10-Ingredient Lentil Bolognese

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This 10-Ingredient Vegan Red Lentil Bolognese is hearty, meaty, and packed with umami but 100% wholesome, vegan, and gluten-free. And it’s made with just 10 main ingredients—all pantry staples!
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 45 mins
Total Time: 55 mins
5 from 74 votes

I’m a firm believer that a lot of the magic in a vegan kitchen happens in the pantry, and this Lentil Bolognese is a prime example. It’s a fantastic example of how to leverage budget-friendly, shelf-stable ingredients into a comforting, tasty meal. In fact, some of my other favorite pasta dishes are made entirely out of pantry ingredients but they never sacrifice on flavor (think vegan caramelized onion pasta, Italian white bean and pasta stew, or creamy pantry pasta).

A bit more on bolognese. I used to enjoy a good bolognese (a lot). After going vegan, I tried quite a few vegan bolognese recipes, but they fell flat (or terribly). They mostly tasted like vegetables in marinara sauce.

So I challenged myself to come up with a plant-based spin that delivered the same flavor and texture profile as traditional bolognese. And this version delivers – it’s meaty but in a wholesome vegan way, packed with umami goodness, and oh so rich and thick. Plus, it requires just 10 main ingredients (all pantry staples), so you can almost always make it at a moment’s notice.

Why you’ll love this lentil bolognese recipe

10 main ingredients. Okay, not counting water, oil, salt and pepper. But yeah, just 10 main ingredients!

Pantry staples. And all of these ingredients are pantry staples (i.e., you might already have all the required ingredients in your pantry).

Budget-friendly. With just 10 main ingredients that are all pantry staples, this recipe is also budget-friendly! I was able to make this recipe for $9-$10, and at six servings, that’s about $1.50 for a meal.

Comforting and hearty. It’s hearty and meaty but not in-your-face meaty. And it’s packed with umami, thanks to an entire tube of tomato paste and walnuts. It’s rich, thick, and sticks to your ribs. Hello, comfort food pasta!

Wholesome and healthy. The bolognese sauce is made entirely with wholesome ingredients like red lentils and walnuts. Feel free to make it even more wholesome with whole wheat pasta.

Tips for making this recipe

1. Soak your red lentils before you start on anything else. You’ll need to soak them in cool water for 30 minutes, but you can soak them for up to 1 hour. This helps soften them up. If you don’t soak the lentils, the will take closer to 45-60 minutes to soften.

2. To crush the walnuts, the easiest/quickest method is a food processor or spice grinder. But if you want to wash fewer dishes, just chop them very finely with a large knife. You want to chop them really finely; otherwise, you’ll end up with hard bits of walnut. Not terrible but not great.

3. If you’re using crushed tomatoes, you might need to add a bit of water as you cook the sauce to prevent the mixture from drying out or burning. You should not need to if using diced tomatoes.

4. I like to finish my red sauces with a splash of good-quality balsamic vinegar. The acidity balances the richness of the bolognese, and the slight sweetness pairs nicely with the tomatoes. However, if you don’t have a good-quality balsamic vinegar, I recommend omitting it, as an inexpensive everyday balsamic vinegar won’t add much (and might make it worse). If your bolognese is a bit too sour for your taste, add in a teaspoon of brown sugar or coconut sugar at the end instead of the balsamic vinegar.

Frequently Asked Questions about Vegan Red Lentil Bolognese

How do I store leftover bolognese? 

If you’re planning to eat only some of the pasta on the day you cook, the leftovers will stay best if you store the bolognese separately from the pasta. That said, the combined leftovers are still very tasty and should last 3-4 days in the fridge. This red lentil bolognese sauce stored separately will last a bit longer, about 5 days.

Can I freeze bolognese? 

Yes! The bolognese sauce (without pasta) freezes quite well. Just thaw completely in the fridge before reheating.

Can I substitute the red lentils? 

Sort of. I recommend red lentils because they cook down the softest out of the common lentil varieties (and also take the least amount of time to cook). If all you can find is brown or green lentils, you can use those (some readers have done so), but you might need to increase the cook time. Also, keep in mind, the texture might have more bite to it.

What’s the best pasta shape to serve with lentil bolognese? 

Traditionally, in Italy, bolognese is served with egg-based tagliatelle, but since I’m vegan, that’s obviously a no-no. A thick, long pasta or a ridged pasta shape is ideal for holding this hearty, chunky sauce. Think fettuccine (similar to tagliatelle), pappardelle, or linguine, as well as rigatoni or fusili, or even gnocchi!

How else can I serve bolognese? 

Aside from pasta, you can also serve the bolognese over zucchini noodles or sweet potato noodles for a lighter option. You can also use this filling as a vegan sloppy joe filling or dollop it over nachos for a spin on “chili cheese nachos.”

red lentil bolognese on a table, topped with parsley

Substitutes for this Vegan Red Lentil Bolognese

In the event you don’t have all the exact ingredients on hand, here are some substitutions to try.

No onions? Shallots work just great.

Gluten-free? Use gluten-free pasta! The bolognese sauce itself is gluten-free.

No vegetable broth. You can use water, but you’ll want to add more salt for a bit more flavor. Or, you can try using a vegetable broth powder like this! This particular is very flavorful and packed with umami.

No walnuts? Pecans work just fine!

No red lentils? Green or brown lentils have a longer cook time but can still work (many readers have used these instead). Just check them along the way – they might need 5 to 10 minutes more.

overhead shot of pasta in a bowl, with some parsley sprinkled on top

And if you give this recipe a try, be sure to tag me on Instagram with your recreations and please comment with your feedback below!

10-Ingredient Vegan Red Lentil Bolognese

5 from 74 votes
This 10-Ingredient Vegan Red Lentil Bolognese is hearty, meaty, and packed with umami but 100% wholesome, vegan, and gluten-free. And it’s made with just 10 main ingredients—all pantry staples!
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 45 mins
Total Time: 55 mins
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: Italian
Diet Vegan
Keyword: 10 ingredients, bolognese, gluten-free, pantry recipe, red lentils, soy-free
Serving size: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 (5.3-ounce/150g) tube or (6-ounce/170g) can of tomato paste
  • 3 cups (720 mL) vegetable broth*
  • 1 cup (185g) red lentils, soaked (see step #1)
  • ¼ cup (32g) walnuts (or pecans), crushed finely
  • 1 (14.5-ounce/410g) can of crushed tomatoes or diced tomatoes
  • 12-16 ounces (340-454g) egg-free pasta** (a wide, long pasta such as tagliatelle or fettuccine; or tube-shaped pasta such as rigatoni or penne work best; or gnocchi)
  • 1 tablespoon high-quality balsamic vinegar***
  • Flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped (optional)

Instructions

  • Soak the 1 cup of lentils in water for 30 minutes, or up to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, prep all the other ingredients (i.e., chop the onions and garlic, chop the walnuts, etc.)
  • Heat a 12-inch skillet or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, and once it’s shimmering, add the onions and season with a pinch of salt. Stir occasionally and cook the onions until a light brown fond starts form on the surface of the pan, about 5 minutes. Add a few spoons of water to deglaze the pan, and stir. Continue cooking the onions, adding more water every few minutes and stirring frequently to prevent burning, until the onions are softened and golden brown, 9-10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, thyme, oregano, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and pepper to taste. Stir frequently and cook for 60-90 seconds.
  • Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2-3 minutes to caramelize, stirring very frequently, until it’s darker red in color.
  • Pour in the broth to deglaze the pan, stirring any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the lentils and walnuts, and stir to incorporate. Heat until the mixture comes to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a rapid simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the crushed or diced tomatoes and simmer for another 15-20 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still al dente, stirring occasionally to prevent burning and sticking. If using crushed tomatoes, you may need to add a little water as you go along to prevent burning and sticking. If needed, lower the heat as needed to prevent burning.
  • Meanwhile, cook your pasta in a large pot of generously salted boiling water until just al dente. Drain but do not rinse.
  • Taste the bolognese for seasonings, adding more salt and pepper to taste. Finish with the balsamic vinegar (or sugar)***, and stir to combine.
  • Add the hot cooked pasta to the bolognese and toss until well coated in the sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley, if using.

Notes

* If you don’t have vegetable broth, you can use water, but you’ll want to use a bit more salt to season.
** If allergic/intolerant to gluten, use gluten-free pasta.
*** If you don’t have a high-quality balsamic vinegar, you can (a) omit or (b) substitute with 1-2 teaspoons of organic brown sugar or coconut sugar (start with just 1 teaspoon, then taste, and add more as needed).

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109 comments on 10-Ingredient Lentil Bolognese

  1. Anita

    I made this tonight with zucchini noodles instead of the pasta and without the oil, and it was really delicious and so filling. I always look forward to your videos. You are such a hoot 😂.

  2. Patti

    I couldn’t believe how “meaty” this was even though it’s made with whole foods! It was such a nice meal for our Sunday night family dinner. Even my meat-eating boys licked their plates clean.

  3. Rosy

    Unbelievably good! So delicious!! Will be repeating often!!

  4. Joanne

    Absolutely superb. Served this to my Italian husband for our meatless Monday dinner and he licked his plate clean! Will be making this again and again.

  5. Eleanor

    This is the best bolognese I’ve ever made. Well done on another great recipe. The balsamic puts it over the top!

  6. Kate

    Hi Nisha! I just made this, and it it lovely. (I’m actually eating it right now, as I type!) I did make a few substitutions- split red lentils(which dramatically quickened the cook time), and I followed your suggestion to add a mushroom in place of nuts(although I did keep the nuts-I just like mushrooms!), and the nutmeg suggestion another commenter made, but they were small alterations. Going to have to stop typing a review now- my stomach really wants me to shift my entire attention to eating this lovely Bolognese. Thank you for sharing it!

  7. Darien

    This is third recipe I’ve made of yours and it’s delish just as I suspected! I used red lentil noodles because I’m gluten free and prefer them because they hold their shape and texture really well. It was very lentil-y as you can imagine lol but still yummy!

  8. Ari

    I loooooove this recipe and make very, very, very often. The flavors are so hearty and meaty but still balanced out with the acidity and sweetness of the tomatoes and the balsamic vinegar. I often add carrots, a little red chili and deglaze the pan with a sip of red wine after sautéeing the onions, garlic, herbs and tomato paste. Even though many meat-eaters get easily scared off when they hear “vegan lentil bolognese”, all my meat-eating friends enjoy this dish a lot! Thanks for this and so many other great recipes!

  9. Isabelle

    This was awesome! Bravo! My family loved it and usually they are not found of my lentil sauces. My teen son who is always asking me just to do a normal meat sauce like every normal mom, well he devoured it and didn’t say or asked what was this! Husband and daughter said it was delicious and to keep this recipe. I only added a big carrot finely chopped and celery also finely chopped with the onion and a bay leaf with the herbs, and halved the salt, because had to personalize it to make it my own😂. Really good, thanks Nisha, you are genius.

  10. Judit Hernadi

    I just made this for lunch and couldn’t stop at one serving! Tasted fantastic! Thank you so much for this recipe!

  11. Rachael

    Hi Nisha
    Do you think we could use almonds or cashews or pumpkin seeds instead of walnuts? My husband is allergic to all nuts except for those two.

  12. Astrid

    Really easy and a big hit with my family. We have a meat bolognaise recipe and my family loved this one just as much. I also added a teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika and used a little sundries tomato paste. Love it, definitely make it again.

  13. Hannah Mathew

    so good! Tastes meaty even though it has no meat in it!

  14. MissV

    I am Italian and I have to say this is absolutely delicious. I was unsure about this recipe because of the amount of tomato paste used (I thought this would make the sauce too acidic) and the mix lentils/tomato but I am flat I tried! It is fab. I used passata instead of crushed tomatoes and double concentrate instead of the tomato paste (it might be the same I don’t know). I will cook this for my family I am sure it will convince them!

  15. HB

    I’ve made this for my housemates about a dozen times and it’s a huge favorite. So, so rich and satisfying. I like to make it less sweet/more umami by decreasing the tomato paste by 1/3 and adding a few T of soy sauce in place of some of the salt. I also cook the red lentils fully, rather than until “al dente”–the texture of harder lentils is nice but I find it really hard on the stomach.

  16. Sam

    Loved this! It had real depth of flavour but was pretty simple. I added a medium, finely grated carrot about a minute before the tomato paste just to bulk it out and sneak in more veges which turned out great. Would love an instant pot version but I don’t have the IP skills yet to adapt it…..would love to hear if anyone has!

  17. Amber

    Just made this (again) for Valentine’s Day dinner. It’s so flavorful and packed with umami! We ate it with whole wheat pasta the first time I made it, which was great, but this time, since my husband is on a soft food diet for a couple weeks post oral surgery, I served it with Nisha’s creamy vegan polenta recipe. The pairing was so good. So glad we have leftovers!

  18. Todd

    This dish is so good and so easy. It’s become a weekly staple for my girlfriend and me. Neither of us are vegan but we’re trying to eat more plant-based and recipes like this make it so easy.

    Our go-to move is to make a big batch and then freeze half of it in pre-packaged single servings. That way, we always have some available and can have a delicious dinner on the table in the time it takes to cook pasta. Thank you, Nisha!

  19. Amber Robinson

    Great recipe! I can’t wait to make this. Also, I’d love to know where you got that beautiful bowl that your bolognese is displayed in?

  20. Kana

    This red lentils bolognese was sooo good! It was easy to make and Flavorful and satisfying. Thank you for sharing this recipe:)

  21. valerie

    GOD this was SO GOOD, i was not expecting this to be great bc it was unusual and i had never made a meat sauce replacement and omg wow. amazed. so so good.

  22. Liz Lumsden

    This was absolutely delicious! My husband, who LOVES meat, said he did not miss the lack of mince in this bolognese at all. My kids (2 and 4) also loved it.

    I’ve been making a few of your recipes since discovering your site a few weeks ago – every single one has been delicious and it’s lovely to know I have a trusted site to go to for meat-free days and recipes to help me get more veg into my family.

    Thanks!

  23. Kathleen

    I’m seeking nutritional info for this recipe please :) thank you

    1. Liz Lumsden

      Yes, that’s the only thing lacking on these recipes, I think.

  24. Kathleen Moore

    My first try with this recipe. Love it !!! This moves to the top, along side the red lentil curry, my go to dish!!! Thank you for having these options available.

  25. Anna

    It was definitely not what I’m used to but still good. Although 20 mins was not enough cook time for my lentils, which I had pre soaked.

  26. Eoin O Riordan

    Great recipe, thanks very much – it’s difficult to find vegan dinners that my 3 & 5 yr old will eat, they loved this! Just added a little chilli powder towards the end.

  27. Cheryl Brisson

    Delicious! Really meets the craving for a hearty pasta sauce. Thanks for advising to soak the lentils…they had the perfect texture!

  28. Lorraine waters

    I adore your recipes they are full of flavor! I really want to try the red lentil bolognese recipe, could you please recommend a balsamic vinegar that I should use? Thank You for all you are doing!!!

    1. Nisha

      Hi Lorraine, thank you! I love the aged balsamic vinegar from We Olive (there’s a store in my area, but they also accept online orders). If you use Amazon, I’ve included a great high-quality option below.

      https://shop.weolive.com/vinegar/?gclid=Cj0KCQiApY6BBhCsARIsAOI_GjbDVs1VjqN6B9pORNCkkQUrvaSYlBSR2kQxmlD2-cms83rjEFjdX-EaAkoLEALw_wcB
      https://amzn.to/3cVPuXM

  29. Subir

    I just made this and it was outstanding! I am a previous long time meat eater and I thought the use of the the nuts (I used pecans) was very satisfying. Highly recommend to anyone even those who are new to cooking like myself!

    1. Srav

      I agree! Love what the addition of nuts did to the consistency of the sauce- I used walnuts!

      1. Liz Lumsden

        Me too! They added a wonderful richness, and I love that they also added good stuff to the family!❤️

  30. Srav

    I love this recipe so much.
    I really did have everything in my pantry too :) it’s so good and hearty! Love how the walnuts add to the texture so perfectly.

  31. Snowy

    Wow! I totally loved this recipe. Tastes very ‘meaty’, nice and thick, just yum, and not too much effort. I maybe wouldnt add so much salt but that’s just personal preference. Will definitely be making again … and again … thankyou! 🙂

  32. Aggie

    I made this recipe with puy lentils because I didn’t have red ones on hand and omg this is soooo good! You get a great volume of it too so it’s definitely worth making if you’re looking for something easy to make when hosting a dinner for example. Will me making this again and again!

    1. Nisha

      Hi Aggie, great to hear the bolognese worked well with Puy lentils (I love those). Thanks for sharing your feedback!

  33. Martina

    I’ve just finished cooking. And can’t wait for tomorrow. Yummy.
    My husband looked in the pot and asking me what’s making it looks like meat.
    Thank you for another delicious recipe.

  34. Jennifer

    Has anyone tried making this with red or white wine as part of the liquid ingredients? I think wine adds so much flavour to pasta sauces. I’m looking forward to trying this recipe :)

    1. Jennifer

      I forgot to ask: does it matter if you use split red lentils instead of whole red lentils? I’m assuming it doesn’t make much of a difference. I only have split red lentils in my pantry so I was just curious.

      1. Nisha

        Yes, feel free to use those! They should actually cook a little more quickly than the regular ones.

        1. Jennifer

          In case anyone is curious, red split lentils work well in this recipe. I cooked them in the broth for 5 minutes and then I added the crushed tomatoes and cooked them for another 5-7 minutes.I also deglazed the onions with red wine and it was so good. This sauce was so flavourful :)

          1. Nisha

            Lovely to hear that the split lentils worked well too (I often use them interchangeably, depending on what’s in my pantry). The red wine addition is the best. Thanks for sharing what you did differently – always helpful!

    2. Nisha

      And yes, red wine is fantastic in this! I would normally have added it here, but wanted to keep it to 10 ingredients :) I would deglaze with 1/3-1/2 cup dry red wine, then add the broth, walnuts, etc.

      1. Jennifer

        Awesome, I will have to try it with red wine :)

  35. Elizabeth W.

    Straightforward and delicious – perfect winter weeknight comfort food! The sauce smelled amazing as it was simmering, and the lentils got to a really great texture that wasn’t too mushy (or too hard). Definitely will be making again!

  36. Kathy

    The lentils do a great job of pretending to be ground meat. We thought this was satisfying. Was plenty flavorful. We made as instructed using “better than bouillon” veg broth, and canned tomato paste / tomatoes that contributed salt so while I added only half the salt suggested it came out too salty. Next time I’ll wait until the end to add any salt. I’ll also add less tomato paste since that was a bit too prominent for my liking. Took me longer to make so I was in the kitchen awhile, mainly because the onions took a long time to begin to brown.

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