Vegan BologneseThis post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read my disclosure.
This hearty vegan bolognese has a meaty texture from the lentils, walnuts, and celery! It’s simple to make, family-friendly, and ready in less than 30 minutes. Scoop it onto your favorite pasta for an easy weeknight meal.
A classic bolognese is a meat based Italian sauce. In Italy, it’s often served with wide noodles such as tagliatelle, pappardelle or fettuccine. This lentil bolognese is a vegan spin on the original, with a hearty, meat-like sauce made from lentils, mushrooms, and walnuts. Even meat eaters love it!
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A traditional bolognese sauce can take hours to simmer. One recent recipe I came across had a total preparation time of 4 1/2 hours!
While I love a good slow cooked recipe, most of the time I need something quick, delicious, and family friendly in under 30 minutes. Vegetarian bolognese checks all the boxes! My family devours it and promptly asks for seconds, not even realizing they’re eating veggies.
Veggie bolognese is satisfying, healthy, and plant-based. A combination of lentils, onions, walnuts, celery, and mushrooms mimic the taste and texture of ground beef. It’s a healthy vegetarian Italian recipe!
👩🍳 Why This Recipe Works
- 30 minute one-pot meal
- Full of heart-healthy protein, fiber, and fresh veggies
- Plant based bolognese is just as satisfying as a classic Italian bolognese sauce
- The whole family will love it
- No meat, dairy, or animal products
- Vegetarian bolognese sauce
- A perfect recipe to meal prep
- Best vegan bolognese ever!
Vegetarian spaghetti bolognese requires simple ingredients found at your local grocery store! Here’s what you need:
- Olive Oil: To sauté the aromatics. Any neutral oil can be used.
- Onion & Garlic: The base of any good sauce! Any type of onion works. You can buy pre-chopped onions in the produce section if you like, and pre-minced garlic too! A jar of garlic lasts about a month in the fridge. I don’t recommend garlic powder instead of fresh garlic, as it won’t have the same flavor.
- Veggies: Carrots, celery, and mushrooms add meaty texture, flavor, and nutrients.
- Walnuts: Crushed walnuts mimic the texture of meat in this vegan mushroom bolognese.
- Seasoning: Italian seasoning, paprika, crushed red pepper, and salt season the “meat” sauce. For more heat, increase the amount of red pepper flakes or add black pepper. For no heat, omit it altogether.
- Tomatoes: Canned tomatoes make the base of the marinara sauce. I prefer crushed tomatoes because they have a bit of texture to them.
- Lentils: Lentils are one of the main ingredients for this bolognese sauce recipe. Cooked lentils bulk up the “meat sauce” with plant-based protein. I recommend a sturdier lentil that will hold up well against the pasta and sauce. Brown lentils and green lentils both work great in this recipe. You can also use smaller brown de puy lentils if you want the lentils themselves to blend into the sauce more. I don’t recommend red lentils, since they’re prone to get mushy.
- Vegetable Stock: You can add water but vegetable broth is the best option. It adds a great depth of flavor that water doesn’t.
Vegan spaghetti bolognese is easy to customize! Try one of these delicious variations.
- Pasta: Use any of your favorite pasta types! Spaghetti is a popular option, but rotini, ziti, penne, or fettucine are great options too. My favorite pasta is any type of lentil or chickpea pasta or whole wheat pasta. Legume-based pastas add a boost of plant-based protein, which I love. Zucchini noodles are a good low-carb option.
- Veggies: Add some leafy greens! Try spinach, swiss chard, or lacinto kale. Add it around the same time you add the diced veggies so it cooks down and wilts.
- Vegan Meat: If you want, you can swap the lentils with vegan “ground meat”. Just cook it before you start the sauce and add it the same time you would add the lentils.
- Tofu Bolognese: Stir in tofu crumbles with the lentils for more protein! You can make your own by marinading crumbled extra-firm tofu in soy sauce and nutritional yeast, then roasting until golden brown.
- Green Lentil Bolognese: Make this vegetarian bolognese recipe recipe with green lentils instead of brown!
- Tempeh Bolognese: Add crumbled and roasted tempeh along with the lentils!
🔪 How To Make Vegan Bolognese
This lentil bolognese recipe is super easy to make! Here’s step-by-step instructions with photos to guide you through it.
Cook Lentils, Sauté Aromatics: Cook your lentils according to the package instructions. Drain them and set aside for later. In a large dutch oven or pot, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the red onion, then the garlic & sauté until the onion is soft and transparent.
Add Veggies: Add the diced carrots, celery, mushrooms, and walnuts. Sauté for 5 minutes or until tender. Add the seasoning & stir to combine.
Add Tomatoes: Pour in the crushed tomatoes and stir well. If needed, add 1/2 cup of water to thin out the sauce. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
Blend Sauce: Carefully transfer the tomato sauce to a food processor and pulse several times. The sauce should still be chunky with texture.
Simmer Sauce: Return the spaghetti sauce to the same pan with the cooked lentils and add 1/2 to 1 cup of vegetable stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until the vegan meat sauce thickens.
Enjoy: Season to taste, then serve meatless bolognese with freshly cooked pasta. Top with vegan parmesan cheese and fresh basil!
❓ Recipe FAQs
This vegan bolognese recipe is made with lentils for protein, mushrooms for a meat-like flavor, and walnuts for a meaty texture. Garlic, onion, carrots, and celery add flavor and crushed tomatoes make the base of the pasta sauce. Some recipes call for tofu crumbles, but I prefer the hearty taste and texture of lentils and mushrooms.
Yes, lentils add texture, protein, and bulk to plant-based recipes. One cup of lentils contains 18 grams of high-quality plant-based protein. They’re also a rich source of calcium, iron, folate, and potassium. They work great in vegan stews, soups, sauces, and curries.
Yes! Thanks to the lentils and veggies, this recipe is super healthy for you.
Here’s what makes this sauce healthy:
1) High in Fiber & Protein: This recipe has over 7g fiber per serving, about 23% of your daily fiber needs. Fiber is important for healthy digestion, and it also slows the rate at which sugar is absorbed into your blood stream.
2) Vitamins & Nutrients: Lentils are rich in iron, folate, B vitamins, potassium and zinc. Carrots provide Vitamin A, potassium and biotin. And mushrooms are rich in B vitamins making this a nutrient packed dish.
3) Low Calorie: Lentils are a healthy meat alternative, and also happen to be lower in calories and fat than regular meat – making this meatless dish a lightened up version of traditional bolognese.
This vegan bolognese sauce will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days in an airtight container. To freeze, transfer to an air-tight freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight. To reheat, just pop it into the microwave and reheat until warmed throughout.
💭 Expert Tips
- For best results, pre-cooking the lentils is key! That way you can control how soft your lentils become and it avoids the lentil bolognese sauce from getting too mushy.
- Serve this plant-based recipe with whole wheat, chickpea or legume based pastas to add some extra plant protein to your meal. Or use veggie noodles to increase your veggie intake!
- Don’t over process this vegetarian meat sauce! When you add it to the food processor, make sure to keep it a little chunky so you still get that great meaty texture.
- I wouldn’t recommend using red lentils or yellow split peas in this vegetable bolognese recipe (since both tend to get mushy very fast).
🍆 More Delicious Vegan Recipes!
- Slow Cooker Vegan White Bean Soup
- Vegan Thai Green Curry
- Chunky Vegan Black Bean Soup
- Vegan Tikka Masala
- Vegan Turkey
LOVE THIS RECIPE? Please leave a 5-star rating 🌟 in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page!
📋 Recipe Card
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup chopped red onion
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 2 carrots diced
- 4 celery sticks diced
- ½ cup mushrooms diced
- 2 tbsp walnuts crushed
- 1 tbsp dried Italian seasoning
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt more to taste
- ⅛ tsp crushed red pepper more to taste
- 2 cups crushed tomatoes
- 2 cups cooked lentils
- 1 cup water or vegetable stock
- Cook your lentils according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the red onion and sauté.
- Add the garlic, sauté until transparent, around 4 minutes.
- Add the diced carrots, celery, mushrooms and walnuts. Sauté for 5 minutes until tender.
- Add the Italian seasoning, paprika, salt and red pepper flakes, stir to combine.
- Pour in the crushed tomatoes and stir, add ½ cup water if the sauce is a little thick, bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
- Transfer the sauce to a food processor and pulse several times, making sure to keep the sauce slightly chunky.
- Return the sauce to the pan along with the cooked lentils and ½ – 1 cup water or vegetable stock.
- Bring to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes or until the sauce begins to thicken.
- Season to taste.
- Serve warm with your favorite pasta.
- Pre-cooking the lentils is key! That way you can control how soft your lentils become and it avoids the sauce from getting too mushy.
- For some extra veggies, you can also add spinach to the sauce. If you choose to add spinach, I recommending adding it at the same time you add the carrots/celery/etc. so that it melts into the sauce and cooks down well.
- Serve this bolognese with whole wheat, chickpea or legume based pastas to add some extra plant protein to your meal
- Don’t overprocess the sauce! When you add it to the food processor, make sure to keep it a little chunky so you still get that great meaty texture.
- This recipe will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.