Lentil bolognese is a thick and hearty vegetarian pasta sauce option. Also delicious over summer squash noodles, polenta or your favorite grain.
Bolognese is one of those nostalgic family recipes for me.
It’s the meal my brother requests my mom make for any special occasion and just the smell of it cooking down on the stove instantly makes me think of late afternoon Sunday dinners, huge pasta filled bowls, extra bolognese sitting in a fancy saucer only our parents’ generation would own, a hunk of parmesan bigger than my head waiting to be grated on top.
And of course, endless bottles of red wine to go along with the meal.
Bolognese meals would usually mean my grandfather (or grandmother before she passed) invited over to feast too which, also meant a legit dessert wasn’t far behind the meal.
If grandpa was over, this almost always meant sfogliatelle and cannolis, aka: the most delicious, carb-filled meal from start to finish you could possibly imagine.
The teenage “didn’t care about macros, nutrition and diet because she’d run it all off on the soccer field” me thoroughly enjoyed every second those meals.
Sometimes, I think it’d be nice to just turn time back to that version of myself, ignorance truly is bliss.
I was thinking about those bolognese memories recently and with some perfectly fresh summer basil sitting on my kitchen windowsill, inspired to create a lighter, slightly healthier approach to the nostalgic bolognese of my childhood.
I’ve recreated that childhood dinner in this Instant Pot bolognese recipe but I wanted something different this time. And while I’ve made bolognese with lamb as a delicious variation, I was thinking of something even more varied than that.
That’s when lentils popped into my head as a great option. They provide that same hearty satiety that meat has in a protein packed vegetarian way. I chose green lentils for this lentil bolognese purposely.
They stand up to longer cooking times much better than some of the other varieties and can handle the necessary simmer time a good bolognese sauce requires. Although I love red lentils for quick meals and red lentil pasta makes a great gluten-free pasta option, green lentils really work better for this bolognese recipe.
Lentils are also great, easy way to add some fiber and essential nutrients in your diet.
While I’ll never boo-hoo pasta (it might be my first true love to be honest), this lentil bolognese is a lighter take on classic bolognese for summer and pairs really well with some zucchini noodles.
You could keep things vegan with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast on top of the lentil bolognese or, if you’re like me, a respectable dose of some freshly grated parmesan for nostalgic measure.
Vegan picadillo is a must try as well with both lentils and tempeh in a cozy, plant based filling meal.
And don’t miss lentil stuffed eggplant – another vegetarian summery meal you’ll love with those big dollops of goat cheese on top!
For more lentil based recipes, try:
- 3/4 cup green lentils
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 medium carrot, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- pinch red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 15 ounces diced tomatoes
- 15 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 1/3 cup freshly chopped parsley
- 1/4 cup freshly chopped basil
- Add lentils to a medium saucepot and cover with water. Bring to a boil on the stove-top then reduce to a medium-low simmer. Cook uncovered for about 15-20 minutes until cooked through but still have a bit of crunch/texture to them. You don’t want them mushy as they will cook again in the sauce. Add water as needed while cooking to keep lentils covered. Drain and set aside.
- While lentils cook, add olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, carrot and celery and cook for about 5 minutes until softened.
- Add the garlic to the skillet, cook another minute until fragrant then add the tomato paste and stir to combine with the onion mixture.
- Add the oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and stir again to combine.
- Add the red wine to the skillet, stir and cook for 1 minute until most of the wine has cooked off.
- Add both diced and crushed tomatoes, stir, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes.
- Add the lentils to the skillet, cook an additional 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Add the parsley and basil, stir one last time and remove from heat.
- Serve with pasta, squash noodles, polenta or grain of choice.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Gina Matsoukas is an AP syndicated writer. She is the founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.