This plant based bolognese sauce with lentils is pure comfort in a bowl. Filled with oodles of noodles and hidden veggies, all of which are typical pantry items, this easy dinner is one that will please. This is one of my favorite pasta dishes and I hope you love it, too.
Traditional bolognese sauce is an Italian classic filled with meats, herbs, tomatoes, and a touch of acidic. To make this plant based and dairy free bolognese sauce, we turn to the humble lentil, which is a power house of nutrition.
This bolognese sauce recipe is filled with hearty, simple ingredients. It makes a large pot of sauce that the whole family, both meat eaters and vegetarians, can love. Enjoy it with some homemade vegan dinner rolls or with a side of a crunchy Fuji apple salad for a delicious meal!
Why You’ll Love this Bolognese
- Hearty and comforting meal in a bowl
- Uses pantry staples
- Comes together quickly and easily
- No fancy equipment or food processor required
- Lentils: I love using brown lentils in this dish! They have a heartier texture than other lentils and really make it feel like a ground beef swap. You can also use red lentils if you want a softer texture.
- Tomato paste + Diced Tomatoes: These form the foundation of the tomato sauce. I use a can of tomato paste and a 15 oz can of diced tomatoes. For the most flavorful tomatoes, purchase a whole, peeled tomato can and then dice them by hand. I typically purchase a 28 oz can and then use half.
- Onion, Garlic, Carrots, + Vegetable Stock: These add the flavor and texture to the sauce.
- Pasta: Any kind of pasta you want to use in this vegan bolognese is good. I like spaghetti or even a twirly pasta shape like rotini to really soak up the pasta sauce.
- Herbs, Salt, + Black Pepper, Olive oil: I love to add fresh parsley and fresh basil to this dish, but you can use all dried herbs if that is what you have on hand. This is almost like an Italian seasoning blend, so you can swap for that as well. Adding some bay leaves brings a nice depth of flavor.
- Balsamic Vinegar: Added at the end to oomph up the flavor.
Make sure to check out the recipe card below for the full recipe and ingredient list.
First, start by cooking the lentils. If you have pre-cooked lentils, you can skip this step!
Rinse the lentils and remove any debris. I’ve found leaves and small twigs in my lentils before so don’t skip this step.
Add the lentils to a medium to large pot and cover with about 4 cups of water. Bring it to a boil and let them simmer for 25 minutes or so until fully cooked and soft.
While the lentils are cooking, start on the bolognese sauce.
In a skillet or cooking pot (I recommend a bit pot like a dutch oven), heat a tablespoon of oil and add the onion and carrot. Cook them until the onions are translucent. Then add the garlic, salt, pepper, and herbs.
Now add the tomato paste and cook for about 2 minutes so the tomato paste can develop some color.
Add the remaining ingredients, including the cooked lentils. Bring it to a gentle simmer and let it go while you cook the noodles in a separate pot. If you need to you can add a ladleful of pasta water to the sauce to help with the thickness.
When the sauce is done, check it for taste and add any more salt, pepper, or seasonings you need. Finish it with some balsamic vinegar and add in the pasta. Enjoy!
If you like, you can deglaze the pan with a little bit of red wine. This will add a great depth of flavor to the sauce.
Want to make it cheesy? Add a sprinkle of nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan cheese on top after cooking.
Want to make it spicy? Add some red pepper flakes to your bowl or the entire sauce. (This is my favorite way of preparing this dish by adding some spicy sprinkles!)
Yes! You can use red lentils in this dish if you prefer. Red lentils cook down very soft and will give a more saucy, meaty texture to the bolognese when used. You can use brown or green lentils as well. My grocery store always has brown so that is what I typically use.
You can heat any leftover sauce in a saucepan on the stove over medium heat until it is warmed through. A little bit of water or vegetable broth can be added if it is very thick.
Alternatively, you can also heat this in a microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals, giving a stir after each round so it is evenly heated.
If heating from frozen, add to a saucepan, add a few tablespoons of water, and cover with a lid. Let it simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until it is fully thawed and reaches a temperature of at least 165F.
You can serve this bolognese sauce over zucchini noodles or sweet potato noodles. It also makes a yummy topper for baked potatoes, especially baked sweet potatoes! Dollop it over top of nachos for a fun twist.
Traditionally, a thick and flat noodle like tagliatelle. Pappardelle and fettuccine also work. Rigatoni and penne rigate are also good noodles. For this, I used plain spaghetti which is an American contribution. Basically, any noodle you like works in this dish!
How to Store
This keeps best in an airtight container in the fridge. I suggest that you store the bolognese separately from the pasta which will then keep for about 5 days. If you mix the pasta in with the sauce, the pasta soaks up the sauce over a few days, so I only suggest you keep it for 3 days stored together.
You can store the bolognese sauce without pasta in the freezer in freezer safe containers or freezer bags. It will keep for about 2 to 3 months.
More Hearty Recipes
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- Cooking pots
- measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- mixing spoon
- Chef’s knife
- Cutting board
- 1 cup lentils dry uncooked. about 2 cups cooked lentils
- 4 cups water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup onion diced, about 1 medium onion
- 4 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 cup carrot diced, about 4 carrots
- ½ cup tomato paste
- 2 cups tomatoes diced
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 1 teaspoon oregano dried
- 1 teaspoon thyme dried
- 1 teaspoon basil dried
- 1 tablespoon parsley fresh (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the lentils. Rinse the lentils in a sieve to remove any dust, leaves, etc. In a medium sized pot, combine the lentils with the water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 25 minutes or until most of the water has been absorbed.
- Start the vegetables. In a large pot on the stove over medium heat, warm the oil and add the diced onions and carrots. Cook until the onions are translucent. Then add the garlic, salt, pepper, and herbs, cooking for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and let cook for an additional 2 minutes or until it has darkened slightly in color.
- Add remaining ingredients. Now add the diced tomatoes, vegetable stock, and cooked lentils. Bring this to a simmer and turn the heat to low-medium, letting it cook for about 15 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
- Cook the pasta. When the onions begin cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Cook the pasta according to package directions, making sure to save a little bit of pasta water, if needed. Drain the pasta but do not rinse.
- Finish the bolognese. Give the sauce a little taste and adjust for salt and seasoning if needed. Stir in the balsamic vinegar. Finally, add the hot noodles to the sauce and stir until all the noodles are well coated. Garnish with more fresh herbs and enjoy!
- If you are not eating all of the bolognese at once, I recommend storing the noodles and bolognese sauce separately so that the noodles don’t absorb all the sauce.
- How to Store
- This keeps best in an airtight container in the fridge. I suggest that you store the bolognese separately from the pasta which will then keep for about 5 days. If you mix the pasta in with the sauce, the pasta soaks up the sauce over a few days, so I only suggest you keep it for 3 days stored together.
- You can store the bolognese sauce without pasta in the freezer in freezer safe containers or freezer bags. It will keep for about 2 to 3 months.