vegetarian lentil bolognese
I’m not a vegetarian but I find that I cook more than 50% of our meals meatless. This is in part because the only animal protein Nate will tolerate is poultry. He’ll eat seafood (though not shellfish), but it tends to be pretty pricey.

Anyway, I can only eat so much chicken and turkey, especially since I’m not particularly fond of either. Plus vegetarian meals are usually lower in fat and calories.

vegetarian lentil bolognese

Who doesn’t love a good Bolognese sauce? I make pasta sauce a lot for Nate and I usually use our go-to protein- Lean Italian Turkey Sausage. The sausage is raw and I squeeze it out of the casing and chop it up in the pan with a wooden spoon as it cooks. It adds tons of flavor and has much less calories than beef.

However after calculating the nutrition in the Smoked Cheddar Pot Pies that I made a couple weeks ago, I realized that turkey sausage, while healthier than ground beef, is still incredibly high in fat! I don’t usually care about these things but I figured it just can’t be healthy to eat as often as we were eating it.

vegetarian lentil bolognese 3

So I set out to make my usual pasta sauce completely vegetarian, without sacrificing the taste or texture. I thought about what I could add for heft, and I remembered that I had a pack of Trader Joe’s precooked lentils in the fridge. I also decided to throw in some mushrooms to add a nice chew. I think next time I might even use some reconstituted dried mushrooms for more chewiness and depth of flavor.

I think this sauce easily rivals a traditional Bolognese and it’s much lower in saturated fat and calories. The wine makes it feel indulgent. Enjoy it over a steaming bowl of pasta and a sprinkling of parmesan for a delicious, satisfying, well-rounded dinner!

This makes about 7 heaping cup servings at around 210 calories, 2g fat, and 10 grams of both protein and fiber per serving! I calculated the nutrition here.

vegetarian lentil bolognese

Lentil “Bolognese” Sauce

Makes about 7 cups

Print this recipe!


1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot (or two small), diced
1 rib celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
One 8-oz container mushrooms, chopped coarsely
1 lb cooked lentils (Trader Joes sells them in a vacuum sealed pack in the refrigerated section)
Two 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
salt & pepper, garlic powder, italian seasoning
sugar to taste


Heat oil over medium high heat in a large, deep saucepan. Add onions, carrots and celery and cook until onions begin to soften.

Add garlic and cook for a minute. Add mushrooms and mix together. Cook for 5-10 minutes or until mushrooms begin to soften. Mixture may look dry but the mushrooms will begin to release moisture after a minute or two.

While mixture is cooking, warm lentils according to package directions. Add lentils to pan. Add tomatoes and wine and bring to a boil. Reduce head and simmer for 30 minutes, partially covered, stirring occasionally.

Season to taste with salt/pepper, garlic powder and italian seasoning. Add sugar to taste. This depends on the tomatoes. Sometimes they’re very acidic and other times they aren’t. Taste your sauce and see…if it seems to sour, add sugar starting with a Tablespoon or so.

Serve on pasta!



  1. I know what you mean, I’m not a vegetarian but sometimes I just want to “veg out” (/pun) sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

    MORE IMPORTANTLY, I have a package of those exact lentils in my fridge right now, and no clue as to what to make for dinner tomorrow… except now! NOW I KNOW WHAT I AM GOING TO USE THEM FOR (and what I’m going to make for dinner tomorrow!)

    I had originally been saving them for lentil sloppy joes, but this looks way better (and I’m pretty sure I could trick the BF into eating it way easier this way) :)

    And dried mushrooms you say? Maybe I’ll have to start buying dried, I always buy the fresh mushrooms with big plans in mind and then they get all slimy before I actually end up using them… dried can’t get slimy on me, can they? Well, if they did I would probably be too impressed to be mad. I’ve never actually used them though, so you just soak them in water to reconstitute them and then saute them?

    • Hey Natalie! I knew you must be a TJ’s shopper when I saw you told Shannon that you buy frozen rice. I just discovered TJ’s frozen brown rice and it’s amazing…you’d never know it was frozen if it got put on a plate in front of you.

      Haha, yes, make this!!! He totally will not know there isn’t meat in it…but he will know there are lentils in it. The wine is key though. It makes it taste so so good.

      Dried mushrooms are great, but they’re not quite a substitute for regular ones. You have to soak them for like 30 min in warm water to get them mushroom-y again…and they have a very strong flavor so you don’t need much (they’re also kinda pricey). But I think if you use a little dried in addition to the fresh ones it would be great. They’re good for making stock or mushroom soup!

      • listen, i know i’m comment-bombing, but i think it’s cute that we’re all like, an official ‘friend group’ now. :)
        Natalie, Amy is right; i’ve used dried mushrooms before and they’re close (and some are closer than others, depending on the type, b/c some mushrooms are less “poofy” and soft than others). I agree they’re pricey, but if you need them for a recipe and you can’t find them, it’s a nice alternative. They’re great in soups b/c they do have a stronger mushroom flavor. Sometimes you can skirt the entire issue by using cremini (brown/baby bella) mushrooms, which are pretty inexpensive and are readily available at my grocery store in boxes; i know fancy mushrooms are nice, but adjusting recipes by upping the creminis and lowering the more expensive ones is sometimes a great way to go.

        • Yay for blogger friends! and comment-bombing! I wish we all lived in the same city :( My next recipe calls for dried mushrooms so hopefully Natalie can give them a try.

          • I am officially comment-bombing this comment chain because I want to be one of the cool kids.

            That is all. I have nothing to say about dried mushrooms except that they’re hard to find in Alabama. Typical.

  2. I used to make this all the time when my kids were young. Love it!

  3. What a fabulous idea! I love sneaky ways to be healthy, and this looks delicious.

  4. I’m still not sold on lentils. I hear good things and people like them. I just find them to be a little chalky. :/ Maybe when they’re soaked in red sauce I will feel differently. :)

    • You know I used to hate lentils and beans. They definitely are a little chalky, but that happens more when you overcook them and eat them plain. In this sauce you really barely notice them because the main texture is the tomatoes and other veggies. Give it a try and let me know how you feel!

  5. Wow what a cool recipe! I tend to stay away from lentils only because I don’t know how to use them appropriately – i tend to just eat them plain and get bored. This may be the ticket!

    • Yeah, plain lentils are pretty boring and gross. They’re great thrown into salads with some grains and veggies…or in this case where they’re just disguised ;)

  6. Love this pasta dish! I never thought of using lentils this way and would love to try. This, with some of those brownie cookies from the previous post, would make a great meal! : )

  7. I’m definitely a meat eater but I would go to town on this! I prob won’t even need pasta haha. Looks great!

  8. I love lentils and the only type of bolognaise or lasagne I actually enjoy are the vegetarian varieties… I will definitely have to give this recipe a try.

  9. I had lentils last night…your sauce with them must have been delicious.

  10. Love lentils too, I usually use the red ones when I make a pasta sauce, though the green ones make it look more hearty. I am getting back into more veggie food again, thanks.

    • I don’t know the diff between lentils really. Do red and green have a different taste or texture? I should really buy the dry ones, as it’s much more cost effective!

  11. This looks really delicious. I love how low fat it is. And I always add a bit of red wine to my sauces as well – gives them a good kick. What a lovely comfort meal and your presentation is very inviting xx

  12. Beautiful recipe !
    I love the fact that this is healty, that makes this meal even better :)

  13. I was lucky enough to eat some of the original batch that Amy made. Delicious!! We ate it over low-carb pasta which made it a little more guilt-free as well.

  14. I’m always a fan of you posting veg friendly meals! This pseudo bolognese sounds awesome! Super hearty.

  15. now i’m going to leave my own comment! :) i’m totally making this. I haven’t worked a lot with lentils, and i’m not sure why except for they just don’t hit my radar that much with recipes. I would like to, because i feel like they’re a little magical, and i’d LOVE to do a bolognese sauce sans red meat. DONE. and you know when i say that, i mean it.

    • I know you mean when you say you’ll make it, and i LOVE that because I feel like bloggers love to leave comments saying they’ll make it and while the intention is nice, I know they won’t actually make it. But you keep your word! I hope you’ll love it.

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  17. Wow, this looks gorgeous! I guess we’ve covered this since we’re tastebud twins but I’m the same way with chicken and turkey–we eat mostly vegetarian.

    I have a recipe for lentil risotto that I should send you. It’s not really risotto–it’s just cooked lentils with swiss cheese melted into them and a little truffle oil (my aunt and uncle gave me some truffle-scented olive oil for Christmas. It’s amazing. I can’t imagine what the real stuff tastes like.) Anyway, I love the look of this dish!

    • um YES pls send me asap :) I never really “got” truffle oil…but maybe I just need to give it a few more tries. I’ve ordered truffle fries a few times and the taste is just strange to me. However, I think lentil risotto would be amazing with or without truffle oil.

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  19. I’ve made this once and loved it..! I cooked the dry lentils with oregano and bay leaf. I want to make it again today, but, I’m having trouble finding how many dry lentils equals a pound cooked..! I’ve searched about a thousand sites. ( Any idea..? I had no trouble finding the info last time I made it, but, I’ve forgotten. Thanks.

    • Hi Jeff! I’m SO glad you loved this recipe!!! I did a little research online and if this link is correct, then about 7oz dried lentils will make 1 lb cooked, which according to this link is about 1 cup dry! So if everything is accurate, 1 cup dried = 1 lb cooked. Hope that helps :) Let me know how it works out! Also, cooking isn’t an exact science, so it really doesn’t matter if the amount of lentils is EXACTLY what I used in my recipe. Just do what you think looks/tastes good :)

  20. All’s well..! Still loving your idea and recipe..! Thank you.

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