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If you're after a deliciously rich lentil bolognese, look no further! This slow-cooked Italian sauce is a mix of caramelized vegetables, lentils, and tomatoes seasoned with a special savory ingredient. It's an easy vegan dinner for weeknights or slow Sundays. Ready in an hour!
This lentil bolognese sauce is hearty, healthy, and out-of-this-world delicious. The lentils give it a meaty texture so we promise you won't miss the meat!
We love lentils because they're packed with protein, iron, fiber, and other nutrients. They're like an everyday superfood and they cook quickly, too.
The thing about lentils is they're pretty much flavorless. So to make up for it, we use caramelization and miso paste to add more umami. This gives it a deep, rich, and complex flavor unlike many lentil bolognese recipes out there.
This lentil bolognese makes a delicious and healthy weeknight meal that everyone (meat eaters included) enjoys. You can easily prepare the sauce ahead of time, and even double the batch and freeze some for later!
How to make lentil bolognese
This vegan lentil bolognese is healthy, hearty, and flavorful. It makes a great weeknight dinner, and it's easy to prepare ahead of time. Here's how we make it in a few simple steps:
- To make the sauce, we cook the onions, carrots, and red bell peppers until they're golden and caramelized. Then we add the tomato paste and garlic and caramelize them too.
- Next goes the miso, lentils, and water into the pot to simmer until the lentils are soft. Toss in the fresh cherry tomatoes at the end and cook until they soften.
- Serve the lentil bolognese over some cooked pasta, and top with some parmesan cheese, fresh sage or basil, and some black pepper.
What is miso paste?
This is the secret ingredient that steps this lentil bolognese up to the next level. But what exactly is it? Miso is a fermented soybean paste. It's a traditional Japanese ingredient that's salty and earthy and adds umami flavor to a variety of dishes. We use it in this meatless recipe to mimic the richness of a traditional meat-based sauce.
You can find it at most well-stocked grocery stores in the refrigerated aisle or at any Japanese or Asian market.
Lentil bolognese ingredients
This vegan pasta sauce is filled with real, good-for-you ingredients. Here's everything you need to make this hearty lentil bolognese recipe:
- Pasta – we use rotini pasta in the pictures, but you can use spaghetti, penne, or any pasta you like. Use gluten-free pasta if needed.
- Olive oil – extra-virgin olive oil is the least processed form of olive oil and is the perfect Italian choice for sautéing veggies.
- Onion + garlic cloves – for that classic savory flavor base.
- Carrots + red bell pepper – we use a mix of carrots and bell pepper but you can use other veggies like mushrooms, celery, or zucchini.
- Sea salt + sugar – sea salt makes all the flavors pop, and a little sugar helps balance the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Tomato paste – tomato paste is basically tomato concentrate and adds an intense tomato flavor.
- Miso – miso paste might seem like a surprising ingredient, but its rich umami taste adds depth and complexity to this sauce.
- Dried brown lentils – dried brown lentils are packed with fiber and nutrition, and they cook relatively quickly. They also give provide the best texture for this sauce. You can use canned lentils in a pinch, but add them towards the end or they will fall apart during cooking.
- Cherry tomatoes – we use fresh cherry tomatoes instead of canned tomatoes for their juicy and fresh flavor.
- Grated parmesan (regular or vegan), sage leaves, black pepper – we use sage but you can also use other fresh herbs like basil or oregano instead.
Watch us make lentil bolognese!
Can I substitute red lentils?
We don't recommend it because red lentils have quite a different texture. You can try them in a pinch, but make sure to adjust the cooking time because they soften in about half the time.
Can I use other tomatoes in place of cherry tomatoes?
Yep, you can substitute an equal amount of any fresh tomato variety. Roma tomatoes are classic Italian tomatoes, but you can use any variety.
How long does it keep in the fridge?
Allow it to cool completely at room temperature, then store any leftover bolognese sauce in an airtight container in your refrigerator for 3-4 days.
Can I freeze lentil bolognese?
Yes, this sauce freezes beautifully. Store it in an airtight container in your freezer for up to 3 months! Thaw it in your fridge overnight when you're ready to use it.
What to eat with lentil bolognese
This vegan bolognese is a delicious protein-packed sauce for pasta. Pair it with some garlic bread, or a crunchy side salad for a delicious complete meal!
It also tastes delicious over zucchini noodles, layered in lasagna, or stuffed into bell peppers or zucchini boats.
Tasty salad recipes that pair well with lentil bolognese
- 12 ounces pasta (gluten-free if needed)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion (finely minced)
- 2 large carrots (finely minced)
- 1 red bell pepper (finely minced)
- 1 teaspoon Each: sea salt and sugar
- 4 large garlic cloves (finely minced)
- 5.5 ounce can tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon miso (any color works in this recipe)
- 1 cup dried brown lentils
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- Optional toppings: grated parmesan (vegan or regular), sage leaves, black pepper
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, red pepper, sea salt, and sugar to the skillet and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is well caramelized, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste to the skillet and let it cook until the tomato paste is caramelized and fragrant, about 3 minutes.2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 medium onion, 2 large carrots, 1 red bell pepper, 1 teaspoon Each: sea salt and sugar, 4 large garlic cloves, 5.5 ounce can tomato paste
- Add the miso, lentils, and water to the skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let the lentils cook, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes, or until they are soft. Stir the lentils occasionally and add more water if they are looking dry. Stir in the cherry tomatoes.1 tablespoon miso, 1 cup dried brown lentils, 4 cups water, 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- While the lentils are cooking, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain and then toss with a little olive oil.12 ounces pasta
- Serve the pasta topped with the lentil bolognese and sprinkled with parmesan and a few sage leaves.Optional toppings: grated parmesan (vegan or regular), sage leaves, black pepper
We have thoroughly tested this recipe for accuracy. However, individual results may vary. See our full recipe disclosure here.