Vegan Lentil Bolognese

By Alexandra Caspero on October 30, 2022
Hearty Lentil Bolognese with Mushrooms. Cozy and delicious!
Serves 4

Healthy lentil bolognese! You’ve gotta try this vegan lentil bolognese made with mushrooms, carrots, tomatoes and lentils.

It was only a matter of time before I posted a vegan lentil bolognese recipe. My eggplant bolognese and my pumpkin bolognese recipes are two of my favorite vegan pasta recipes. And if you love bolognese pasta, then you’ve also gotta try my mushroom bolognese with rigatoni and my tempeh bolognese.

This lentil bolognese is packed with plant-based protein and incredibly hearty. A must make this fall and winter.

lentil bolognese recipe in two bowls

Ingredients for Lentil Bolognese

  • Olive oil 
  • Garlic cloves
  • Mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Spices
  • Red wine
  • Lentils
  • Crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Rigatoni pasta

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

I use the umami powder from Trader Joe’s because I find that it adds an extra punch of plant-based umami. You can also used a dried porcini powder, but if you don’t have either then it’s OK to omit both of them.

I find that the crushed tomatoes has a more rich flavor than tomato sauce but either one works. Depending on the acidity of your tomatoes, you may want to add in a smidge of brown sugar. I typically don’t add in any sugar to my tomato sauce recipes, but I find that the balance was needed in this dish. As with the sugar, the balsamic vinegar adds a depth of complexity to the sauce and don’t recommend skipping it.

Canned lentils work really well in this recipe. When I rested this one with dried lentils, I found that they didn’t become as tender as canned lentils do. Therefore, I highly recommend using canned lentils or cooking the lentils first and then adding to the rest of the sauce ingredients.

How to Make Lentil Bolognese

  1. Cook the onion until tender

    Heat the oil large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

  2. Finely chop the vegetables

    Place the garlic, mushrooms and carrots to the base of a food processor and chop until very well chopped. Add the vegetables to the onions and cook until reduced and browned, about 8 minutes.

  3. Add the spices

    Add in the umami powder, if using, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes and sugar. Cook another few minutes, then add in the red wine. Cook until reduced by half.

  4. Add the lentils and tomatoes

    Stir in the lentils and tomatoes and simmer until thickened. Right before serving, stir in the balsamic vinegar.

  5. Toss with pasta, basil and cheese

    Toss sauce with cooked pasta, fresh basil and parmesan cheese of choice

vegan lentil bolognese in a bowl

Tips for Perfect Bolognese Sauce

To mimic the texture of ground meat, the key is finely chopping the mushrooms, onions and carrots together. I do this in a food processor so the pieces are mostly even, but you can also do so by hand. In the photos above, you can see how finely chopped the vegetables need to be. As they cook down, this gives a similar texture to ground beef and makes the vegetables the same size as the lentils.

To keep this sauce a vegan bolognese, I recommend using a vegan parmesan cheese like my homemade recipe or your favorite store bought recipe. I’m partial to Violife’s parmesan cheese but any will work.

Will red lentils work in this sauce?

Red lentils break down completely when cooked so they won’t work in this recipe the same way that canned brown lentils do. The cool thing about red lentils is that you don’t really notice there are there in a sauce; which is how I use them in my lasagna recipe to add in extra protein and fiber. However, in this recipe you’ll want to use canned lentils (preferably) or brown lentils.

As mentioned above, if you aren’t using canned lentils then I highly recommend cooking the brown lentils first before adding them to the sauce.

bolognese recipe with mushrooms

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use zucchini noodles?


Yes, you can use zucchini noodles in this recipe if you’d prefer. You can also sub in a gluten-free pasta for a gluten-free version.

What noodle shape works best?

I’m partial to either a ziti or rigatoni shape. Or, if you prefer a longer pasta then a spaghetti, pappardelle or fettuccine are my go-to shapes. This sauce is also delicious with gnocchi!

How long does this vegan lentil bolognese last in the fridge?


This sauce will last for 3-4 days in the fridge. Or, you can place in the freezer for up to 3 months.

vegan lentil bolognese pasta

More Vegan Pasta Recipes:

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Print
healthy lentil bolognese

Vegan Lentil Bolognese

  • Author: Alex Caspero
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: dinner, pasta, healthy
  • Method: stovetop
  • Cuisine: American, Italian
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

Healthy lentil bolognese! You’ve gotta try this vegan lentil bolognese made with mushrooms, carrots, tomatoes and lentils.


  • Author: Alex Caspero
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: dinner, pasta, healthy
  • Method: stovetop
  • Cuisine: American, Italian
  • Diet: Vegan
  • Author: Alex Caspero
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: dinner, pasta, healthy
  • Method: stovetop
  • Cuisine: American, Italian
  • Diet: Vegan
Scale

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon umami powder or dried porcini powder*
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar, optional**
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 (14 ounce) can lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15 ounce) can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 12 ounces rigatoni pasta
  • Fresh basil, dairy-free parmesan, for topping

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
  2. Place the garlic, mushrooms and carrots to the base of a food processor and chop until very well chopped. This gives the vegetables the texture of meat. If you don’t have a food processor, finely chop instead. Add the vegetables to the onions and cook until reduced and browned, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add in the umami powder, if using, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes and sugar. Cook another 1-2 minutes, then add in the red wine. Cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in the lentils and tomatoes and simmer another 20-30 minutes until thickened. Right before serving, stir in the balsamic vinegar.
  5. When ready to enjoy, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the rigatoni. Cook until just under al dente. Toss with the cooked lentil sauce and handful of fresh basil. Off heat, stir in the parm cheese, if using. Season to taste and serve.

Notes

* I use the umami powder from Trader Joe’s and find it gives a nice umami hit of flavor to the sauce. If you don’t have it, you can substitute dried porcini powder or omit.

** I typically don’t add in any sugar to my tomato sauce recipes, but find that this recipe benefits from a little sweet balance to enhance the tomato taste.

***Canned lentils are best in this recipe, but if you can’t find them then substitute 1 1/2 cups cooked brown lentils.

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Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Plant-Based Chef and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

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    1. Samantha
      November 20, 2022 AT 1:01 pm

      Best vegan bolognese I’ve ever tasted.