Spaghetti Bolognese is such a classic Italian dish, and this is our favourite vegetarian bolognese that uses store cupboard staples and takes just 5 minutes prep time. This Lentil Bolognese recipe (or lentil ragu as it is sometimes know as) is still packed with protein and flavour, but uses lentils instead of meat.
A really rich and comforting sauce that goes perfectly with pasta. It's a vegan bolognese and freezes really well, making it perfect for batch cooking.
We love comfort food, but that doesn't have to mean meat. Vegan and vegetarian food can be super comforting too, especially when it contains lentils. This lentil bolognese is healthy comfort food at its finest.
Loaded with veggies, easy to adapt and even meat eaters will enjoy this healthy spaghetti bolognese! It has so much flavour, you really won't miss the meat. Whilst this isn't the quickest dish to make, it's worth cooking it low and slow for that intense flavour.
Why should you try it?
- Vegan comfort food - This lentil bolognese is totally comforting, without the need for meat.
- Lower fat alternative to a bolognese - If you are looking for some lower in fat meals, then swapping your usual spaghetti bolognese for a vegan bolognese is an easy swap.
- Freezes well - This veggie bolognese freezes really well, making it perfect for bulk cooking.
- Protein packed - Protein doesn't have to mean meat and lentils are great source of vegan protein.
- Lots of veggies - We had added some extra vegetables to make this lentil bolognese extra nutritious.
- Easy to adapt - You can easily adapt it with more vegetables and extra flavours. More on that below.
- Oil - Use a good quality olive oil.
- Shallots - This adds a nice sweetness to the bolognese. You can use brown onion if you prefer.
- Carrots - Dice the carrots finely so they they cook quickly. If the chunks are too big then they will still be hard.
- Garlic - Freshly crushed is always best. Make sure it is crushed in to almost a paste so there is an even distribution of garlic in the sauce.
- Mushrooms - This helps to bulk the red lentil bolognese out a bit and mushrooms also have a really meaty texture.
- Lentils - We used red lentils, but we have given instructions on using green lentils below.
- Tinned tomatoes - This is what makes up most of the sauce. Try to use the best quality tinned tomatoes you can. The cheaper ones are really watery and don't have much flavour. You want a nice rich sauce.
- Tomato puree (paste) - Make sure to use tomato puree from a tube rather than a can, as the stuff from a can tends to have a metallic flavour.
- Balsamic vinegar - This adds a lovely sweetness to the vegetarian bolognese. Try to use the best quality you can, as the cheaper brands tend to be a bit watery.
- Basil - We used dried basil, as this is cooked low and slow. But you could add some fresh basil just before serving if you prefer.
- Stock - This helps to loosen up the sauce. Use vegetable stock to keep it vegan.
A full ingredients list with measurements is in the recipe card below.
How to make lentil bolognese - Step by step
One: Put a little oil in a large pan and add the onion, garlic, carrot and mushrooms and gently sweat for 12 minutes.
Two: Add the dried lentils, canned tomatoes, basil, tomato puree, stock and balsamic and stir. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Lentils - We used red lentils, because we like a nice smooth and creamy sauce. Red lentils tend to break down and become a bit mushier when cooked over time. However, if you prefer them to hold their shape then use puy (green) lentils instead. Cooking times may vary though.
Vegetables - Lentil bolognese is a great opportunity to add lots of vegetables and there are loads of options. We used onion, mushrooms and carrot in this red lentil bolognese. However you could chop up some bell peppers, aubergine, broccoli or courgette. Try to go for softer quick cooking vegetables.
You could give this vegetarian bolognese a green boost by stirring in some spinach before serving.
What to serve with Lentil Bolognese
We have served this vegan spaghetti bolognese with linguine, however tagliatelle or pappardelle would work too. You want to use a thick pasta, as this sauce will really cling to it. You can use any pasta though, and it also makes a good Bolognese Pasta Bake.
We try to always make sure we have leftovers, and it goes really well on a baked potato, rice or even nachos.
Our Cheesy Garlic Bread would go really well with this too, but make sure to use a vegan cheese alternative to keep the whole meal vegan.
Store: Leftovers will keep in an air tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. The flavours are better the next day.
Freeze: This freezes really well. Portion it out in to freezer bags and then you can lay it flat in the freezer for easy storage. It will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Defrost: You can defrost it in the fridge overnight.
Reheat: Add to a pan and heat through until piping hot. You may need to add a little water to it to loosen it up a little.
Frequently asked questions
Lentils are a great source of iron. One portion of lentils has around a third of your daily requirement of iron. Mix some spinach in to this stew and you have yourself an iron pack meal. They are also a great source of protein and fibre. Lower in fat than meat, swapping beef for lentils is a great way to lower the fat in your diet.
The bolognese itself is gluten free. Just make sure to use gluten free pasta.
If you sauce is too thick, then you might have cooked it at too high a heat. To think it out, reserve some of the pasta water when draining and add it to the bolognese to thin it out to your desired consistency.
• Give the vegetables plenty of time to cook and don't rush this step, as you want them to be nice and soft.
• Make this sauce even richer with a glug of red wine.
• To keep this vegan, use a vegan Parmesan alternative.
• You can make this quicker by using pre-cooked lentils.
• You can swap the dried basil or dried oregano.
• We used a can of cherry tomatoes, however you can use chopped or plum tomatoes.
• If you want a smoother sauce, you could blend the vegetables and then add them back to the pan before adding the lentils.
• Add some extra flavour by cooking a bay leave with this (remember to take it out before serving).
• You can get an even smoother sauce by blending half of everything and then adding it back to the pan.
• Give the sauce a kick of heat by sprinkling some chilli flakes on top before serving.
More lentil recipes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 shallots - diced
- 1 medium carrot - peeled and diced
- 3 garlic cloves - crushed
- 6 mushrooms - diced
- 100 g dried red lentils
- 400 g canned cherry tomatoes
- 2 tablespoon tomato purée
- 2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 400 ml vegetable stock
- Put a little oil in a large pan and add the onion, garlic, carrot and mushrooms and gently sweat for 12 minutes.
- Add the dried lentils, canned tomatoes, basil, tomato purée, stock and balsamic and stir. Simmer for 20 minutes.
- Give the vegetables plenty of time to cook and don't rush this step, as you want them to be nice and soft.
- Make this sauce even richer with a glug of red wine.
- To keep this vegan, use a vegan Parmesan alternative.
- You can make this quicker by using pre-cooked lentils.
- You can swap the dried basil or dried oregano.
- Use the best quality canned tomatoes you can, as you will taste the difference. Cheaper one will be watery. The same goes for the balsamic vinegar - the better quality one will make a much nicer sauce.
- We used a can of cherry tomatoes, however you can use chopped or plum tomatoes.
- If you want a smoother sauce, you could blend the vegetables and then add them back to the pan before adding the lentils.
- Add some extra flavour by cooking a bay leave with this (remember to take it out before serving).
- You can get an even smoother sauce by blending half of everything and then adding it back to the pan.
- If the sauce is too thick, then reserve some of the pasta water when draining and add it to the bolognese to thin it out to your desired consistency.
- Give the sauce a kick of heat by sprinkling some chilli flakes on top before serving.