A versatile plant-based bolognese sauce that's rich, hearty and oh so flavourful. Here, the stars of the show are a trio of lentils, walnuts and portobello mushrooms. When slow cooked with other simple ingredients, bold and complex flavours are coaxed out. A terrific vegan pasta sauce to batch cook!
A good hearty bolognese sauce is fine comfort food. Rich and warming from the inside out, it’s a thing of beauty spooned over a bowl of freshly cooked pasta.
I adore classic bolognese so much I feel it’d be a crime to pass off a lacklustre plant-based version. Not this one though – it’s hearty, ‘meaty’ (can I dare say that?) and has serious depth. It absolutely holds its own.
Let’s kick off with commonly asked nutrition and foodie questions on bolognese:
What is bolognese sauce? A meat-based sauce originating from the Italian cuisine, specifically the city Bologna. A genuine ragù alla bolognese often contain onions, carrot, celery, a few types of meat, white wine, milk (yes, milk!) and a touch of tomatoes, which is simmered for yonks. It’s typically served with tagliatelle pasta, which helps the sauce cling.
Outside of Italy, bolognese veers off traditional course. You can spot it on menus as the ever-popular spaghetti bolognese, a dish made of tomato passata, mince, aromatics and herbs, and served with spaghetti pasta. Yes, it’s a bastardised version, but nevertheless tasty and wildly popular.
Is bolognese sauce vegetarian friendly? Traditionally, no – but, you can totally prepare a vegetarian or vegan pasta sauce inspired on the classic. When removing the protein-rich meat sub in a plant-based protein to encourage nutritional balance. Brown lentils are ideal as they’re a source of protein, have a similar-ish texture to beef mince and take on flavours well.
These tips will help take your vegan bolognese sauce from zero to hero:
Give the soffritto its time in the spotlight. A soffritto is the flavour base of any good bolognese. It’s a mix of onion, celery, carrot, garlic and herbs sautéed in oil until a hint of caramelisation. With time spent sautéing you’ll be rewarded with amazing flavour come feasting.
Low and slow. Time is a bolognese’s best friend, including vegan versions. Once all the ingredients are added, bring to a boil then simmer for 1 ½ hours. Stir every half hour or so throughout the process. The sauce will thicken and flavours deepen.
Season to taste. Salt is the magical kitchen ingredient to oomph and enhance the taste of food. Without it, meals fall flat; with it, they’re transformed. As salt type can vary (and your tastebud preference!) it’s best to season to taste. Simply add in increments until the flavours come alive. Don’t be shy.
Batch-cook this plant-based bolognese and freeze portions for future you to enjoy. Cook once, eat two, three or four times…the perfect vegan dinner idea to reheat after a long day🍝!
Bolognese is traditionally served with pasta, but it’s an incredibly versatile meal base. Below are easy and delicious ways to enjoy this plant-based bolognese sans pasta:
Cottage pie. Pour into a baking dish, top with mashed potato and a sprinkle of cheese (dairy-free cheese if keeping this vegan!) and bake until the top is bubbly and golden.
Tacos. Sub the dried herbs for paprika, cumin and chili for an epic taco mince. Great with nachos too.
Jacket potatoes. Roast a few potatoes, cut open and spoon over bolognese. Top with Greek or coconut yoghurt, and fresh herbs.
Stuffed capsicum. Slice the top of capsicum, remove the inner seeds, stuff with the bolognese, then bake in the oven until tender.
Wholegrain wraps. Spoon the sauce into your pick of wrap, top with salad, roll up and eat. Also great in crisp lettuce cups. Easy, speedy and nutritious!
Pastry pie. Pour sauce into a pie dish, top with flakey pastry and bake until the pastry is crisp and golden.
Enjoy overtop of zoodles aka zucchini noodles! A great way to lower the carbohydrate content, if needed.
1 – 1 ½ Tbspbalsamic vinegar(if your tomato passata is sweeter opt for 1½; if it's more acidic opt for 1)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh basil leaves
Heat oil in a large heavy-based pot over medium heat.
Add the onions, celery and carrots and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened.
Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute until fragrant.
Add the vegetable stock, passata, mushrooms, walnuts, lentils, oregano, thyme, rosemary, vinegar, soy sauce, a teaspoon of salt and a few turns of the pepper shaker. Give everything a really good stir, cover with a lid and bring to a simmer.
Turn down the heat to low and simmer for 1 ¼ – ½ hours, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water until sauce has thickened to your liking. Leave the lid off for the last half an hour of cooking. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve with cooked spaghetti and top with fresh basil.