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  • Writer's pictureEmily Yeo

Lentil Bolognese

Updated: May 13, 2019

This vegan lentil bolognese sauce is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. It is rich in flavour, deliciously savoury, a little earthy, and with a perfectly balanced sweetness. It will fill your kitchen with the best rich smells as it simmers. No matter how you use the sauce, it makes a hearty and filling meal, while sneakily being quite healthy! Lentils really are the best ever. While it can be tough to mimic the richness of a traditional meat-based dish, this one nails it. Growing up, my family was more of a simple marinara and spaghetti kind of bunch, but boy, do I wish we ate more bolognese. The first time I ever tried this hearty and cozy dish was a few years back, and I absolutely loved it! Pasta is always great, but combining it with a chunky, tomato-ey, lightly spiced sauce? Now that’s a good meal. I had a hard time not eating all of it straight from the pot oops!

I didn’t grow up with meat-based tomato sauces like ragú. My parent’s cooking styles leaned more to cuisines and dishes that were “accidentally” vegetarian or vegan, so I didn’t have any form of vegan ragú or bolognese sauce until I was a teen experimenting with veganising traditional meat-based dishes. Growing up, omma made this great dish of lentils and rice, and I loved it. It was one of my favourite dinners, and I still love them. This vegan lentil bolognese is my healthier take on pasta sauce. I didn’t like celery until a couple of years ago and I only added this detoxifying vegetable to my soups and salads, but now I can understand why the Italians use it to make delicious sauces and dishes. When celery is raw it has an intense flavour, but when it’s cooked it has a lighter flavour. Also, by caramelising the onions, carrots, peppers, and tomato paste the pasta sauce becomes rich and deeply flavoured.

I knew that to make this recipe crazy delicious, I'd have to pull out the big guns. You see, when you make a regular bolognese sauce, all the emphasis is on the meat. Since meat has so much flavour, the other ingredients are there only to back up the beef. Lentils, on the opposite side of the flavour scale, are basically flavourless. They offer so little in the flavour department that all the other ingredients need to step up and take over. To really shine, those other ingredients (I'm looking at you, onions, carrots, and bell peppers) need to cook low and slow in a decent amount of healthy oil until all their sweet natural sugars caramelise and the flavour totally pops. If you rush this step, you'll know in the end result. It is an easy to make and super tasty vegan dinner recipe that sits deliciously on top of a bowl of pasta. Recently I switched the wheat meat for more ubiquitous lentils and was pleasantly surprised with how crazy I went over the lentil-filled version! I promise you won't miss the meat in this delicious lentil bolognese. I tried some recipes using TVP (textured vegetable protein) before and although they tasted good, I prefer this recipe because lentils are not a processed food unlike the TVP. In addition, the flavour and the texture are amazing. I’m not going to say that you’ll think you’re eating meat when you have this because you won’t. But I promise you won't miss the meat in this delicious lentil bolognese. Instead, this lentil bolognese is delicious in its own right.

The sauce is packed with veggies and has lots of flavour. It is incredibly hearty and super satisfying. The photos here show my homemade marinara with freshly cooked lentils and pasta. All three components are super easy to make. However, I won’t judge you in the slightest if you want to grab a can of cooked lentils (rinsed and drained) and throw it together with some store-bought marinara and leftover pasta. Just combine marinara and lentils with whole-grain pasta. Ta da! You’ve successfully lightened-up a traditionally carb-heavy pasta dish into a well-balanced, fiber-rich dinner. So guys, join me as we face plant straight into a bowl of good for us pasta and come up with giant smiles on our faces.


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