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Lentil Bolognese Sauce

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Make this lentil Bolognese sauce in 30 minutes! It's a simple, protein-rich recipe, perfect for a quick weeknight meal. Serve it over your favorite pasta, use it in a lasagna, or even as a vegetarian shepherd's pie base.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
A plate of spaghetti tossed with lentil Bolognese sauce on a black plate with a black fork and a piece of toasted bread on the plate.

Look no further than lentil Bolognese sauce for a bold and flavorful vegetarian alternative to traditional Bolognese. This wholesome and robust sauce is packed with protein-rich red lentils, crushed tomatoes, and a fragrant blend of herbs and spices. Best of all, it’s a one-pot wonder.

Split red lentils cook quickly and are affordable, making them a great choice for a meatless weeknight dinner. One of my favorite things about this sauce is its easy customization. Add red pepper flakes or chili powder if you like a spicier sauce or diced carrots, celery, or bell peppers if you need more vegetables. I love to add a few cloves of air fryer roasted garlic or a spoonful of homemade basil pesto near the end. There are many different ways to enjoy this recipe. Keep reading to learn more.

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Why You’ll Love This Recipe

✔️ This hearty lentil tomato sauce is high in protein.
✔️ The sauce is perfect for a fast, satisfying meal on busy weeknights.
✔️ Lentils are an affordable source of protein, perfect for those on a budget.

Ingredients For Lentil Bolognese Sauce

Ingredients to make lentil Bolognese sauce.

Ingredient Notes

  • Fennel Seeds: Fennel seeds are a highly aromatic, flavorful spice commonly used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. They have a sweet licorice-like flavor that can add a unique depth and complexity to various dishes.
  • Red Split Lentils: Red split lentils are a type of lentil that have been hulled and split in half, making them cook more quickly when cooked. High in protein, they thicken the sauce and provide a meaty texture.
  • Red Wine: Adds depth, acidity, and a hint of richness to the sauce. Using wine is entirely optional in this recipe.

It’s important to note that when making substitutions in recipes, the texture and flavor may be slightly different. However, these substitutes are the best options to change the original recipe.

Ingredient Substitutions

  • Olive Oil: This can be substituted with neutral-flavored oil like canola or vegetable oil.
  • Onion: Leeks or shallots can be used for a milder flavor profile.
  • Garlic: Garlic powder or minced jarred garlic are convenient alternatives.
  • Fennel Seeds: Anise seeds or a small pinch of ground star anise can be used for a similar flavor.
  • Dried Oregano: Marjoram or dried thyme can be used as a substitute.
  • Dried Basil: Fresh basil (added towards the end of cooking) or dried parsley can be used.
  • Dried Thyme: Herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning can be a good alternative.
  • Crushed Tomatoes: Diced tomatoes or tomato sauce can be used, though the texture will be slightly different.
  • Red Lentils: Green or brown lentils can be used, but they take longer and have a firmer texture.
  • Red Wine: Sherry or port are good substitutes for red wine. Beef or vegetable broth can be used as a non-alcoholic substitute or try a splash of balsamic vinegar for a touch of acidity.

Recipe Variations

  • Bell Peppers: Add diced bell peppers for sweetness and color.
  • Carrots and Celery: Add diced carrots and celery with the onions for a classic mirepoix base and added nutrition.
  • Creamy: Swirl in 35% heavy cream for a twist on classic rosé sauce. For a vegan option, try coconut milk or cashew cream.
  • Herbs: Fresh herbs like rosemary or sage can be added for a different aromatic profile.
  • Mushrooms: Add chopped mushrooms for a meatier texture and earthy flavor.
  • Pasta Bake: Layer the sauce with pasta and cheese, and bake for a comforting pasta bake dish.
  • Spicy: Stir in red pepper flakes or chili powder for a spicy kick.
  • Wine Alternatives: Use white wine instead of red for a lighter flavor or apple cider vinegar for a non-alcoholic tang.
  • Zucchini: Stir in grated or diced zucchini for extra vegetables and a lighter texture.

Use the JUMP TO RECIPE button at the top of this post, or scroll to the bottom to see the PRINTABLE recipe card with ingredient measurements and complete instructions.

How To Make Lentil Bolognese Sauce

Process shots one through four of how to make lentil Bolognese.

STEP 1: Heat the olive oil in a pot. Sautée the onion and garlic until fragrant.

STEP 2: Add the herbs and spices and cook for one minute.

STEP 3: Add the red wine to the pot if using. Cook for one minute, then stir in the crushed tomatoes.

STEP 4: Add the lentils, stir, and cook for 20 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Serve hot over pasta or polenta, or layer in a pasta bake.

Expert Tips

1. Try toasting the fennel seeds in a dry skillet before adding them to the pot with the onions and garlic.
2. For a thicker, creamier texture, purée half of the sauce in a blender or food processor, then stir it back into the pot.
3. Add a teaspoon or two of sugar to the end of cooking, adjusting to taste as needed.

📝Recipe Notes

  • Don’t skip the fennel seeds if you can help it. They add a distinct flavor, reminiscent of a true Italian ragu, which you simply can’t get with any other herb or spice.
  • For a richer sauce, try adding ½ cup (125ml) of 35% whipping cream five minutes before it’s finished cooking.

Storage

  • This recipe scales well, making it perfect for meal prepping or freezing. Allow the sauce to cool completely before storing it in airtight containers or freezer bags in the fridge for up to five days or in the freezer for up to two months.
  • When reheating the sauce, add a splash of water or vegetable broth to loosen it up and prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. You can also reheat it gently in the microwave.
  • To make this recipe gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta or polenta. You can skip the pasta and serve lentil Bolognese sauce over zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash or use it as a filling for stuffed bell peppers.

Recipe FAQ

What is Bolognese?

Bolognese, also known as ragù alla Bolognese, is a traditional meat-based sauce from Bologna, Italy, typically served with pasta.

Why don’t lentils need to be soaked before cooking?

Lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking because they are small and cook relatively quickly compared to other legumes.

Can you substitute lentils for ground meat?

Yes, lentils can be substituted for mince in many recipes, such as Bolognese sauce, to create a vegetarian or vegan option.

More Weeknight Meal Ideas

Did you make this lentil Bolognese sauce? Please rate the recipe and tell me how it went in the comments below. Also, stay in touch with me on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest to see more delicious food and recipes!

Printable Recipe Card

A plate of spaghetti tossed with lentil Bolognese sauce on a black plate with a black fork and a piece of toasted bread on the plate.

Lentil Bolognese Sauce

Author: Kelly Neil
Make this lentil Bolognese sauce in 30 minutes! It's a simple, protein-rich recipe, perfect for a quick weeknight meal. Serve it over your favorite pasta, use it in a lasagna, or even as a vegetarian shepherd's pie base.
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes
Course Family Meal Ideas, Pasta & Risotto
Cuisine American / Canadian
Servings 6 servings
Calories 94 kcal

Special Equipment

  • Measuring cups and spoons or digital kitchen scale
  • Sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Can opener
  • 12-inch deep-sided pot or skillet
  • Spatula or wooden spoon
Need Metric Measurements?Use the button options below to toggle between US cups and Metric grams.

Ingredients
 
 

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon oregano, dried
  • ½ teaspoon basil, dried
  • ½ teaspoon thyme, dried
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper, fresh ground
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup dried red lentils, splt

Instructions
 

  • Heat the olive oil in a deep-sided spot or skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic to the pan. Cook until fragrant, and the onion is translucent about 3 minutes.
  • Add the fennel seeds, oregano, basil, thyme, salt, and pepper to the onions. Continue to cook for one minute.
  • Add the red wine to the pot. Cook for one minute or until the wine loses its strong alcohol smell.
  • Pour the crushed tomatoes into the pot and stir. Add the lentils and stir again to combine. Simmer the sauce gently, on low-medium heat, for 22-25 minutes. If the sauce is bubbling hard, reduce the heat a bit. You can also add a lid to the pot, placed on slightly ajar for steam to escape, to prevent splattering. Once the lentils are tender, the sauce is done. Remove it from the heat and serve over cooked pasta or polenta. Cool completely before storing.

Recipe Notes

  • Don’t skip the fennel seeds if you can help it. They add a distinct flavor, reminiscent of a true Italian ragu, which you simply can’t get with any other herb or spice.
  • For a richer sauce, try adding ½ cup (125ml) of 35% whipping cream five minutes before it’s finished cooking.

Storage

  • This recipe scales well, making it perfect for meal prepping or freezing. Allow the sauce to cool completely before storing it in airtight containers or freezer bags in the fridge for up to five days or in the freezer for up to two months.
  • When reheating the sauce, add a splash of water or vegetable broth to loosen it up and prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. You can also reheat it gently in the microwave.
  • To make this recipe gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta or polenta. You can skip the pasta and serve lentil Bolognese sauce over zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash or use it as a filling for stuffed bell peppers.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 94kcalCarbohydrates: 12gProtein: 4gFat: 3gSaturated Fat: 0.4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.3gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gSodium: 197mgPotassium: 200mgFiber: 5gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 22IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 28mgIron: 2mg
Did you make this recipe?Let me know on Instagram @kellyneildotcom or tag #kellyneil!

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