30-Minute Easy Lentil Bolognese

Created by Laura Wright
4.96 from 23 votes

This 30-minute easy vegan lentil bolognese is luscious, meaty, and clings beautifully to rigatoni pasta. Dried porcini mushrooms, Tamari, tomato paste, garlic, and thyme add depth to the mouthwatering sauce. Total cooking time for this hearty dinner is 30 minutes thanks to canned brown lentils, all on the stovetop!

An up close, overhead shot of a braiser pot filled with rigatoni with lentil bolognese sauce. The pasta is garnished with finely chopped parsley and a spoon is sticking out of the pot.
An overhead shot of a serving of lentil bolognese rigatoni in a wide, white bowl. A checkered napkin is nearby and the pasta is garnished with finely chopped parsley.
An overhead image shows ingredients used for a vegan, 30-minute lentil bolognese pasta.

I love a vegan bolognese! One of the community’s favourite recipes on the site is this hearty mushroom and beet bolognese. I also have a delectably savoury eggplant bolognese in my vegan cookbook. This comforting lentil bolognese recipe has all the depth, meaty, and toothsome qualities of those recipes, but it cooks up in 30 minutes, exclusively on the stove. The way the sauce clings to the rigatoni pasta is just heavenly. Overall, it’s a hearty vegan dinner that comes together simply with pantry ingredients.

What gives lentil bolognese more flavour?

  • Dried porcini mushrooms: For speedy and substantive flavour, these dried mushrooms are brilliant. Here, we soak a small amount of dried porcini mushrooms in boiling water. Once they’ve re-hydrated, we reserve that umami-packed soaking liquid and finely mince the mushrooms. There is no substitute for this ingredient.
  • Shallots: I prefer shallots to onions here because they have a milder flavour that seems to develop a bit faster than onions. Perfect for this weeknight recipe!
  • Tomato paste & marinara sauce: A whole can of tomato paste delivers concentrated, umami-packed tomato flavour. We cook it out for a couple minutes to extract that tin-y flavour. Prepared marinara sauce is a great shortcut to add slow-simmered flavour to this quick meatless bolognese.
  • Tamari: If you’ve made my recipes before, you’re no stranger to the finishing touch of Tamari in my dishes. Here, it enhances the deeply savoury porcini mushrooms and just makes the final product more mouthwatering.
  • Aged balsamic vinegar: This product is bitter-sweet and syrupy in texture. The flavour balance in this 3+ years aged product is like nothing else. I find it to be a powerful tool in my kitchen. It accents tomato-based sauces, highlights the natural acidity, but also enhances with sweetness.
  • Non-dairy “cream” or milk: Many traditional bolognese recipes are finished with whole milk to enhance the overall luscious qualities of the sauce. We do that here with an unsweetened vegan “creamer” and it’s an easy, totally plant-based way to add richness to the bolognese.

Instead of meat, this is a lentil bolognese with canned brown lentils. This is the first time I’ve featured canned lentils on my site! Normally, I find canned lentils to be a bit too soft for my liking, but in this easy lentil bolognese dinner, they work well. The convenience and velvety texture is sublime as they bubble away in the sauce. Also, we love that boost of plant-based protein and fiber. For even more of that goodness, go for whole grain pasta.

More vegan weeknight pastas:

I love finishing this satiating vegan pasta dinner with lots of finely chopped, peppery parsley and freshly ground black pepper. If you have some vegan parmesan kicking around, it’s lovely here as well.

An up close, overhead shot shows a braiser-style pot filled with a lentil bolognese sauce. The pot handle is splattered with tomato concentrate.
An overhead shot shows freshly cooked rigatoni piled on top of a lentil bolognese sauce in a braiser-style pot. A napkin is wrapped around the pot's handle.
An overhead shot of a braiser pot filled with rigatoni with lentil bolognese sauce. The pasta is garnished with finely chopped parsley and a spoon is sticking out of the pot.
An overhead shot of a braiser pot filled with rigatoni with lentil bolognese sauce. The pasta is garnished with finely chopped parsley and a spoon is sticking out of the pot.
An overhead shot of a serving of lentil bolognese rigatoni in a wide, white bowl. A checkered napkin is nearby and the pasta is garnished with finely chopped parsley.

30-Minute Easy Lentil Bolognese

This 30-minute easy vegan lentil bolognese is luscious, meaty, and clings beautifully to rigatoni pasta. Dried porcini mushrooms, Tamari, tomato paste, garlic, and thyme add depth to the mouthwatering sauce. Total cooking time for this hearty dinner is 30 minutes thanks to canned lentils, all on the stovetop!
4.96 from 23 votes
An overhead shot of a braiser pot filled with rigatoni with lentil bolognese sauce. The pasta is garnished with finely chopped parsley and a spoon is sticking out of the pot.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 0.5 oz (14 grams) dried porcini mushrooms & boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, fine dice
  • 1 small stick celery, fine dice
  • 1 small-medium carrot, fine dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons thyme leaves, minced (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 5.5 oz (162 ml) can tomato paste
  • 19 oz (561 ml) can lentils, drained and rinsed
  • sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups prepared marinara sauce
  • 1 cup reserved porcini soaking water
  • 2 teaspoons Tamari soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar (see notes)
  • cup non-dairy “creamer” or rich milk (see notes)
  • 12-14 oz (340-396 grams) dry rigatoni pasta
  • chopped flat leaf parsley, for serving (optional)

Notes

  • Don’t forget to reserve 1 cup of the porcini soaking water.
  • It’s really important to cook out the tin-y flavour of the tomato paste as much as possible (without burning it haha)
  • Prepared marinara gives us deep flavour in a short amount of time with this bolognese. My preferred brand is Rao’s.
  • I use a syrupy aged balsamic vinegar here. If you’re using a regular balsamic vinegar that’s more fluid, I recommend also adding a teaspoon of sugar at the same time.
  • Since most traditional bolognese recipes incorporate whole milk, I like to use an unsweetened non-dairy creamer here at the end for richness. Some of the richer milk options such as soy, cashew, or oat will work in a pinch. You can also blend ¼ cup soaked and drained cashews with ¾ cup water for a homemade option that will taste great.

Instructions

  • Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl. Cover them with boiling water and set aside for 30 minutes. Once rehydrated, drain the mushrooms (reserving the water). Finely mince the mushrooms and set aside.
  • Get a pot of boiling water going for your pasta.
  • Heat a braiser-style pot or deep skillet over medium heat. Once the pot is hot, add the olive oil and swirl around. Add the shallots, celery, and carrot all at once. Stir and sauté until vegetables are very tender and slightly caramelized, about 8-10 minutes. Lower the heat if they are browning too fast.
  • Add the garlic, smoked paprika, bay leaf, and thyme to the pot and sauté until fragrant, 1 minute.
  • Add the tomato paste to the pot and stir often for about 2-3 minutes, until the tomato paste has slightly darkened in colour. Add the drained lentils and chopped porcini mushrooms, and stir. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Add the marinara sauce and porcini soaking liquid to the pot and stir. Bring the mixture to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer. Simmer the sauce for 10 minutes with a lid partially covering the pot. Check in and stir up the sauce here and there. While this is happening, start cooking your pasta—cook according to package directions minus 2 minutes (pasta is finished in the sauce)
  • After the 10 minute simmer, add the Tamari and balsamic vinegar to the lentil bolognese sauce and stir. Add the non-dairy creamer and stir. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning if necessary. Fish out the bay leaf.
  • Keep the sauce on a simmer while you add the mostly cooked pasta. Bring the sauce and pasta back up to a simmer and cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until pasta is al dente. Serve the bolognese hot with chopped parsley if you like.
A 3/4 angle shot of a serving of lentil bolognese rigatoni in a wide, white bowl. A checkered napkin is nearby and the pasta is garnished with finely chopped parsley.
22/02/2023 (Last Updated 01/11/2023)
Posted in: autumn, carrots, earthy, gluten free option, lentils, main course, mushrooms, nut free, pasta, quick, refined sugar-free, salty, sauce, smoky, sour, spring, summer, sweet, tomatoes, umami, vegan, winter

18 comments

Recipe Rating




  • Susan

    5 stars
    Love this recipe! I didn’t have mushrooms and my lentils were already seasoned ones I had leftover from a warm lentil salad, but even so this made a quick delicious dinner! Thanks you, I love following your recipes since I’m an older adult who became a vegan only five years or so ago.

    • Laura Wright

      That is a perfect pasta choice for this sauce! So glad that you enjoyed it, Naomi :)
      -L

  • Ilona

    5 stars
    Oh and I made sunflower seed cream because didn’t have cashews or store bought cream on hand.

  • Ilona

    5 stars
    Another hit! Laura you’re a flavour wizard. This is so delicious, I can’t stop eating it. For the gluten free humans – I used Garofalo brand penne and it worked so well! Followed the recipe exactly, including finishing the pasta in the sauce, and it didn’t fall apart/break up at all. Truly a GF miracle.

    • Ilona

      5 stars
      Oh and I made sunflower seed cream because didn’t have cashews or store bought cream on hand.

  • Sherryn

    4 stars
    This was very good though I opted not to add any milk (oat milk was my choice but it the flavor was too strong). I also did not finish the penne in the sauce because I live alone & am working on portion planning :-D I have reserved the rest of the sauce and will make some cashew cream to incorporate. Looking forward to it!

  • Allie

    5 stars
    I made this last night. It was delicious, filling, and satisfying. I used home-cooked lentils made ahead because I couldn’t find canned (thank you for noting that in the comments!), Banza penne, and cashew cream. I’m not fully vegan, but I’m always looking for ways to add more plant-based meals into our rotation, and we will make this one again. I really appreciate your website and cookbook!

  • Pam

    5 stars
    Another winner! I love your recipes. Used dried lentils and just simmered the sauce longer, next time I’ll cook them first. Thank you for the great work!

  • Cassie

    What if I forgot to save the porcini soaking water? Just add regular water or veg stock or? Asking for a friend. : )

    • Laura Wright

      I would go with veg stock! ;)
      -L

  • Gina

    5 stars
    I made this dish the same day you sent the email about it. It turned out fantastic! I served mine over Cauliflower Gnocchi and mixed in some baby spinach as well. Delicious! And, tastes even better the next day.

    • Sherryn Sherryn Adair

      Cauliflower gnocchi! Genius!!

  • Laurie

    5 stars
    This looks wonderful! I cannot find canned lentils at my grocery store. I assume it would be fine to simply cook lentils ahead and then add to this recipe where you would add canned lentils?

    • Laura Wright

      Hi Laurie!
      Yes, that is the perfect strategy. You’ll need about 2 1/4 cups of cooked brown lentils total.
      -L

      • Laurie

        5 stars
        Laura, thank you. I plan to make this soon — looks like a perfect comfort meal!

  • Amanda

    This looks great. dried porcini is hard for me to find. What is your recommended substitute? :)

    • Laura Wright

      There really isn’t a perfect substitute because they add so much to this minimal cooking time recipe. I would say dried shiitake mushrooms would be suitable, but my guess is that they may be just as difficult to find. For what it’s worth, I can’t always find dried porcini mushrooms locally, so I order them online.
      -L