A healthy, filling vegan version of popular Bolognese sauce using lentils and quinoa for a meaty texture. Even my meat-loving husband loves this vegan Bolognese!
Why you’ll love it: Vegan pasta sauce may surprise you. It’s very flavorful and satisfying.
How long it takes: 30 minutes to prep, an hour or so to simmer
Equipment you’ll need: large skillet or Dutch oven, medium saucepan, blender or food processor
Everyone who chooses vegetarian, whether it’s for one night a week or for a lifetime, does it for different reasons. Whether you’re concerned about the health of our planet, the health of your body, or just trying to eat on a budget, meatless meals make good sense.
I was a little doubtful about serving this vegan Bolognese to my husband the first time I made it. I truly didn’t think he would like it. I mean, it’s lentils and quinoa fronting as beef. Not exactly a meat eater’s dream come true.
But you guys! This is really good. And he agrees! The combined texture of the lentils and quinoa is hearty and feels like ground beef. The flavor of the sauce is so good, with lots of tomatoes, herbs, and spices, and just a splash of rich balsamic vinegar. While a classic Bolognese usually includes cream, this recipe is dairy-free.
I think you’re going to love this pasta sauce. It’s super satisfying and you can feel good about serving a delicious and healthy meal to your family.
About This Recipe
Vegan Bolognese is pretty easy to make. All of the ingredients you need can be found in a well-stocked pantry. It’s a good choice when you don’t happen to have meat in the fridge or you only have frozen meat.
The list of ingredients looks pretty long but don’t be intimidated. It’s easy stuff like canned tomatoes, dry herbs and seasonings, carrots and onions, etc. I always have my pantry stocked with lentils and quinoa, and they keep forever.
Total cooking time is about one hour (that doesn’t include prep) although it can simmer for as long as you need to. In fact, once you have it prepped, it can simmer in your slow cooker for a few hours if that works out better for your schedule.
I’ll run through the recipe here but as always, look for the recipe card near the end of the post. It has complete instructions, along with measurements and nutrition information.
What You’ll Need
- Brown or Green Lentils: Lentils are a fast-cooking legume. They have been around for centuries and are a good source of protein. Dry lentils usually come in a bag; look for either brown or green lentils. Before using lentils, be sure to sort out any foreign material and rinse them with cool water.
- Quinoa: Quinoa is actually a seed but is often considered a whole grain. It is gluten-free and high in protein. It comes in different colors. I usually use white quinoa for recipes like this. Quinoa should be also rinsed before using.
- Onion, Red Bell Pepper, Garlic, Carrots: These veggies add lots of flavor to the sauce, along with good nutrition. You can substitute any color bell pepper.
- Spinach Leaves: We all need to up our greens intake and no one will ever guess that there are 3 cups of spinach in this sauce. Sometimes we need to be a little tricky.
- Crushed Tomatoes, Diced Tomatoes, and Tomato Paste: Lots of tomatoes, an essential ingredient in a Bolognese sauce.
- Red Pepper Flakes, Dried Basil and Oregano, Salt: You probably have all of these in your pantry.
- Balsamic Vinegar: A couple tablespoons of tangy/sweet balsamic really rounds out the sauce and balances out the acidic tomatoes. It takes the place of the wine that is traditionally added to a Bolognese.
- Cooked Pasta, Parmesan Cheese (optional), and Fresh Basil (optional)
How To Make It
Let’s get started! I’ll walk you through the steps. You’ll need a saucepan, and a large heavy skillet with a cover or a Dutch oven. You’ll also need a food processor or blender.
Peel or scrub the carrots and cut them into pretty good-sized chunks, an inch or so. You don’t want them too small because you’ll be picking them out of the lentils after they cook. Place the lentils and chopped carrots into the saucepan with a couple cups of water or broth. Bring them to a simmer, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until they are tender.
Meanwhile, in the Dutch oven or skillet, sauté the onion and bell pepper in a bit of olive oil until softened.
Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and spinach and stir continually for a minute or so, until the garlic is fragrant and the spinach is wilted. Remove the pan from the heat.
Put the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, dried herbs, cooked spinach mixture, and cooked carrots (not the lentils) in a blender or food processor. Process until the mixture is smooth.
In the same large pan, heat the diced tomatoes and vinegar. Scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any browned bits (deglaze the pan). Add the contents of the blender, along with the uncooked quinoa and cooked lentils.
Stir well, and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and simmer the sauce for 45 to 50 minutes (or longer).
Meanwhile, cook the pasta as directed on the package.
Serve vegan Bolognese sauce over a hearty pasta such as rigatoni, penne, tagliatelle, or fettuccine. Try whole wheat pasta or gluten-free pasta.
If you want this meal to be truly vegan, omit the Parmesan cheese or use your favorite vegan cheese. We’re cheese lovers in this family.
Wondering what to serve with this meal? Warm crusty bread with dipping oil (restaurant style) is always a hit. A simple green salad with homemade Italian dressing or creamy Italian is a good choice, too. For special occasions, an Aperol spritz cocktail is fun and easy.
Make It Your Own
If you’re looking for a more classic Bolognese pasta sauce, be sure to try Instant Pot Bolognese. It’s a game changer, ready in an hour! Or try this healthier turkey Bolognese recipe. It’s made on the stovetop with ground turkey and turkey sausage, and it’s super flavorful.
This recipe makes a pretty big batch, about 8 cups of sauce, making it a good choice for food prepping. Serve half of it tonight and freeze the other half for an easy future meal.
Storage & Reheating Tips
Leftover sauce can be covered and refrigerated for three to five days. It also freezes well and will keep for up to three months in a freezer safe container. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
To reheat, microwave individual portions until heated through. For larger amounts, warm it up on the stove in a saucepan.
More Pasta Sauce Recipes
- Homemade Spaghetti Sauce
- Crockpot Spaghetti Sauce (meat or vegetarian!)
- Fresh Tomato Cream Sauce
- Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
- Carrot Pasta Sauce
- Don’t forget the meatballs! Try my homemade meatballs or baked turkey meatballs.
- 1 cup uncooked brown or green lentils, sorted and rinsed
- 3 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 cups water or vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ small yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
- 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (more to taste)
- 3 cups loosely packed spinach leaves
- 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) petite diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
- cooked pasta for serving
- grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional — use a vegan cheese if desired)
- Fresh basil, chopped, for serving (optional)
- In a medium sized saucepan, stir together lentils, carrots and water or broth (if using water, add ½ teaspoon kosher salt). Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes or until the carrots are fork tender and the lentils are cooked.
- Meanwhile, in a deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, red bell pepper, and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until onions become translucent (7 to 8 minutes). Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and spinach and cook, stirring, until spinach is wilted (2 to 3 minutes). Remove from heat.
- To a blender or food processor, add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, sauteed vegetables (keep the pan – you’ll be using it again), basil, and oregano. Once the lentils have cooked, remove carrots and add them to the blender or food processor, as well. Puree/blend until smooth.
- Place the skillet or Dutch oven back on medium heat. Add diced tomatoes and balsamic vinegar and scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the pureed tomato mixture, quinoa, and lentils and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for 45 to 50 minutes or until quinoa is cooked, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta as directed on the package. Before draining, reserve ½ cup pasta water to thin out the sauce, if necessary.
- Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve on cooked pasta, garnished with basil and parmesan cheese, if desired.
- Nutrition information is for sauce only and does not include pasta, cheese, or fresh basil.
- This recipe makes a big batch, about 8 cups. It freezes well, and will keep for up to 3 months. Store in labeled freezer-safe containers. Thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.
- Recipe card updated 10/13/2022.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.