellini Bean & Tomato Pasta
How do you make your lentil bolognese? Leave your comments below!
Basic Vegan Lentil Bolognese
For accuracy, I measure all ingredients in metric as standard, then convert and test the recipe for American cup measurements etc.
(Heads up Aussie and UK readers- your measurements in cups are sometimes different, so please use metric or check you have the correct cup and spoon type!!)
- 400 g (1⅔ cups) chopped tomatoes (1 standard tin/can is 400g or 1⅔ cups)
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 large onion (very finely chopped)
- 1 large carrot (very finely chopped)
- 1 stick celery
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 500 g (6 cups) cooked puy or green lentils (equivalent to standard ~2 tins/cans)
- 80 ml (⅓ cup) red wine
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon marmite or vegemite (or other yeast extract)
- In a large pan sautee the onions, garlic, carrot and celery in the olive oil until soft.1 large onion, 1 large carrot, 1 stick celery, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 4 cloves garlic
- Add the tomato paste and stir until combined.2 tablespoon tomato paste
- Add the lentils, herbs, wine, tin/can of chopped tomatoes, marmite or vegemite plus any other optional extras and simmer for around 20 mins.400 g chopped tomatoes, 500 g cooked puy or green lentils, 80 ml red wine, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon marmite or vegemite
- Serve over spaghetti, or as a filling for a pie or with some mash.
Optional Extras- Add All or None of these. Create your Bolognese as you like it!Optional Extras- Add All or None of these. Create your Bolognese as you like it!
▢1 teaspoon chilli powder
▢Handful halved cherry tomatoes
▢A few drops of liquid smoke
▢Fresh herbs to sprinkle on at the end
▢50 g (½ cup) Dried Soya Mince (This creates a more "meaty" Texture. N.B. you will need to add a little extra water if using this)
▢100 g mushrooms (minced and added with the carrots.)
▢100 g chopped bell peppers (added with the carrots. )
Mark Rodgerson says
This looks and sounds delicious. I use a lot of lentils in my cooking
I love a lentil bolognese. So hearty and delicious.
This is SO good! It quickly became a favorite at my house!
Aimee Mars says
This is the perfect hearty weeknight pasta dish! I made it for my family last night and no one even noticed it was vegan!!
Loved this lentil sauce! So easy to make and was a big hit even with the meat eaters!
Thank you for this recipe! We really enjoyed making this! It was so delicious and one of our new favorite vegan recipes. Can't wait to enjoy this for dinner again.