Lentil Bolognese

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This hearty, savory Lentil Bolognese is a great vegetarian meal that doesn’t sacrifice comfort. It’s also high in protein and fiber!

Lentil Bolognese

Lentil Bolognese

I get asked to share more vegetarian recipes often, and I am always happy to because I love eating plant-based foods. Lentils are a fantastic source of protein and fiber, and unlike dried beans, they cook quickly without pre-soaking. This vegetarian Lentil Bolognese makes an excellent meatless dinner. Mushrooms and a whole can of tomato paste create a deeply savory foundation of flavor made richer with the wine, but you can easily omit it if you’d like. For a more traditional Bolognese recipe, I have stovetop, slow cooker, and Instant Pot versions.

Lentil Bolognese ingredients

Red Lentil Bolognese Ingredients

  • Vegetables: Dice one yellow onion, two medium carrots, and eight ounces of baby bella mushrooms.
  • Salt to season the vegetables
  • Tomato Paste: Use an entire can of tomato paste for a more complex flavor.
  • Garlic: Mince three garlic cloves.
  • Wine: Red wine adds richness and depth to the Bolognese sauce. Make sure to use a dry, good-quality one.
  • Tomatoes: I swear by Tuttorosso’s canned tomatoes. Crushed or diced tomatoes will work here.
  • Liquid: Use vegetable broth or water to cook the lentils.
  • Lentils: Brown, green, or split red lentils are all good options for this Bolognese recipe. Each type has roughly the same cooking time, but split red lentils have a finer texture once cooked, while brown or green will be more distinctive in the sauce.
  • Herbs: Season the Bolognese with dried oregano or Italian seasoning and garnish with fresh basil.
  • Parmesan: Garnish with freshly grated parmesan or nutritional yeast for a vegan lentil Bolognese.
  • Pasta: To increase the protein, serve this dish over high-protein pasta.

How to Make Lentil Bolognese

  1. Vegetables: Sauté the onion, carrots, mushrooms, and salt in a large pot over medium heat. Cook until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms start to cook down.
  2. Tomato Paste: Stir in the tomato paste and garlic and cook for five minutes until the paste is a deeper red and starts to smell toasted.
  3. Bolognese Sauce: Pour the red wine into the pot to deglaze and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes, broth, lentils, and Italian seasoning. Increase the heat to high, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is just below a boil.
  4. Simmer: Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 25 to 40 minutes until the lentils are tender. Keep the liquid at an active simmer, which means there should be a little bubbling but not a full boil.
  5. Pasta: Boil a large pot of salted water and cook the pasta to al dente according to the package directions. Once done, drain the pasta and stir into the sauce.
  6. How to Serve: Divide the lentil Bolognese into bowls and top with grated parmesan or nutritional yeast and fresh basil.

Variations

  • Mushrooms: Swap baby bellas with white button mushrooms.
  • Not a mushroom fan? You can skip the mushrooms if you dislike them, but they do give the sauce a meatier texture and umami flavor. If you dice them very small, the mushrooms aren’t as noticeable.
  • Wine: Substitute red wine with white wine or omit it if you prefer not to cook with it. If you don’t want to open an entire bottle of wine, buy the mini bottles or cans at the supermarket.
  • Broth: If you’re not vegetarian, you can always use chicken broth or stock if that’s what you have.

What to Serve with Lentil Bolognese

  • Pasta: This easy Lentil Bolognese sauce is excellent over pasta, like linguini, rigatoni, or rotini. I used Barilla’s Protein+ pasta for extra protein and fiber. If you have a gluten sensitivity, choose your favorite gluten-free noodles.
  • For a lower-carb option, serve it over zucchini noodles.
  • If you want to add a side dish, try this pasta with garlic knots, an Italian side salad, or roasted green beans.
  • Meat: If you’re not vegetarian and want more protein, pair it with salmon or chicken.

Storage

Leftovers will last up to five days in the refrigerator or three months in the freezer.

  • You can freeze the Bolognese and pasta together or make just enough pasta for the first night. Then freeze the sauce separately and cook fresh pasta before eating.
  • To thaw, let the container sit overnight in the refrigerator and reheat it on the stove or in the microwave until warm. You may need to add a splash of water or broth if it’s too thick.

Lentil Bolognese FAQ

What is lentil Bolognese?

Bolognese is an Italian pasta sauce made of ground meat, tomatoes, vegetables, and milk or cream, which originated in Bologna, Italy. Lentil Bolognese swaps ground meat with lentils for a vegetarian meal that’s also more economical since lentils cost less than meat.

What can I put in Bolognese instead of meat?

Lentils and mushrooms are common substitutions for meat in Bolognese. Some recipes use walnuts, tofu, or a vegan ground meat alternative.

Lentil Bolognese

More Lentil Recipes You’ll Love

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Lentil Bolognese Recipe

5 from 8 votes
6
Cals:358
Protein:19.5
Carbs:69
Fat:3
This hearty, savory Lentil Bolognese recipe is a great vegetarian meal that doesn’t sacrifice comfort. It’s also high in protein and fiber!
Course: Dinner, main dish
Cuisine: American-Italian
Lentil Bolognese
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Total: 1 hour 10 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced (1 cup)
  • 8 ounce package baby bella mushrooms, diced
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup red wine, optional
  • 15- ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes, I swear by Tuttoroso
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup brown, green, or split red lentils
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Italian seasoning or dried oregano
  • 1 pound high protein pasta, such as Barilla or gluten-free pasta
  • fresh basil, optional for garnish
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, substitute nutritional yeast for vegan

Instructions

  • In a large pot, warm the oil over medium heat.
  • Add the onion, carrots, mushrooms, and salt. Stir to coat with oil and sauté for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent and the mushrooms start to cook down.
  • Add the tomato paste and garlic to the pot. Stir thoroughly and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring, or until the tomato paste is a deeper red and starting to smell more toasty.
  • If using, use the red wine to deglaze the pot. Cook for another minute or two until the liquid cooks out.
  • Pour in the tomatoes, broth, lentils, and Italian seasoning. Increase the heat to medium-high, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is just below a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low, keeping the liquid at an active simmer, cover and cook for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occassionally or until the lentils are tender.
  • Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, when the sauce is almost ready cook the pasta according to package directions, for al dente. Drain and stir in the cooked pasta into the sauce, divide into bowls and top each bowl with grated Parmesan or nutritional yeast and fresh basil.

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Nutrition

Serving: 1 1/2 cups, Calories: 358 kcal, Carbohydrates: 69 g, Protein: 19.5 g, Fat: 3 g, Sodium: 748 mg, Fiber: 10 g, Sugar: 11 g

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28 comments on “Lentil Bolognese”

  1. IMHO this could stand up to any Bolognese. I only deviated by adding a leek hanging out in my fridge, otherwise followed Gina’s recipe. I recommend adding the wine and using a good quality vegetable stock. This is absolutely delicious.

  2. Absolutely delicious! I made this the day before I planned to serve it because I prefer to do that with soups and sauces. The only change I made was instead of red wine I used dry Vermouth since I had it on hand.

  3. Delicious! A lighter veg version of traditional bolognese. I used red lentils and chicken broth, because I was out of vegetable broth.

  4. Made this for dinner tonight for myself, my husband and 16 year old son who is very hard to fill up! Followed the recipe exactly as written, using red lentils, and we all loved it. A quick and easy meatless meal that has protein and fiber. We are kind of foodies and my only thought was that it seemed to be slightly “one note” and missing a certain something but I can’t put my finger on what that might be! I might play around with it next time, but this really was such a hit for what I was looking for that it will probably be in regular rotation. I would love to have more lentil recipes as we prefer them over black beans, etc. Thank you so much for this recipe, Gina!!

  5. Avatar photo
    Betty L Duncan

    I haven’t tried this yet, I’m very interested, but 8 servings are just too much for 2 people. I often make a large batch of “regular” Bolognese sauce and freeze 2-cup quantities for future dinners. Would this sauce freeze well? If so, I’ll be making it next week.

  6. I love Skinnytaste and own almost all the cookbooks and credit your creative recipes with helping me lose weight without getting bored. But I’m an experienced cook and I had some technical issues with this recipe. I’ve encountered problems before with simmering lentils in tomato sauce, as the acidity prevents them from softening fully no matter how long you cook them. I thought I could get around it by only using the tomato paste as instructed and then reserving the crushed tomatoes until after the lentils softened. Still, I had the same problem. After 40 minutes, the lentils were still very underdone (I used a fresh bag of Stop & Shop store brand green lentils). I ended up needing to add water in 1/2 cup increments and cooking it for probably about an hour and a half total. I whisked the lentils vigorously to break them up a bit and eventually got them to a pleasantly toothsome, if still slightly al dente texture. Then I added the crushed tomatoes and simmered a bit longer. The taste is good, and I love the concept, but I think I would start with a couple cans of lentils instead next time. Or at least par-cook the dried lentils until softened before adding them.

  7. OMG, talk about flavor!
    This is delish, makes a huge pot. It’s just my boss and me at work and this fits the bill as a great meatless alternative.
    Thanks much, Gina 🙂

  8. Super tasty
    I added 1/2 tsp of fennel seeds to hot oil with vegetables.
    The fennel added a fun layer of Italian flare to the sauce. I might add some chili flakes to next batch for a little kick.
    Thanks again for a great meatless meal.

  9. Looks great Gina especially as a gluten free and dairy free eater. If I were to make this ( cook all ingredients without the pasta first) in the instant pot 6 quart and cook the pasta separately, how long do you think it would take on Pressure Cook? Many thanks!

  10. Hi Gina, thanks for such a yummy meat free recipe. Do you know the cholestrol and saturated fat numbers? This recipe works great with gluten free chickpea pasta.