Lentil Bolognese

$5.58 recipe / $1.40 serving
by Beth - Budget Bytes
5 from 7 votes
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It feels like meat is getting more and more expensive every day, y’all. But you know what is still cheap? LENTILS. 🙌 I know we’ve sung their praises a thousand times, but lentils are cheap, versatile, and will keep you full all. day. long. So they’re a great substitute for meat in bolognese, whether you’re vegan or not. This lentil bolognese is rich, hearty, full of big savory flavor, and budget-friendly!

close up side view of lentil bolognese on a plate of rigatoni being pierced with a fork.

What is Bolognese

Bolognese is a super rich Italian meat sauce reigning from the city of Bologna, Italy. Typically, this sauce starts with finely diced vegetables (onion, celery, carrot) that are cooked down with fatty beef and pork. Tomatoes or tomato sauce are added to give the ragú a tomato base, and white wine and milk are added to give the sauce extra richness. This extra lush sauce is typically served over pasta.

Because meat is getting so darn expensive these days, we decided to make a bolognese-like sauce using lentils instead of meat. The lentils make the bolognese sauce extra hearty for pennies on the dollar, and also add a great dose of fiber. We made sure to add tons of delicious herbs and spices, as well as some rich coconut milk, to make this lentil bolognese just as rich and flavorful as its meaty counterpart.

What kind of lentils to use

You’ll want to use red lentils for this recipe because they break down quickly, helping the sauce thicken up and get extra rich. They’ll retain just enough texture to feel “meaty,” without looking like lentils. The red/orange color of the cooked lentils also helps the bolognese sauce retain a nice deep red/brown color.

How to Serve Lentil Bolognese

Serve this hearty sauce over a pile of your favorite pasta, with some garlic bread and a light salad on the side. Because this sauce is so rich and thick, it pairs really well with larger pasta shapes, like rigatoni or tagliatelle because it clings well to pasta even without lots of ridges or crevices.

Overhead view of a Dutch Oven full of Lentil Bolognese.
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Lentil Bolognese

5 from 7 votes
Lentil bolognese is a rich and hearty pasta sauce that is budget-friendly and full of bold flavors. Plus, it makes tasty leftovers!
Author: Dalya Rubin
Side view of a plate full of pasta and lentil bolognese with a fork in the side.
Servings 4 1 cup sauce
Prep 10 mins
Cook 45 mins
Total 55 mins

Ingredients

  • 1 yellow onion ($0.37)
  • 1 carrot ($0.15)
  • 1 stalk celery ($0.10)
  • 2 Tbsp cooking oil ($0.08)
  • 4 cloves garlic ($0.32)
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper ($0.02)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts ($1.07)
  • 1 cup uncooked red lentils ($0.67)
  • 1 15oz. can crushed tomatoes ($1.00)
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste ($0.27)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano ($0.10)
  • 1 tsp dried basil ($0.10)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder ($0.10)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar ($0.02)
  • 1/2 tsp salt ($0.02)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper ($0.02)
  • 3 cups vegetable broth ($0.36)
  • 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk ($0.81)

Instructions 

  • Finely dice the onion, carrot, and celery. Mince the garlic.
  • Add the olive oil, onion, celery and carrot to a large pot. Sauté the vegetables for about 5 minutes over a medium until the onions are translucent and the vegetables have softened.
  • Once vegetables have softened, add the minced garlic, crushed red pepper and walnuts to the pot. Saute for 2 minutes over medium-low heat, or until the garlic is fragrant.
  • Add the lentils, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, dried oregano, dried basil, garlic powder, salt, sugar, pepper, and vegetable broth to the pot. Mix everything together and bring the sauce to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to low and simmer, semi covered with a lid, stirring occasionally for 20-25 minutes. After about 25 minutes the lentils should be soft and the sauce thickened. If the sauce is still too thin for your liking, continue simmering until it has reached your desired consistency.
  • Once the bolognese has reached your desired consistency and texture, stir in the coconut milk and simmer for another 5 minutes. Taste the bolognese and add salt to taste. Turn off the heat. The bolognese will continue to thicken as it cools.

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Equipment

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 478kcalCarbohydrates: 52gProtein: 18gFat: 25gSodium: 1261mgFiber: 19g
Read our full nutrition disclaimer here.
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Overhead view of a plate of pasta with lentil bolognese on top.

How to Make Lentil Bolognese – Step by Step Photos

Chopped vegetables on a cutting board.

Finely dice one yellow onion, one carrot, and one stalk celery, and mince four cloves of garlic.

Chopped vegetables in the pot.

Add 2 Tbsp cooking oil to a large pot and heat over medium. Add the onion, celery, and carrot and sauté until the vegetables are soft and the onions are translucent.

Garlic, walnuts, and red pepper added to the pot.

Add the minced garlic, ¼ tsp crushed red pepper, and ½ cup finely chopped walnuts. Sauté over medium-low heat for about two minutes more.

Lentils, tomatoes, and spices in the pot, broth being poured in the side.

Add 1 cup uncooked red lentils, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried basil, ½ tsp salt, 1 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp black pepper, one 14.5 oz. can crushed tomatoes, and 3 Tbsp tomato paste to the pot. Add 3 cups vegetable broth and stir to combine.

Simmered bolognese sauce being stirred in the pot.

Allow the sauce to come up to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Coconut milk being poured into the sauce in the pot.

After about 25 minutes, the lentils should be soft and the sauce should be thick. If the sauce is still too thin for your liking, allow the sauce to simmer a bit longer. If the lentils are not yet soft, continue to simmer, adding a small amount of water as needed to prevent it from drying out.

Parsley being sprinkled on the pot of finished lentil bolognese.

Once the sauce is thickened, stir in ½ cup full fat coconut milk and simmer for 5 minutes longer.

Overhead view of the pot full of lentil bolognese garnished with parsley.

Taste the sauce and add salt if needed.

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  1. This was delicious! So hearty and filling, with a nice mix of complex flavors and textures. It really is a nice rich brownish-red color, too – very meat-like. I threw in a bunch of kale that I had lying around, and while it wasn’t a completely necessary addition, it was a nice extra. Thank you, Beth, for another winner!

    One question, though: the walnuts worked great in this batch, but I’m planning on making this for a family gathering, where one person is allergic to walnuts. Do you have ani recommendations for other nuts that could be used in place of the walnuts? Or just extra lentils?

  2. Delicious! Would appreciate if pasta were added to the ingredients list, because I 100% failed to read that part and/or take notice of the picture and had to run back out *facepalm*

  3. I made this without the nuts because I didn’t have any, and I used half-and-half instead of coconut milk because I didn’t want to open a whole can just for half a cup. With those substitutions – it’s delicious! How much pasta would you make to go with this amount of sauce? It seems like it ought to be enough for a lot, maybe even 2 pounds of pasta.

  4. This was so good!! I used the vegetarian Better Than Bouillon that’s meant to emulate beef broth. To me it doesn’t taste wildly different than their normal vegetable base, but it’s fun to use for recipes like this and french onion soup :)

  5. I’ll try this at my next book group. Our group has 2 vegetarians, 1 almost vegan, and 1 who can’t eat cheese. This looks like it would work both for those with limitations and those of us without.

  6. I bought walnuts and made the recipe as-is! I’ve had a bag of lentils in my pantry for too long, not knowing what to do with them. My husband and I are huge meat eaters and we were so surprised by this dish, we loved it! I seasoned it a bit more than the recipe notes but was so tasty. Thank you!