This vegan lentil bolognese recipe is hearty and so flavorful. Made with lentils, veggies and herbs for a satisfying and nutritious meal!
If you need to satisfy your pasta craving, this vegan bolognese will hit the spot. Perfect texture and flavors that are pure deliciousness!
Originally published January 11, 2016.
Growing up my mom’s bolognese sauce was probably my all time favorite pasta she made and what I used to create this lentil bolognese recipe. It has less tomato flavor than my more traditional vegan bolognese recipe but tastes amazing!
The secret to this vegan bolognese... is mint. Fresh delicious mint. My mom always put mint in her bolognese and it’s genius. Seriously, the taste is incredible! It adds such an awesome level of flavor.
And mixed with fresh basil and oregano, then combined with fresh, not jarred, tomato purée just makes this dish. There’s something about fresh tomato purée that gets me every time. Plus all the hidden veggies make this an awesome dish to serve to picky kids who don't want to try new things!
Gather the following ingredients to make this vegan bolognese with lentils:
- Lentils - these are a great source of plant-based protein and act as a meat substitute in this bolognese recipe. Use dried lentils, do not boil them first. If you do use cooked lentils, add them in after simmering the sauce. Choose the lentil right for you, see below for details.
- Tomatoes - fresh tomatoes, especially if you have in season home grown tomatoes, will give you the absolute best taste.
- Herbs - a blend of fresh basil, mint, and oregano give this recipe the perfect fresh taste. Dried herbs will not give you the same results.
- Onion - yellow or sweet onions can be used for their more neutral taste. Just avoid red onions as their flavor can overwhelm everything else.
- Garlic - fresh garlic cloves that you freshly mince are the best option. However, in a pinch you can use jarred minced garlic.
- Mushrooms - these help to give that rich umami flavor, cremini or baby bella are good options, but any variety really will do.
- Carrots - these help to not only add extra nutrients to the pasta sauce, but also a deep, rich flavor that is too good!
- Kale - feel free to substitute for your favorite greens.
- Salt & pepper
Types of Lentils to Use
Lentils have so many benefits! They're packed with protein, fiber and iron as well as B vitamins, magnesium, potassium and zinc. They also have compounds called phytochemicals which are great for fighting off disease. They are a great meat alternative and overall well rounded food.
When it comes to this easy lentil bolognese recipe, you need to make sure you are using the right kind. The spectrum of lentils goes from soft to firm.
Red and yellow lentils are the softest because they are split so are best used in recipes like dal or curry. If you want a super soft end result, red lentils work well.
For a bit more texture and chew you want to choose a brown, green or black lentil base. Brown is the softest of the three, so you still need to be careful not to overcook it. Green are firmer and black are the most firm. They both give a great chew to dishes where you are trying to recreate a meaty texture.
How To Make Lentil Bolognese
Just a few steps stand between you and the most delicious vegan bolognese! Here's what to do:
- Pulse the lentils to break them up a bit (you can also do this at the end).
- Sauté the lentils with the onion and garlic to toast them up. Use olive oil, or vegetable broth to keep the recipe oil free.
- Add in everything else to the large pot.
- Serve and enjoy!
NOTE: You can print the FULL recipe with all ingredients & detailed instructions below!
What to Serve With Vegan Bolognese
At the very least, make sure to sprinkle on some vegan parmesan cheese for a tasty finishing touch, or some red pepper flakes for some heat!
I love putting this lentil bolognese recipe over gluten-free pasta, but I also have many other uses for it! Here are some of our favorite foods to spoon it over:
You can also use it in the following plant based recipes as a meaty filling or topping:
- Vegan Moussaka Recipe
- Greek Vegan Pastitsio
- Vegan Yemista Greek Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers
- Ultimate Vegan Nachos Recipe
Pair your lentil spaghetti bolognese with these sides:
- You can use precooked lentils, but add them at the end like the instructions say.
- I like to pulse my lentils a bit in a food processor while dry to get a chopped up feel.
- You can also pulse this after it is cooked.
- Or, just keep them whole and it's just as good.
- This is not a “saucy” recipe, but if you prefer it to have more liquid you can add more tomatoes, or even some crushed or chopped jarred tomatoes.
- You can also make it more similar to marinara sauce by adding in some tomato paste and sauce.
- Add an even richer flavor by pouring in a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar along with the tomatoes.
Meal Prep and Storage Tips
Make this vegan lentil bolognese ahead of time, or at least make a big batch so you can save the extras for later! I love doubling my recipe and freezing it.
- Make sure it's completely cool before storing.
- Seal in an airtight container.
- Refrigerate for up to 3-5 days.
- Freeze for up to 3 months.
- When freezing lentil bolognese, place a sheet of plastic wrap over the top so that it is touching the sauce, this helps avoid freezer burn.
- When you are ready to eat, allow it to defrost on the counter or in the refrigerator.
- Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop.
The traditional bolognese that originated in Bologna, Italy is a meat based sauce. Some have vegetables, some have milk, and some even have other meats like ham. It takes on many forms and personalizations. I even have a few different versions myself. You can try this Classic Healthy Bolognese Sauce (Vegan) that takes on a "ham" like flavor with a special secret ingredient.
Lentils don't have that much flavor, but will take on the flavors of whatever you put in them. Depending on the type of lentil you use, you will have undertones of sweet to earthy so pair the end result you are looking for with the type of lentil you use.
Lentils don't take too long to cook, but it depends on the type of lentil. For split lentils like red or yellow, it only takes about 5-7 minutes. For whole lentils, about 15-20 minutes. (I've done a whole post on how to cook lentils that you may find helpful!)
Because bolognese can have many versions, some people do choose to add it. I don't put celery in this vegan bolognese, but it won't negatively impact the recipe if you wanted to add this in.
Bolognese is compared most closely to Italian Ragu. The tomato flavor is prevalent, but it can also take on the flavor of the veggies you add in. Some bolognese has a smoky flavor due to the addition of ham.
More Vegan Lentil Recipes
Still have more lentils on hand after making this vegan lentil bolognese? Try this lentil soup or any of these other tasty plant based recipes:
Vegan Lentil Bolognese Recipe
- 2 cups dried green or brown lentils , pulsed in a food processor to chop a bit if preferred (see note)
- 1 ½ pounds fresh tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil , measure packed
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint , measure packed
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano , measure packed
- 1 cup chopped yellow or sweet onion
- Your favorite oil for sautéing , or veggie broth if oil free
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 1 pound mushrooms , sliced
- 1 cup finely chopped carrots
- 1 cup finely chopped kale
- 1 cup water , plus more if needed
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- your favorite pasta , gluten-free if needed
- Pulse dry lentils in a food processor (or blender) to break up a bit, or you can do this at the end. Set aside.
- Puree tomatoes in a food processor. Add the basil, mint and oregano and pulse to chop.
- In a pot on medium heat, sauté the onion in oil or broth until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds or so.
- Add in the lentils and sauté until well coated and they begin to toast, about 3-5 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms, carrots and kale and sauté for a few more minutes.
- Add in the tomato mixture, water, salt and pepper and cook until a rapid simmer is reached.
- Lower heat until you maintain a gentle simmer. Cover and cook about 20-25 minutes or until lentils are tender and sauce is thickened. Add warm water to the pot if the sauce begins to get too dry.
- If you are using precooked lentils add them after the sauce is done simmering, stir, taste to see if you want more salt or pepper and enjoy.
- Serve over your favorite pasta or even spaghetti squash for a lower carb meal!
- Green lentils remain the most firm after cooked, but take longer to cook. Brown can sometimes get mushy if overcooked but still retain their shape well. Red or yellow lentils become mushy quickly so unless that is the consistency you are looking for, don't use them.
- You can use precooked lentils, but add them at the end like the instructions say.
- I like to pulse my lentils a bit in a food processor while dry to get a chopped up feel. You can also pulse this after it is cooked. You can also just keep them whole and it's just as good.
- This is not a “saucy” recipe, but if you prefer it to have more liquid you can add more tomatoes or even some crushed or chopped jarred tomatoes.
- Wash and chop all veggies and herbs
- Serve the sauce as is for an older baby, puree for babies needing smoother meals.
Recipe by Veggies Don’t Bite, visit our site for more great plant-based recipes.