This rich and hearty lentil bolognese is the ultimate in comfort food. Let me share my tips for making this delicious and full of flavour sauce and get ready to serve with your favourite pasta for a meal everyone will enjoy!
Bolognese sauce is a classic, and one that is a staple in most households. It’s something I grew up eating, something I ate at friends houses during our uni days, and something we still cook on a regular basis at home. Throughout each situation, it has taken on some form of evolution with each person putting their own flavour and flair to the king of pasta sauces.
This recipe is not for the bolognese purists. Instead of using beef mince, or even a combination of beef and pork mince (or turkey mince like me if you went through that phase), we are removing the meat but keeping all of that hearty comforting flavour by using brown lentils instead.
Lentils come in many forms and are adaptable and inexpensive. They make the perfect pantry staple as they last forever. Unlike my lentil chilli which uses red lentils which tend to break down when cooked to give almost a creamy thickness to a dish, brown lentils which we are using here hold their shape when cooked and have a more earthy flavour making them perfect for bolognese.
I don’t know about you, but during March when the supermarket shelves were stripped bare and food availability became a real concern for many families, I started to look at alternative foods that I could make delicious meals with using what was available. When the meat section of my local store was completely empty, I found myself grabbing a couple of cans of brown lentils for my pantry.
If you are anything like me, availability improved and I forgot completely about those cans of lentils I had tucked away. If you find yourself in that situation, unsure what to do with them, this is going to be the recipe for you. Even my husband who screwed up his nose at the idea of eating lentils had to admit that this bolognese was pretty delicious.
I’d also like to mention because I think a lot of the time people who eat meat look to vegetarian versions of food and try to compare them to the original and I am not here to tell you that lentils taste like beef – because they don’t. But if you are looking for a meat free alternative (without using any weird meat substitutes) that still tastes incredible, is rich, hearty and comforting, then this is going to absolutely tick all of those boxes for you.
Because we are using lentils instead of beef we are removing a lot of the fat, but with that also means we are removing a lot of the flavour so we need to compensate. That’s why I use mushrooms in the foundation of the sauce because these little veggies pack so much flavour and add a beautiful richness to the sauce.
How to make lentil bolognese
It’s really important that you cook this slowly and take your time cooking each element before adding the next. You want to make sure to saute your onions until they are beautifully soft and translucent otherwise you are going to end up with crunch bits of onion in your sauce and let me tell you that no one wants that.
I always cook the onion on its own first before adding the garlic as the onion takes longer to cook and you don’t want to risk burning the garlic as this will add a bitter flavour to your whole dish.
Once you add in your garlic and mushrooms cook those down until reduced in size and nice and brown looking. Add in your dried herbs and the tomato paste and stir this through for a few minutes. This step allows you to cook out that raw tomato flavour and again helps to build on the flavour base for the sauce.
Next comes the wine. I use a shiraz or a cabernet sauvignon usually as that’s what I have on hand. I remember my Dad telling me that you don’t want to cook with wine you wouldn’t drink, and I don’t know whether that’s because once you pour the wine into the sauce, it’s a good time to also pour yourself a glass. That’s what I’m going with anyway!
Before adding the rest of the ingredients, cook the wine down for a little bit. This reduction of the wine BEFORE adding any stock will ensure the wine has a chance to cook out some of the alcohol and really concentrate its rich flavours. Again, a game changer in terms of building a rich sauce.
Finally, add in everything else and turn down to a low simmer and cook for about 30 minutes until beautifully thick.
Can I freeze lentil bolognese
Yes! It stores very well (and even tastes better the next day as the flavours have more time to develop) in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to a month.
I recommend storing the bolognese sauce separate to the pasta as frozen pasta tends to change in texture. I like to just reheat the sauce and serve with freshly cooked pasta for the best results.
So if you have a can of lentils hiding in the back of your pantry, or you simply want to look at reducing your meat intake, for health, environmental or cost reasons, this is a great recipe to try.
If you do make this recipe, please be sure to leave a comment and rating below! And tag any of your creations on Instagram with #eightforestlane as I would love to see.
- 1 onion
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- 200 grams mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- ¼ cup red wine
- 1 x 400 gram can tomatoes
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 1 x 420 gram can brown lentils
- 300 grams spaghetti
- Pepper and additional salt to taste
- Peel and finely dice the onion and garlic and slice the mushrooms, first removing their stem and brushing off any dirt.
- Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan over medium to high heat and add in the onion. Using a wooden spoon to prevent the onion from sticking, cook the onion down until translucent. Add in the garlic and the mushrooms and continue to cook until the mushrooms have reduced in size.
- Add in the tomato paste, salt, oregano and basil and mix through until combined. Add in the wine stirring to combine and then let cook down for about 5 minutes, until it starts to darken in colour.
- Add in the can of tomatoes, vegetable stock and can of brown lentils. Mix through, bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
- While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of water to the boil and cook the spaghetti according to package directions.
- To serve mix through a little of the bolognese sauce with the drained spaghetti and serve into bowls with a little more sauce on top.
Nutritional information is provided as a guide only and is calculated using automated online tools, therefore we cannot guarantee the accuracy. We encourage you to make your own calculations based on the actual ingredients used in your recipe.