A vegan bolognese so authentic and perfectly textured, you'll forget it's made out of plants. Rich and hearty, this comforting sauce is the perfect cozy meal.
The truth behind bolognese
I did a lot of reading up on traditional bolognese before I set out to create this recipe (yes, I am a food dork). I have other recipes on this site that we love as a bolognese substitute, but I wanted a true authentic, but vegan, "meat" sauce in my back pocket.
With the huge success of my vegan taco meat, the texture is unreal, I knew I had to take this concept I came up with and apply it elsewhere. Namely, in a bolognese sauce. This sauce not only has the most amazing texture, but it's super healthy and made of ALL whole foods. No tofu, no fake meats.
I did loads of research to find out what else is in a real traditional bolognese sauce, or "ragu alla bolognese". From wikipedia, to research on the history of it's origination, there is loads out there. But the bottom line was that the following ingredients seemed to be the main part of a true classic bolognese recipe:
- a "soffritto" of onion, celery and carrot
- ground beef
- pork or pancetta
- white wine
- some tomato, but not a ton
- and believe it or not, no herbs (they simply season with salt and pepper)
The sauce itself is actually a meat sauce with a touch of tomato, versus a tomato sauce with some meat as we typically know it to be here. So how do I create a meat based recipe out of plants? No problem.
Healthy vegan bolognese like you've never had before
As I mentioned, I used the idea from my vegan taco meat as the base to this classic bolognese. The texture of this vegan meat is incredible and my process is unlike anything you've seen before. I am huge on texture so I wouldn't settle for anything less. I also had a few tricks up my sleeve to get the flavor spot on.
- Step 1 is to saute the soffritto of veggies (and garlic) until nice and browned, to the point that they are caramelized and the bottom of the pan is getting browned and sticky. This helps give some of the meaty flavor because when you brown meat for traditional bolognese, you get brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
- After that, you deglaze the pan with white wine (learned this from my mom). All you really need to do is stir the veggies with the white wine, scraping the bottom until the wine is cooked off. This is where my second trick to getting some of that meaty, pancetta type flavor into this sauce comes in. Liquid smoke, just a touch for that pancetta like flavor. You add it in with the white wine while deglazing and it leaves behind the most incredible taste.
- Then you add the other ingredients and bring it to a boil, it will seem really watery but trust me it will thicken. After it gets boiling, you turn it on low and let it simmer while it does it's magic. Go do laundry, catch up on emails, or scream at your kids. Just go about your business.
- Once the sauce has been simmering for about 1 to 1 ½ hours, it thickens up and the flavor is intensely amazing. Then is when you put in the "meat" you made while it was cooking. Folding it in slowly and allowing the flavors of the sauce to absorb.
- Serve it over flat wide noodles for a true classic Italian touch.
I am so excited for you all to try this. Don't be afraid that it takes time to simmer. As much as I love a quick meal, a true classic bolognese, that can now be enjoyed with whole food vegan ingredients, just can't be beat! Don't forget to tell me what you think!
Classic Healthy Bolognese Sauce (Vegan)
- 12 ounces of your favorite pasta
- my Grateable Vegan Parmesan , optional for topping
- ½ cup celery , diced
- ½ cup carrots , diced
- ½ cup sweet or yellow onion , diced
- 2 teaspoons garlic , chopped (about 2-3 cloves)
- 1-1 ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ cup veggie broth or 1 tablespoon oil to sauté
- 1 cup white wine , make sure to use vegan wine to keep this fully vegan
- ¼ teaspoon liquid smoke
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 2 cups cashew or almond milk
- 1 cup veggie broth
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ cup dried garbanzo beans , soaked overnight
- ¼ cup short grain brown rice
- Sauté the celery, carrots, onion, garlic and ¾ teaspoon salt in a sauté pan over medium heat until brown and caramelized. About 8-10 minutes. You can use oil or broth (if you are oil-free), but make sure you get it nice and browned.
- Add the wine and liquid smoke, and simmer as you gently stir and scrape the pan to get all the browned stuff stuck to the bottom off. This is called deglazing. Keep going until most of the wine has evaporated, about 5-7 minutes.
- Then add the tomatoes, milk, broth, the rest of the salt (start with ¼ teaspoon and add more if needed) and the pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 80-90 minutes. Stir every 20 minutes or so. You decide how "saucy" you want this, simmer on the lower end for a saucier end result. Don't forget that when you add the "meat" at the end, it will suck up some of the liquid.
- While it is cooking, make the “meat” portion. Put the rice in a medium sized pot and fill it with water, make sure you have plenty of water so that when you add the chickpeas it will cover them.
- Partially cover and bring to a boil (about 7-8 minutes, depending on stove top).
- Turn the heat down to medium and cook partially covered an additional 10 minutes (should be about 17-18 minutes total rice cooking time). The texture of the rice should be just beginning to get chewy, not hard but not fully cooked.
- Add the soaked chickpeas and cook an additional 8 minutes.
- Drain and rinse. Put the mixture in a food processor.
- Pulse until you get a crumbly meaty like texture. You may need to stop and mix every few pulses. Set aside.
- When the sauce is done cooking, it will have thickened up well. Add about 1 ½ to 2 cups of the meat. You can add as little or as much as you prefer.
- Continue to stir and cook the sauce until you get the thickness you prefer.
- Serve over your favorite pasta and devour.
- Nutrition facts are for the bolognese only, they do not include the pasta.
- If you don’t do wine, then you can sub with 1 cup veggie broth, but I highly recommend the wine as it helps give it the amazing deep flavor.
- If you do not have liquid smoke, you could leave it out or try using a bit of smoked paprika. The liquid smoke is definitely the best option but the sauce will still be good without it.
- The meat portion makes a little over 2 cups. I only used about 1 ½ cups in my sauce. You can decide how little or how much you want to add. The extra can always be used at a later date, or it can also be frozen.
Recipe by Veggies Don’t Bite, visit our site for more great plant-based recipes.
Nutrition and metric information should be considered an estimate.
has anyone used white basmati rice instead of brown? im trying to decide if it would be better with that or brown lentils since I don't have brown rice.
Hey Kelly! You can use white rice as well. I have another bolognese on the site using lentils so check that one out if you want that. The rice in this recipe gives a chewy meaty texture when paired with the chickpeas. Here is the other recipe: https://www.veggiesdontbite.com/vegan-bolognese-with-lentils-and-mushrooms/
If you substitute smoked paprika for the liquid smoke, how much paprika would you suggest?
Hi Diane! I haven't tried it, but I'd start with 1/2 teaspoon and add until you get the flavor you like! Let me know how it turns out!
This sauce is seriously magical - thank you!! Used TVP for the protein this time, but will try your rice and chickpea blend next time.
Thank you!! So happy you liked it!
Should have added that I also have to avoid onions but can eat the green portion of scallions so thought this substitute may work.
Hi Keith! So the main texture of this comes from the beans. You could try subbing all rice but it truly just won't be the same. You could try just making it without the meaty part and enjoy it as tomato sauce.
I am on a Fodmap’s diet and must avoid beans. Is there an ingredient I can substitute. Also have to avoid garlic but can use a garlic infused olive oil to make the soffritto.
Veggie broth; I answered my own question. I did not read the directions in its entirety. I apologize.
No apology needed!! Yep, broth works great!
What can I use instead of wine? I do not consume alcohol.
Genius Recipe. I will follow the entire recipe next time, but this time I mixed toasted riced cauliflower and walnuts with italian seasonings. Genius to create the base like my familiar bolognese. I used instant pot to speed up the process. When I have the time, I will definitely do this entire recipe. I'm a new vegan and I hope my omnivore husband will enjoy it too. I didn't have liquid smoke so i added mushroom broth and a little miso, not the same, but needed some depth of flavor. So glad to have found such a creative vegan site.
That's great Susan!! I'm so happy you liked it!
I was full after one plate....and ate another one anyway. I ate it over pasta tonight and will eat it over gnocchi tomorrow night. I'm assuming it freezes OK, as the rest of the sauces I have tried from you have all frozen well. Thank you for sharing!
Ah!!! Yay! I am so happy that you liked it enough to stuff yourself. Haha!!
I used unsweetened soy milk (I did not have any cashew or almond) and already had brown rice made, so I used that with canned garbanzo beans, rinsed and dried. It’s delicious! I will definitely make this again, next time with cashew milk because it is my favorite for savory recipes!
So happy to hear Alison! Yay!
Can you use canned Garbanzo beans in this recipe?
Recipe looks delicious.
Hi there! So you can use the canned if you like but I wouldn't recommend it. The great texture comes from using dried chickpeas that you soak. The canned ones are just softer. The flavor will still be great, so you can use them if you don't care as much about texture. Just know that it will be a bit different! Let me know if you try!
I used canned, but I drained them, rinsed them and let them dry while the rest cooked. I also swapped rice for portabella mushrooms and pulsed them with the beans. Just a couple quick pulses, then laid it all out on paper towels and squeezed the moisture out of them. I haven't made it the original way, but this turned out awesome, and I cut out some carbs. We will see what my meat-eating, mushroom hating boyfriend says, but i think it's a win.
I'm so happy you liked it Jen! It definitely will turn out this way since the texture is really all you changed. The flavor is the real base so glad you found something that worked for you!!
This recipe is DA BOMB. Both hubby and my 16 year old were like damn this is good. All that simmering of the sauce and then the texture of the 'meat' is just the perfect combination. I highly recommend this dish and will be making it often. I made double the 'meat' so I can use it in Sophia's tacos later in the week. This is true perfection.
I am SO SO happy you guys love this as much as we do! I trialed it so many times so that I could get that perfect flavor. I love Italian food and as much as I need easy fast recipes a lot, I also need slow simmered full of rich flavors too and that's how you really get the richest flavor in sauces. And it makes your home smell amazing! Thank you so much for your kind words, you are the best!
Won’t the chickpeas be undercooked? In the recipe you only cook them for 8 minutes, pulse in the food processor then add them to the cooked sauce. Do they continue cooking or am I missing something?
Hi Alex! Nope, they are cooked just fine. You soak them overnight so that helps soften them so you really don't need to cook them long. You don't want them overcooked or they will turn into hummus. When you make falafel, you soak chickpeas, then pulse then simple bake or pan fry, so it's kind of the same idea. The sauce is hot enough to where the chickpeas still cook a little as you mix them in.
This sauce is incredible. I could eat it for dinner every night.