This vegan black lentil bolognese sauce is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. It’s rich in flavor, deliciously savory, a little earthy, and with a perfectly balanced sweetness.
It’s the perfect topping for pasta, swaps out for red sauce on pizza with the most mouth watering results, it’s thick enough to use as a spread on toast or in a grilled cheese, plus it’s jut incredible in my vegan risotto bolognese! This bolognese is indulgent tasting but healthy, and in regular rotation in our home!
This recipe makes a boatload of sauce, which is great because that means a lot of easy meals are right at your fingertips. Plus it freezes extremely well if you want to stash some away for future dinners! Though, I’ll admit that we rarely freeze this bolognese as it is addictively good.
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 an adult experimenting with veganizing traditional meat-based dishes.
Most of my versions of bolognese have included seitan, which is an obvious choice for a meaty texture, but recently I switched the wheat meat for more ubiquitous lentils and was pleasantly surprised with how crazy I went over the lentil-filled version!
Black lentils, also known as beluga lentils, are my lentil of choice for this recipe. They are the smallest of the brown and black lentils and they have a delicious delicate earthy flavor. They also hold their shape when cooked, and have a great firm texture. They helped create the thickest, meatiest tomato sauce–no meat necessary.
To make this dish, the lentils are cooked separately from the sauce, as acidic environments (like tomatoes) prevent lentils (and beans) from cooking all the way through. Once cooked, the lentils get added to the rest of the sauce for the final 10 minutes of simmering. They’ll absorb the rich flavors of the tomato sauce and lend a nice earthy depth, while adding texture and thickening the sauce.
A mirepoix forms the base of this recipe, with onions, carrots, and celery cooked until soft and sweet along with minced garlic. A food processor chops up the vegetables into a fine dice, which helps them melt into the final sauce and makes quick work of the chopping.
The finely cut veggies are cooked over medium heat with a glug of olive oil and sprinkling of salt until all the extra liquid has cooked off and everything is soft and just a shade golden. At this point we add the umami building ingredients in the sauce: soy sauce, miso, and red wine.
Soy sauce is a great way to bring a rich saltiness to the sauce, packed full of glutamates for that deep savory flavor. I add a light colored miso for its lightly fermented flavor and its nutty, sweet saltiness.
Red wine adds a great depth of flavor to the dish you’re making, but choose a full bodied red, ideally one that is low in tannins, as they are prone to turning bitter when cooked for a long time. Cabernet, Côte du Rhône, Merlot, Chianti are all great varietals to use in cooking. Most importantly though, is to use a wine you enjoy drinking. In these photos I’ve paired the bolognese with a delicious red wine from Vegan Wines who were kind enough to send me a bottle.
Did you know that tomatoes are a natural source of MSG? Yep. Probably why tomato sauces are so darn delicious. We get tomatoes in two ways here, with a large can of crushed tomato (making this dish pantry friendly and accessible year round) and through umami-rich tomato paste. Dried basil and thyme are simmered in the sauce, and fresh rosemary is added in the last minutes of cooking for it’s warming headiness.
This vegan bolognese builds in so many layers of flavor as it cooks. It’s quite easy to make, and most of it is hands off. It’s great on pasta, from spaghetti to farfalle, tagliatelle to lasagne. I had a hard time not eating all of it straight from the pot (ok, maybe not ALL 7 cups, but certainly enough to fill up). And it also makes the best vegan risotto bolognese, you have got to try the recipe!
This vegan black lentil bolognese will fill your kitchen with the BEST rich smells as it simmers. No matter how you use the sauce, it’s makes a hearty and filling meal, while sneakily being quite healthy! Lentils really are the best ever.
The recipe is naturally gluten free, as long as you make sure to use gluten free soy sauce and miso! And, of course, gluten free noodles if you’re having this with pasta.
It’s such a favorite here that I have given the recipe a refresh with new photos and a bit of a streamlined recipe (I’m all about making things easier!). But, because it’s nice remembering where we came from, here’s one of the original photos from the post 🙂 .
If you make this delicious tomato sauce, please let me know! Give the recipe a rating and leave a review below! Also don’t forget to share your creations with me on Instagram, tag @thecuriouschickpea and #thecuriouschickpea, I absolutely love seeing your photos!
- Use a gluten free certified tamari or soy sauce and a gluten free certified miso if needed.
- If you can’t find black beluga lentils, you can try substituting lentils du puy (french green lentils) or even brown lentils. Or, order them online!
- 1 cup (175g) dried black lentils, debris removed and rinsed
- 2 medium (600g) yellow onions
- 2 ribs (120g) celery
- 1 large carrot (125g)
- 6 cloves (30g) garlic
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil
- 2 tbsp (30 mL) soy sauce
- 2 tbsp (30 mL) white or chickpea miso
- 1/2 cup (120 mL) red wine, more as needed to thin
- 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) tomato paste
- 2 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 heaping tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
- salt, if needed, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- In a medium pot combine the dried black lentils and 4 cups of hot water. Simmer for 20 minutes until the lentils are cooked but still firm. Drain and set aside to cool until ready to use.
- Use a food processor to finely dice the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. Process the vegetables until minced, working in batches if needed, then add to a large pot. Alternatively you can finely dice them by hand.
- Add the 1/4 cup of olive oil to the pot with the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and add a pinch of salt. Turn the heat on to medium and cook for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has cooked off, the mixture has lost volume and turned somewhat of a golden hue, and the onion is starting to brown just a little in in areas.
- Add the soy sauce, miso, and red wine, and stir, letting it absorb into the vegetables for 1-2 minutes.
- Then, add the crushed tomato, tomato paste, dried basil, and dried thyme and turn the heat down to low. Cover the mixture, leaving the lid ajar, and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the cooked lentils and the fresh rosemary, along with some freshly ground black pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring more frequently towards the end of the cooking time, adding a splash of wine if the sauce gets too thick and dry.
- Serve the bolognese on pasta, use it as a sauce on pizza, or just eat it straight from the pot with a spoon!
Adapted from Epicurious