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!
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.
- 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)
- 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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How to Make Lentil Bolognese – Step by Step Photos
Finely dice one yellow onion, one carrot, and one stalk celery, and mince four cloves of garlic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once the sauce is thickened, stir in ½ cup full fat coconut milk and simmer for 5 minutes longer.
Taste the sauce and add salt if needed.
Wonderful vegan pasta recipe! I didn’t find the coconut milk necessary and I added a couple teaspoons of red wine vinegar at the very end to balance out the acidity. I may reduce the sugar next time as well but over a great budget byte!
Made this to accompany some left over pasta & it smells amazing & tastes even better (we are fans of the pinch of red pepper flakes added!!)
What I wonder is…what suggestions have you to share for the remaining coconut milk? Can this freeze for future use? Most of your recipes I like to make call for a full can – so I’d love your ideas about what is recommended for the other half of the can 🥥
Sure! You can definitely freeze it, but also check out our coconut milk recipe archives for some other recipes that call for coconut milk. :)
1 T is too much sugar. I liked it otherwise; will halve sugar next time.
This was amazing! We aren’t vegan – just trying to eat less meat for health and budget reasons. Followed to the letter except used a dash of regular cream instead of the coconut cream. This is going into the regular rotation. One batch also makes a good portion so I’m going to freeze the leftovers for future easy weeknight dinners. Loved it!
Love this recipe and I’m back to make it again! I had a bag of red lentils in my pantry I needed to use and found this recipe. I was really shocked at how good it is and like I said I’m back to make it again. This is an easy way to make a hearty meal that is healthy and packed with protein. And leftovers reheat beautifully! Thank you for this great recipe!!
We made this tonight, and it was a huge hit. I subbed pecans for walnuts because it’s what we had on hand, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly. We are mostly plant-based and love pasta, but finding yummy sauces that include a plant-based protein can be tricky. This one was definitely a winner for us! After reading other reviews, I was hesitant about the coconut milk, but I really loved the addition of it! We will definitely be making this again.
We tried this in hopes of finding a good red pasta sauce that didn’t use red meat. We swapped heavy cream for coconut cream, like several have suggested. It’s fine, but nothing I’d make again. It’s got a weird texture that’s like refried beans mixed with spaghetti sauce. Again, it’s fine. If I someone made this and fed it to me, I’d eat it, but I won’t make it again.