This vegan bolognese sauce is sure to take your tastebuds on a journey… straight to Northern Italy! It’s a plant-based twist on an authentic classic, made with lentils, mushrooms, and walnuts.
When I make this vegan bolognese sauce, the aromas alone transport me to sweltering days under the Italian sun: meandering the cobblestone streets of Trastevere, gelato al pistacchio dripping down my right arm; clinging onto the back of a shiny red Vespa, zipping through the Tuscan countryside past countless terracotta rooves and tall Cypress trees; sitting under orange-and-green-striped umbrellas, drinking chilled wine, and looking out at the glistening Ligurian Sea…
And my favorite, eating my weight in pizza margherita and lasagne alla bolognese in loud, back-alley trattorias.
This sauce brings me right back there. It tastes like happiness. And when you make it, I know you’re going to feel the same.
With an Italian soffrito, lentils, mushrooms, and walnuts as the base, this vegan bolognese sauce bursts with rich flavors and textures. Simmered low and slow to coax the full potential out of each ingredient, I’m telling you, this vegan bolognese ticks all the boxes.
It is, simply, the best. (And it goes perfectly with my Best Vegetarian Lasagna Bolognese recipe!)
So are you ready to make some epic vegan bolognese?
What is Bolognese sauce?
Bolognese sauce is a meat-based sauce, typical of Bologna – a lively city in Northern Italy, situated halfway between Florence and Venice.
The key ingredients in a traditional Bolognese are beef and/or pork, white wine, soffrito, tomatoes, and milk. In Italy, it’s usually served with a wider pasta like linguine (rather than, let’s say, spaghetti) and sometimes gnocchi; it’s also used to make lasagna alla bolognese.
How is this sauce vegan?
This vegan bolognese recipe is inspired by, and based on, the traditional bolognese recipe I learned in Italy. But to make the sauce vegan, we swap animal products out for ingredients like mushrooms, lentils, walnuts, and nutritional yeast – and then ensure to coax out the full flavor of every ingredient by simmering the sauce low and slow for a few hours.
This recipe has all the hallmarks of an authentic bolognese sauce. It requires time and patience, and the textures and flavors are all there. It’s warming and comforting, rich, and absolutely delicious.
It’s so spot-on that, if no one clued you in, you wouldn’t even know it’s plant-based. (This is a comment I’ve received countless times by friends and family!) As a bonus, it’s also gluten-free.
The ingredients for Lentil Bolognese
Let’s talk about the key ingredients you need to make this vegan bolognese recipe.
First, you can’t make bolognese without a sofritto of onion, carrot, and celery.
Then, as mentioned, mushrooms, lentils, and walnuts make up the protein, mimicking the meaty flavors and textures of a “true” bolognese so perfectly, meat-eaters won’t even realize the difference!
If you’re into it, you can also finish your bolognese off with a little black truffle oil. I wouldn’t blame you if you did.
SHOP THE RECIPE:
How do you make this Vegan Lentil Bolognese Recipe?
You may be surprised to know that your knife skills (in particular, your mincing skills) are one of the keys to making a perfect gluten-free and vegan bolognese!
1. Making this bolognese begins with a sharp knife. First, mince everything: the carrots, celery, onions, garlic, mushrooms, and walnuts. This is a must if you want to achieve the correct texture, and draw out every last delicious flavor!
2. In a thick-bottomed pot, like a Dutch oven, you will make a soffrito of carrots, celery, onion (and garlic!) as the base of the sauce, seasoned with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
3. Once browned, you will toss in the mushrooms and walnuts and sauté the mixture further, allowing the mushrooms to shrink down and start browning. Once complete, season again with a little salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
4. Next, in goes the tomato paste to cook down for a minute, followed shortly after by red wine, to deglaze the pot.
6. Turn down the heat, put the lid on the pot, and allow the sauce to simmer for at least three hours.
Simmering longer than three hours is fine (great, really), but don’t try to rush here. No less than three hours, okay?
7. When the time is up, turn off the heat. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and a little bit of sugar, more salt and pepper, and perhaps more chili flakes. Adjust these elements to your taste, and remember not to be shy with the salt – this is a huge pot of sauce!
Expert tips for making my Vegan Bolognese recipe!
- MINCING IT: To make the perfect vegan lentil bolognese sauce, put effort into mincing all of your ingredients well. Having a sharp knife makes all the difference (I couldn’t live without my Japanese chef’s knife!). Make sure your carrots, onions, celery, mushrooms, walnuts, and garlic are all minced finely – just like minced/ground meat would be. This helps achieve the perfect texture. It also helps bring out the flavors of the veggies, while allowing them to soak in the flavors of the sauce!
- SEASONING IT: Make sure to season the sauce every step of the way. This helps to develop the sauce’s flavor as your move through the different steps in the recipe. Every time you add in something new to the pot, add a little salt, pepper, and maybe chili flakes if you like a little heat!
- FREEZING IT: You can keep this sauce in the freezer for up to three months. But it’s so delicious, I doubt you can keep away from it for that long!
- COOKING WITH IT: This is a big batch of bolognese. You should have enough to make two to three meals with it. I love making spaghetti bolognese and other pasta, my best vegetarian lasagna bolognese, or gnocchi with this pasta sauce. It’s amazing with fresh basil, flat-leaf parsley, and rosemary. I also love it in shepherd’s pie – with peas and roasted veggies, topped with garlicky mashed potatoes and cheese!
Use this sauce to make my Best Vegetarian Lasagna Bolognese!
- FLAVORING IT: If you are vegetarian (or if you eat cheese), pop in a leftover parmesan cheese rind to flavor the sauce! Add it in when you bring your sauce down to a simmer. It won’t melt, but it will add a noticeable umami flavor kick to the sauce. It will also help thicken it. Remove what’s left of the rind before serving. Totally optional but highly recommended! You may also like to stir in a little black truffle oil when it’s finished. A splash of soy sauce can also add a little extra umami.
Vegan Bolognese Sauce with Lentils, Mushrooms & Walnuts
A riff on the classic bolognese recipe I learned in Italy, this vegan lentil bolognese recipe with mushrooms and walnuts is sure to transport you and your loved ones straight to Italy.
With an Italian soffrito, lentils, mushrooms, and walnuts as the base of this sauce, and other flavor kicks from red wine, nutritional yeast, and Italian herbs, this sauce bursts with rich flavors and textures.
I promise, whether you’re vegan or not, you are going to love this pasta sauce!
In my humble opinion, this is the best vegan bolognese sauce recipe on the internet! But don’t take my word for it. Make it yourself and report back in the comments section below.Print
The Best Vegan Bolognese Sauce (with Lentils, Mushrooms & Walnuts)
This vegan bolognese sauce is a twist on an authentic classic! With an Italian soffrito, lentils, mushrooms, and walnuts as the base, this sauce bursts with rich flavors and textures. This is the best vegan bolognese! You are going to love cooking pastas, gnocchi, lasagna, and even shepherd’s pie with this sauce.
- Prep Time: 20 mins
- Cook Time: 3 hours, 30 mins
- Total Time: 3 hours 50 minutes
- Yield: 15 servings 1x
- Category: Sauce/Dip
- Method: Sauté & simmer
- Cuisine: Italian
- Diet: Vegan
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 carrots (200g or 7oz), minced
- 4 stalks celery (175g or 6 oz), minced
- 1 red onion (200g or 7 oz), minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 15–25 crimini/Swiss brown mushrooms (300g or 10 oz), minced
- 1 cup roasted walnuts (125g or 4.5 oz), minced*
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup dry red wine (like Chianti Classico)
- 1 large can (800g or 28oz) San Marzano tomatoes, puréed
- 1 can (425g or 15oz) brown lentils, drained (or 2 cups pre-cooked brown lentils)
- 1 cup vegetable stock or filtered water
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1/4 tsp dried rosemary
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar, or to taste
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- Chili flakes, to taste
- Heat a large, thick-bottomed pot (like a Dutch oven) on the stove over medium-high heat. Add in the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add in the minced onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Season with a little crackling of salt and pepper, and a sprinkle of red chili flakes. Stirring often, sauté until the veggies are golden brown and softened.
- Stir in the minced mushrooms and roasted walnuts. Stirring occasionally, allow everything to cook down for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms shrink down to half their original size.
- Stir in the tomato paste well, ensuring it reaches the bottom of the pot. Cook down for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid burning.
- Stir in the wine. With your wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pot to reincorporate any flavorful brown bits stuck there. Allow the alcohol to cook out for a further 3 minutes.
- Stir in the puréed San Marzano tomatoes, lentils, vegetable stock, nutritional yeast, and dried herbs. Season a big crackling of salt and pepper, and another sprinkle of red chili flakes. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low heat to simmer for three hours. Put the lid on.
- When the time is up, turn off the heat. Stir in the balsamic vinegar, sugar, more salt and pepper, and perhaps more chili flakes. Adjust these elements to suit your taste, and remember not to be shy with the salt because this is a huge pot of sauce. Feel free to drizzle in some black truffle oil too!
- Enjoy the sauce with pasta or gnocchi, inside lasagna bolognese, or get creative with other dishes, such as shepherd’s pie!
*If you are allergic to nuts, use extra mushrooms and lentils.
*You may freeze the leftover sauce for up to three months.
Keywords: vegan bolognese sauce