This hearty, meaty, vegan lentil bolognese sauce is second to none. Packed with veggies, lentils, mushrooms and walnuts simmering in a rich red tomato sauce, topped with a sprinkle of vegan parmesan cheese, this bolognese is exploding with bold Italian flavours and incredible texture.
Keep reading for tips, shortcuts, and serving suggestions for this yummy vegan meal!
We've got some picky eaters in our family, so there was a time when I was cooking 3 completely different meals just to please everyone - yikes! Funnily enough, this vegan lentil bolognese is one meal everyone likes. A few other simple, super flavorful vegan meals the whole family loves are vegan taco bowl, Thai peanut noodle bowl, and baked falafels.
Why You'll Love this Bolognese
- healthy: oil-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, plant-based, soy-free
- nourishing: packed with whole foods like lentils, mushrooms, walnuts and tomatoes
- hearty, filling, super flavorful vegan comfort food
- protein and nutrient rich
- easy to make (one pot) and inexpensive (simple pantry items)
- everyone loves it from vegan, vegetarian and plant based to meat eaters
Best Vegan Bolognese Sauce Ingredients
Here's what you'll need to make this umami rich mushroom and lentil bolognese recipe (it's a lot closer to traditional bolognese flavor and texture-wise than you'd expect)!
lentils - my choice is black or French lentils, they are small, firm and hold their shape when cooked. However, if you prefer a softer texture, choose, red, yellow or green lentils. **Depending how much time you have, choose dry lentils, precook them or use canned lentils.
walnuts (chopped) - add a lovely, subtle crunchiness and pack a huge nutritional punch.
the flavour makers.
Onions, garlic, celery, carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower are finely chopped and sautéed until golden and caramelized.
Pro Tip: The sofrito or mirepoix impart tons of intense flavour, don't rush this step - it takes time. If cooking oil-free, use vegetable broth* to prevent the veggies from sticking. As well, a splash or two of red (or white) wine at the end will deglaze the pan for additional flavour. *I use and love Better than Bouillon vegetable broth.
the tomato sauce.
I love 6N1 ground tomatoes for their slight sweetness and the richness they add; however, crushed San Marzano tomatoes are also a delicious choice.
Tomato paste adds intense depth of flavor and richness.
I often use my easy homemade Marinara Sauce for extra flavor (which is worth batch cooking and having on hand). Marinara sauce is a great base sauce for many Italian sauces such as Bolognese, lasagna with béchamel, and penne alla vodka.
Recipe Instructions Preview
- Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or deep sauté pan until shimmering.
- Place the sofrito (chopped veggies) into the pan. Sauté till fragrant and caramelized.
- Deglaze the pan with a swirl of wine or broth which dissolves all the caramelized food particles and flavor from cooking the veggies.
- Add tomato paste, spices, and seasonings.
- Add the lentils, broth, tomatoes and flavor boosters.
- Once all the ingredients are added, put a lid on the pan and let it slowly simmer while the lentils soften and the sauce cooks down and reduces for about 20 minutes. Note: I like the flavour best at ~40 minutes.
- Add more broth/water as needed to achieve the desired consistency.
FAQ + Tips
There are many vegan meat replacements for Bolognese sauce that keep it hearty and meaty these days. For example, tofu, tempeh, lentils, mushrooms, walnuts, jackfruit or a commercial meatless product like Gardein, Beyond, Impossible or Lightlife meat crumbles or vegan mince to name a few.
Yes! If you batch cook lentils or have some canned lentils in the pantry, add them to the sauce; but reduce the amount of broth in the recipe by about half.
Yes, replacing the tomatoes with homemade or a high-quality store bought marinara sauce would be a suitable trade. Marinara sauce is a great base sauce for many classic Italian sauces.
More Oil-Free, and Gluten-Free Vegan Recipes
Here are some of my favorite kitchen items from this post (affiliate links):
Deep Sauté Pan with Lid - as you can see from the photos, my pan is pretty 'well used'. We lost the lid years ago (I use a cutting board now). It's one of the most versatile, beloved pans in my kitchen.
Did you make my rich Vegan Lentil Bolognese Sauce recipe?
If so, please leave a comment and rating. Thank you so much for your support! I love seeing your creations so tag me on IG @ceeceecooks and Facebook!
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Rich Lentil Bolognese Sauce (vegan)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cups mushrooms, chopped
- 2 cups cauliflower, fine chopped
- ½ small onion, finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, finely chopped or grated
- 1 large celery rib, finely chopped
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3-4 tablespoons red/white wine to deglaze (optional)
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- ⅓ cup walnuts, chopped
- 1 tablespoon oregano, dry leaves
- 1-2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, to taste
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- ½ - ¾ cup dry lentils or 1 ½ - 2 cups cooked lentils
- 2-3 cups 6N1 ground tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- basil leaves, torn
- parmesan cheese, vegan
- 4-6 servings pasta
- Finely dice, cut, chop the vegetables as noted.
- Heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil in a deep sauté (wok style) pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, cauliflower, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic saute until fragrant and caramelized.
- If oil free, use a large nonstick skillet and add a splash of water or broth to prevent sticking as required.
- Sauté the vegetables for 10-15 minutes until they are soft and fragrant. The caramelized vegetables in the pan are very flavorful. A swirl of wine or broth will dissolve the cooked food particles in the bottom of the pan forming the base for the bolognese sauce. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to incorporate all the caramelized bits.
- Once the pan has been deglazed, add the tomato paste, walnuts, oregano, paprika, 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes, S&P to taste and cook for another minute or two while the tomato paste cooks off.
- Stir in 1 ½ cups broth and ½ - ¾ cup dry lentils*.
- Add the tomatoes, balsamic, and maple syrup. Bring up to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer covered while the lentils cook.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta while the sauce is simmering and reducing.
- Make pasta as per package directions. To keep the recipe gluten free, use your favourite gf pasta. We like Banza chickpea pasta.
- Serve sauce over pasta and top with torn basil leaves, more red pepper flakes, and vegan parmesan.
As well, oil-free vegan cooking can sometimes use a boost of flavour so deglazing with a splash of red or white wine is a great tip. Sauce - Use this homemade Marinara sauce in place of crushed/ground tomatoes. Options - serve the bolognese over a baked jacket or sweet potato topped with a swirl of cashew cream, some chopped green onions and cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Storage and Meal Prep - The Bolognese stores well in the fridge for 3 or 4 days. Freeze in several smaller containers for easy use during the week. The recipe makes a big batch which is great for meal prep.
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