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How to Cook Savory Vegan Lentil Bolognese

100% vegan comfort food: this vegan lentil bolognese recipe is savory and "meaty" with Italian soffritto, easy canned lentils, and savory vegan umami. 🍝

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100% vegan comfort food: this vegan lentil bolognese recipe is savory and “meaty” with Italian soffritto, easy canned lentils, and savory vegan umami. 🍝

Vegan lentil bolognese scooped on top of cooked pasta, with a fork and green linen napkin on the side.

What is UP, my kitchen besties! Who’s STOKED to learn how you can turn a classic Italian meat dish into a savory, vegan dish? You can cook delicious plant-based meals & be the dinnertime hero. I’m here every step of the way, droppin’ knowledge for ya!

Nervous Herbivore Takes On an Italian Classic

Plate of pasta and tomato sauce with lentils and fork

Nobody really gets offended when you make a vegan salad.

But when you start talkin’ crazy, like “I’m gonna make vegan pulled pork!” or “Try these tempeh ribs!”, some people get their feathers ruffled! 😂

So here I am. Taking on the very traditional Italian bolognese. Which is, by definition, a meat sauce. And I’m taking the meat out of it.

Delicious, savory, lentil-filled sacrilege!

This vegan, lentil bolognese is damn good. No, it’s not meat. But it IS deeply savory and has that “stick to your ribs” heartiness.

If you follow me on Instagram, you might recall seeing this in my stories! Yep. I was researching bolognese.

OK, Let’s Make Vegan Lentil Bolognese

First, grab these ingredients:

  • Pantry Staples: canned lentils, canned crushed tomatoes, olive oil, tomato paste, onion, carrot.
  • From the Fridge: portobello mushrooms, celery, fresh sage, miso paste, vegetable broth concentrate paste (I love “Better Than Bouillon” brand here in the US, nope not paid to say that).
Ingredients in small bowls and plates, including: a portobello mushroom, diced vegetables, canned lentils and tomato sauce.

Cook the Soffritto

Put that heavy dutch oven on the stove and add a glug of extra virgin olive oil. Cook the diced onion, celery & carrots for about 8 minutes over medium.

These 3 ingredients are called soffritto and are the base of many Italian dishes. I grew up in Tampa, a largely Cuban city, where sofrito is onion, garlic & bell pepper. And in my college years in New Orleans, I learned to start dishes with the “Holy Trinity” of onion, bell pepper & celery. 🤷🏼‍♀️

OK, anyhow! Once they’re soft and slightly caramelized, add portobello mushrooms and tomato paste. Oooo, our flavor is building.

Once that has cooked down for a few minutes and looking lovely, dump all of the other ingredients in. Give it a stir. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes if the fam is getting hangry. If you’re able, the longer it simmers the more amazing it gets.

Pro Tips for Perfect Lentil Bolognese

Closeup of lentil bolognese over corkscrew pasta

Wait, Why Are You Using Canned Lentils Instead of Dried Lentils?

  1. It really sucks to cook something with lots of love, only to realize the beans or lentils in your dish are still crunchy. It’s usually because the bag of dried lentils were too old, sitting on your grocer’s shelf forevvvvver. I’ve cooked BBQ beans in a crockpot for 8 hours and then put them in the pressure cooker, only to have them still crunchy. Don’t suffer my fate. Use canned beans.
  2. You have to soak dried beans and lentils before using them. Like, for 3 hours. 🙄 Ain’t nobody got time for that.
  3. I live at high altitude. Even with soaking time and not-old-beans, it still takes forever.
  4. Canned lentils are ready to eat, cheap and work perfectly every time.

How Do You Make Lentils Taste “Meaty”?

One word: umami. It’s a Japanese word meaning “savory, meaty flavor that makes your mouth water”. You can take the meat out of a dish and replace it with a plant-based protein… but you’re NOT automatically replacing the savory, meaty, umami flavor.

Vegan Lentil Bolognese on a plate with fork. Blue pot of lentils and garlic bread in the background.

Here’s how you build that flavor back up in vegan lentil bolognese:

  1. Cook the concentrated tomato paste directly in the pot to caramelize those intense flavors. Don’t just stir it into the pot with the crushed tomatoes.
  2. Use mushrooms. Portobello, porcini or shiitake mushrooms especially will all add umami to a veg dish. A must have.
  3. Add miso paste. I know!! So weird, it’s a Japanese ingredient! 🤷🏼‍♀️ It doesn’t change the flavor of the dish, but it adds umami. Just go with it.
  4. Add vegetable broth concentrate paste, like Better Than Bouillon. It’s rich, yeasty and has epic umami. Typically you mix 1 teaspoon with 1 cup of warm water to make vegetable broth, but in some dishes like bolognese and chili, I stir a teaspoon in undiluted.

Hungry for More?

Want to learn TONS more about vegan umami? If you’ve read this whole post, um, yeah you’re ready!

Check out this whole article I wrote about it!

Print

Vegan Lentil Bolognese


  • Author: Katie Allen
  • Prep Time: 10
  • Cook Time: 25
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 6 Servings 1x

Description

100% vegan comfort food: this vegan lentil bolognese recipe is savory and “meaty” with Italian soffritto, easy canned lentils, and savory vegan umami. 🍝


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrots, diced
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced
  • 2 portobello mushrooms, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 28 oz crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable stock concentrate paste
  • 2 cans brown lentils, drained
  • fresh sage
  • salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a large, heavy-bottom pot (like a dutch oven), add olive oil and heat over medium. Add onion, carrot and celery. Cook for 8 minutes.
  2. Add portobello mushrooms and tomato paste. Stir and cook 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add remaining ingredients. Stir well, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Taste and season with salt & pepper.
  5. Serve over pasta.

  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: lentil bolognese, vegan bolognese

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