This hearty, savory Lentil Bolognese is a great vegetarian meal that doesn’t sacrifice comfort. It’s also high in protein and fiber!
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- How to Serve: Divide the lentil Bolognese into bowls and top with grated parmesan or nutritional yeast and fresh basil.
- 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.
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
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.
Lentils and mushrooms are common substitutions for meat in Bolognese. Some recipes use walnuts, tofu, or a vegan ground meat alternative.
More Lentil Recipes You’ll Love
Yield: 8 servings
Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups
- 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
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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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