There’s nothing quite so comforting as a dish that is both hearty and nostalgic. And I think Bolognese sauce (also known as Bolognese ragù) falls into that category for many people. Although I don’t eat much meat and my boyfriend eats none, we’ve found that you can make an equally satisfying meal without the beef – and even without the dairy. Come with me! I’ll show you.
how to make an irresistibly savoury lentil bolognese
Beef is fatty, salty, sweet and savoury. To recreate this, use other ingredients that deliver a different-but-just-as-pleasing punch: mushrooms, walnuts, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce are all here for ultimate umami.
time: 1 to 3 hours
yield: 4 servings
- olive oil
- 1 large onion, yellow or white
- 1/2 large carrot or 1 small one
- 1/2 large stick of celery
- 2 or 3 cloves of garlic
- 2 large button (white) or cremini (brown) mushrooms
- a small handful of walnuts
- 1-2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- optional ↠ 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 can finely chopped tomatoes (about 400g)
- 3/4 cup (150g) dried lentils – any combination of green, brown, beluga and/or red*
- 500 mL vegetable broth (stock cubes and powder work great)
- fresh sage
- fresh parsley
- chili flakes
- 1 large bay leaf
*ideally, you should soak your lentils in water before you start cooking, then rinse/drain them when you’re ready to use them. I always forget.
- Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 210°C (410°F).
- On the stovetop, add about 3 tablespoons’ worth of olive oil and/or butter to a medium-sized oven-proof saucepan. Turn the heat on to medium.
- Dice the onion as finely as you are comfortable doing. Add it to the pot, give everything a stir so the onion is well covered in fat, and let cook until translucent.
- Dice the carrot and celery as finely as the onion, and add them to the saucepan. Stir. Finely slice the garlic and add it to the pot too. Stir again. Let cook until the carrot has softened a bit, for about 8-10 minutes.
- Roughly chop the mushrooms into very small pieces. Add them to the pot. Finely chop the walnuts and add those to the pot too. Season everything with salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Let cook until the mushrooms have shrunken a bit, about 3-5 minutes.
- At this point the bottom of your saucepan might be getting a little dry. Perfect. Add the tomato paste, red wine and balsamic vinegar (+ soy sauce, if using). Stir them through, scraping the bottom of the pot as you go. Let the liquid simmer until it’s evaporated.
- Pour in the chopped tomatoes, add your lentils, the vegetable broth, some of your sage and parsley (save the rest for topping) and as much or little chili flakes as you are comfortable with. Add about 2 more tablespoons’ worth of olive oil and/or butter. Stir everything well, season with a bit more salt and pepper, and add the bay leaf. Carefully transfer the pot to the oven, uncovered.
- If short on time, you can leave the sauce to cook in the oven at 210°C (410°F) for about 25-30 minutes. It’ll be good to go, and even better the next day if you’ve got leftovers. If you have planned ahead and are quite looking forward to a slow-cooked sauce, turn the oven down to 160°C (320°F) after 30 minutes and let the sauce simmer for 1 to 2 more hours.
- Carefully remove the saucepan from the oven. Stir the sauce so all the flavoursome parts are combined, and give it a careful taste to see if you think it needs more herbs, salt, pepper or even wine. Follow your taste buds (and your kitchen cupboards)!
- Serve with the pasta** of your choice, and top with more herbs. Grate on some parmesan if you’re in the mood for it, and enjoy.
**if the sauce is looking a bit dry, you can add in some pasta water
The flavour will just keep on getting better with time – even in the fridge. So consider making your bolognese sauce up to two days ahead if you’d like to maximize the richness and depth of the flavours. Likewise, doubling the recipe and saving half in the freezer is a great idea to help future you or a friend get good food on the table with minimal effort. Simply let the sauce cool completely before transferring it to a freezer-safe airtight container. Freeze for up to 3 months, and let thaw in the refrigerator overnight before gently reheating on the stove while you cook the pasta to pair it with.