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:
- Creamy Vegan Spinach & Mushroom Pasta
- Vegan Truffle Pasta with Balsamic-Roasted Broccoli Rabe
- Creamy Vegan Penne Pasta with Rosé Sauce
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.
30-Minute Easy Lentil Bolognese
- 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)
- ⅓ 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)
- 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.
- 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.