Lentil Bolognese

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

This savory (and vegan) Lentil Bolognese will be your new favorite way to top pasta! The Bolognese is loaded with veggies, lentils, tomatoes, and plenty of seasonings. This meal is hearty, nutritious, protein-packed, and filling.

Overhead view of Lentil Bolognese on a bed of spaghetti.

Lentil Bolognese: protein-packed meal without meat!

Lentils have become a favorite in my home, especially in this lentil curry or lentil soup. I love how economical they are plus they’re packed with protein, making them filling and sustaining. It’s frequently assumed that without meat, a meal won’t have enough protein or be filling enough, so I love that lentils do provide so much protein and staying power. Only 1/2 cup of cooked lentils provides about 12 grams of protein!

So while this lentil Bolognese is meat free, it’s still packed with protein and is incredibly hearty. It’s also loaded with veggies and good nutritious ingredients — it’s a meal you just feel good eating!

Process shots: placing carrots, celery and onion in a pan; sauteeing those veggies; adding chopped mushrooms; more sauteeing; combing seasonings in a bowl; adding seasonings and tomato paste to the pot.

Let’s talk lentils

First things first, make sure you’ve got the freshest dried lentils possible. Older lentils take a lot longer to cook and often shed their skins during cooking. Here’s information on how to tell if your lentils are fresh.

Lentils do not need to be soaked before using in this recipe. You do, however, want to give them a good rinse in a colander (with cold water) and remove any debris that may have made its way in. Sift through the lentils to make sure there aren’t shriveled lentils or any debris tucked away that got missed.

You’ll want to use dried lentils for this Bolognese; here’s why I use brown lentils and recommend brown or green lentils:

  • Brown/green lentils cook quickly (between 20 and 30 minutes) and will thicken the Bolognese sauce. They also lend a mild earthy flavor.
  • Red/orange lentils are more processed, break down quickly (about 20 minutes), and then turn mushy; this is ideal in a many Indian curry dishes where the lentils are meant to thicken the dish. Using red/orange lentils will make for a more mushy Bolognese sauce with less texture.
  • Puy Lentils (French lentils) take nearly 45-50 minutes to cook through and are ideal in salads. French lentils in this sauce absorb too much liquid and overcook all the veggies, so I don’t recommend them.

Once you’ve got the lentils cooking, trust that a gentle simmer will cook them perfectly. Bring the pot to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low so that the pot just barely bubbles around the edges. This is the perfect temperature to cook the lentils at for this lentil Bolognese sauce.

What about canned lentils?

I highly recommend using dried lentils (I think they provide a better end flavor and texture, plus they’re cheaper!). Another reason to use dried lentils is that the Bolognese needs to simmer for such a long time anyways that it won’t save you time to use canned lentils. If all you have is canned lentils, I’d recommend adding them (drained and rinsed) after the sauce has already simmered for about 20 minutes. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes with the canned lentils, or until they’re tender.

Process shot: completing the sauce by adding grape juice; cooking down the liquid; adding crushed and diced tomatoes; adding lentils; stirring in vegetable broth; and simmering

Why grape juice?

Because of all the acidity (mainly from the tomatoes) in this lentil Bolognese, there needs to be something to offset that. Typically Bolognese recipes will use some sugar or even baking soda to balance that acid. However, I like to use grape juice! Unsweetened, 100% Concord grape juice has a great depth of flavor and richness ( similar to adding wine), but it also has that sweetness to counteract the acidity. I use Concord (purple) grape juice in a lot of dishes (like this shepherd’s pie or short ribs recipe) as the perfect balancing ingredient! 

Lentil Bolognese tips

  • Good tomatoes make all the difference in this Bolognese sauce. I highly recommend San Marzano® or Muir Glen® fire-roasted crushed and diced tomatoes in this recipe.
    • Why fire-roasted tomatoes? When tomatoes are charred over a flame before being crushed (or diced) and canned, the contact with that flame brings out the tomato’s sweetness and gives a distinct smoky flavor. It’s a great way to get more flavor without any extra work.
  • Lower-quality canned tomatoes tend to be a bit more acidic; so if needed, add a teaspoon or two of sugar to counteract that.
  • Finely dice the veggies: You don’t want any chunks of uncooked carrot, onion, or celery, so take your time to be certain the veggies are finely and evenly diced.
  • Emulsify the pasta: This final step is totally optional, but if you’re feeling fancy, try it! Toss the finished lentil Bolognese sauce with reserved pasta water and hot pasta. This is called emulsifying and is one of the secrets to great Italian pasta. It’s how you get a luxurious sauce that coats every bit of pasta. More info here ? 

Overhead view of finished Lentil Bolognese sauce in the pot; sauce served over spaghetti.

How to use up leftover Lentil Bolognese

I love how much sauce this recipe makes, because I can use it in other recipes during the week. Here are some of the ways we’ve used leftover Lentil Bolognese sauce:

  • Spaghetti Squash: For a low-carb meal, add a few heaping spoonfuls of the leftover Bolognese sauce on top of a roasted spaghetti squash. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
  • Stuffed Peppers: Mix cooked white rice with a few cups of this sauce. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook bell peppers for 5 minutes; remove and drain well. Place about 1/2 cup of Lentil Bolognese sauce on the bottom of a 9-x-13-inch pan and then fill the peppers with the rice/Bolognese mixture. Top with 1 cup of marinara, cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees F. Uncover, add 1 cup of shredded mozzarella on top and bake for another 5-10 minutes (until peppers are tender and cheese is melted).
  • Italian Sloppy Joes: Pile a few spoonfuls of the sauce on top of some crusty rolls, top with mozzarella cheese, and broil for 1-2 minutes in the oven.
  • Stuffed Shells: Use this Bolognese sauce to top cheese-filled stuffed shells!

Overhead view of spaghetti topped with Lentil Bolognese sauce.

More vegetarian meals

FOLLOW ALONG! Subscribe to my newsletter and follow along on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram for the latest updates, recipes and content.

Lentil Bolognese

5 from 2 votes
This savory (and vegan) Lentil Bolognese will be your new favorite way to top pasta! The Bolognese is loaded with veggies, lentils, tomatoes, and plenty of seasonings. This meal is hearty, nutritious, protein-packed, and filling.
Print Recipe

Lentil Bolognese

5 from 2 votes
This savory (and vegan) Lentil Bolognese will be your new favorite way to top pasta! The Bolognese is loaded with veggies, lentils, tomatoes, and plenty of seasonings. This meal is hearty, nutritious, protein-packed, and filling.
Course Dinner
Cuisine Italian
Keyword Lentil Bolognese
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Servings 6 - 8 servings
Calories 392kcal
Cost $7.12

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup (125g) EACH: diced yellow onion, diced carrot, diced celery
  • 1 container (8 oz; 226g) finely diced cremini mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (~5 cloves)
  • 1/4 cup (56g) tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon EACH: dried thyme, dried basil, dried oregano, dried Italian seasoning
  • Fine sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • 1/2 cup (125g) 100% Concord grape juice
  • 1 can (28 oz; 793g) fire-roasted diced tomatoes (undrained)
  • 1 can (28 oz; 793g) fire-roasted crushed tomatoes (undrained)
  • 2 cups (490g) vegetable broth
  • 1 cup (209g) dried brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 package (16 oz; 454g) spaghetti

Instructions

  • VEGGIES: Add the olive oil to a large pot over medium heat. Add in the diced onion, carrot, and celery. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add in the diced mushrooms and sauté for another 3-5 minutes or until veggies have cooked down and are mostly tender. Add in the garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute.
  • SEASONINGS: Add in the tomato paste and all of the seasonings: the dried thyme, dried basil, dried oregano, and dried Italian seasoning. Season to personal preference (I add 1 and 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt and 1 teaspoon pepper). Cook and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • GRAPE JUICE: Add the grape juice and simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 3 -5 minutes.
  • TOMATOES: Add the diced tomatoes and crushed tomatoes and stir for 1-2 minutes. Next, add in the vegetable broth, and the rinsed/picked over lentils. Bring to a boil and add in the bay leaves.Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, simmer uncovered for 5-10 minutes or until lentils are tender and the sauce has thickened. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Taste the sauce and adjust seasonings as needed (I typically add another 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt here).
  • PASTA: Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions. Make sure to generously salt the water (I add 1 teaspoon to every 4 cups of water), since under-salted pasta water will make the whole dish will taste under-seasoned. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water and then drain pasta and set aside. Add pasta to a plate or bowl and top with the sauce or emulsify (see next step).
  • OPTIONAL EMULSIFY: (see Note 1) Place a portion of the Bolognese sauce in the same pot used to cook the pasta. Add hot drained pasta right on top. Toss the pasta and sauce gently for a couple of minutes, slowly adding reserved pasta water as needed until the sauce thickens and generously coats the noodles. Return this emulsified sauce to the rest of the sauce.
  • ENJOY: Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and parsley, if desired.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Emulsifying the pasta is totally optional, but if you're feeling fancy, try it! Toss the finished Lentil Bolognese sauce with reserved pasta water and hot pasta. This is called emulsifying and is one of the secrets to great Italian pasta. It's how you get a luxurious sauce that coats every bit of pasta. More info here ? 

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 392kcal | Carbohydrates: 72.4g | Protein: 16.6g | Fat: 5.2g | Sodium: 180.5mg | Fiber: 8.4g | Sugar: 11.3g

DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE?

I love hearing from you when you've made one of my recipes! Tag me on Instagram at @ChelseasMessyApron or leave me a comment below.

Our Favorite Products
More Recipes You'll Love

Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps

50 mins

Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps

Click the Bookmark Icon to Add to Your Favories

Black Bean Burger

41 mins

Black Bean Burger

Click the Bookmark Icon to Add to Your Favories

Lentil Curry

1 hrs 5 mins

Lentil Curry

Click the Bookmark Icon to Add to Your Favories

Lentil Soup

1 hrs

Lentil Soup

Click the Bookmark Icon to Add to Your Favories

FREE BONUS

FREE BONUS

EASY MEAL SECRETS:
How to Make Mealtime Hassle Free!

5 secrets to easy, fast and delicious dinners.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Leave a Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *






7 Comments

    1. Red wine would work, or additional veggie broth. If you use broth, you may need to add some sugar to counteract the acidity 🙂

  1. I can’t seem to find brown or green lentils, but did find black lentils. What is your opinion on cooking with these?

    Thanks for you help!

  2. 5 stars
    I made this for my husband (who is a total meat eater) and got the approval! It’s really filling and delicious. Thank you for helping me slowing convert him over.

  3. 5 stars
    I followed your recipe word for word and it’s fantastic! It’s healthy and very filling. After trying many recipes, this one came close to the real thing!

Never Miss a Recipe

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.