Easy Lentil Bolognese (Vegan!)

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Lentil Bolognese is a hearty vegetarian pasta sauce, made with protein-packed lentils. I love how filling and flavorful this sauce is, using easy pantry ingredients.

lentil bolognese over spaghetti noodles

Which Lentils Work Best for Bolognese?

I use green lentils in this recipe, because they hold their shape when cooked. (They also work the best for making a lentil salad.) Brown or black lentils should work similarly, if you need to make a swap.

If you only have red lentils on hand, keep in mind that they will cook faster and may give this sauce more of a “mushy” texture. Not bad, just different! For more red lentil recipes, try my Red Lentil Soup or Lentil, Kale & Quinoa Stew.

green lentils in tomato sauce in pot

Benefits of Lentils

Lentils are an affordable and accessible source of plant-based protein, and I love how they absorb the flavors that you cook them with.

Here’s why I love lentils:

  • Lentils are rich in polyphenols, which may help to balance blood sugar. (source)
  • One 8-week study suggests that eating lentils each day may help to improve cholesterol, by lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and raising the “good” HDL ones. (source)
  • Lentils may also help to lower blood pressure. (source)

I also love that lentils are easy to store, so you can always have some on hand in your pantry! (Check out my pantry staples shopping list, if you need some more ideas for stocking up your home.)

How To Make Lentil Bolognese

To make this flavorful sauce, you’ll start by sauteing onion, celery, and carrot. I dice the vegetables very small, so that my kids won’t complain about any “chunks” in the sauce, but you can also use a food processor to break them down into an even finer texture.

sauteed vegetable in pan and a can of crushed tomatoes

Add in your favorite seasonings, like garlic, basil, and oregano, then add in a big can of crushed tomatoes, green lentils, and water.

I also like to start seasoning the sauce now, with salt and a splash of maple syrup, to help create a richly-flavored sauce. (Leave out the added sweetener if you want to, though.)

green lentils in tomato sauce in pot

When you cook lentils with tomatoes and salt, I find that they take a little longer to cook than if you were to just cook them in plain unsalted water. However, the result is worth it!

This sauce simmers to perfection in about 45 minutes, and makes a hearty portion that will serve several people, or leave you with some leftovers for an easy lunch. I like to serve the leftovers over baked sweet potatoes, for a change, too.

fork twirling lentil bolognese and spaghetti noodles

More Vegan Pasta Recipes

If you need some more dairy-free pasta ideas, try these popular options!

lentil bolognese over spaghetti noodles
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4.94 from 29 votes

Easy Lentil Bolognese (Vegan!)

Lentil Bolognese is a hearty vegetarian sauce and the perfect pasta topping. I love how it's loaded with plant-based protein!
Course Main Course
Cuisine vegan
Keyword lentil bolognese
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 6
Calories 123kcal


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion , finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 carrot , finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 celery stalk , finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves , minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional; for spice)
  • 3/4 cup dry green lentils
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes (I use no salt added)
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • fine sea salt


  • In a large 6-quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onion, carrot, and celery until tender.
  • Add in the garlic, basil, oregano, and red pepper flakes and stir briefly.
  • To the vegetables, add in the lentils, maple syrup, crushed tomatoes, water, and 1 teaspoon of salt. (If the tomatoes are unsalted; otherwise start with just half the salt to be on the safe side.) Stir well, then bring the liquid to a boil.
  • Once boiling, lower the heat to a small simmer and let the sauce cook uncovered until the lentils are tender, about 40 to 45 minutes. Stir every now and then to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot, and to make sure the liquid isn't evaporating too quickly. (If the heat is up too high, the liquid can evaporate too fast.)
  • When the lentils are easily smashed with a fork against the side of the pot, they are done. Season the sauce with additional salt to taste. (I usually add another 1 teaspoon, starting just 1/2 teaspoon at a time.) You can also brighten up the sauce with a squeeze of fresh lemon, or a splash of balsamic vinegar, if you prefer.
  • Serve warm, with your favorite cooked noodles. The leftover sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or you can freeze it for up to 3 months.



Green lentils give this sauce the best texture because they hold their shape well, but you can make this with red lentils if you prefer. The cooking time will be at least 15 minutes shorter in this case.


Calories: 123kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 16mg | Potassium: 288mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 1707IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 33mg | Iron: 2mg
Nutrition info above is a rough estimate for 3/4 to 1 cup of sauce. Check your ingredients at home for a more accurate number.

If you try this recipe, please leave a comment below letting me know how you like it! And if you make any modifications, I’d love to hear about those, too. We can all benefit from your experience!

Reader Feedback: What’s your favorite way to use lentils?

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I haven’t made this yet but will do tomorrow! 3/4 lentils enough? It looks so good! And hubbie loves lentils

    Megan Gilmore

    You can use 1 cup of dry lentils if you prefer an even thicker sauce. I tested it both ways, but I preferred 3/4 cup.


      Can I use a can of green lentils instead of dried?

Dra Lorena gaviria MD

Thank you for sharing this information that is very valuable


I tried this recipe today, using red lentils and reducing the cooking time as recommanded: my nine years old son just said to me it was the best bolognese I ever did. Thank you for all your recipes! Since the first I tried (banana bread) I really enjoy to cook differently as I used to.

    Megan Gilmore

    Oh, I’m so glad to hear that!! Glad it was a hit, and thank you for letting me know!


Followed this recipe exactly as written and it turned out awesome! I am the only 100% plant-based eater in our home, and I love to find recipes that I can make right alongside the traditional dish I’m making for everyone else in the family. Thank you for the great recipe!

Daniella Arcuri

Do I need to soak the lentils before using them . Thx
Love your recipes!


Hi! This sounds great! We are going to try it for tonight’s dinner. But I was wondering, could this be made in the instant pot? The 4-5minute cooking cycle for lentils? Thank you! Agi x

    Megan Gilmore

    I haven’t tested this recipe in the Instant Pot yet, but I’d probably cook it for 10 minutes at high pressure (just to make sure everything is super tender) and I would omit the salt completely until the cooking is done, since it can interfere with the lentils under pressure. Use a 10 minute natural release at the end, so nothing spews out of your steam release vent!


      Hi Megan! Thank you for your reply! I’ve tried this and it was DELICIOUS! I did make it in the instant pot. I adjusted the time for 10 minutes but not the salt as I received your message mid-cooking. I reduced the added water to 2 cups too but I’ll reduce it next time to one and a half as the instant pot doesn’t lose much water. The leftovers were yummy too with a baked sweet potato as recommended! Thanks again! Xx


This has been our favorite vegan Bolognese recipe to make. From now on I will always double the recipe. It’s SOOO good!!! I used 1 cup of French green lentils and it came out really good. 😊 But I made the lentils separate and added it last. Thank you for another great recipe!


Are the lentils cooked in the instant pot first & then put into the large 6-quart pot. Or is everything cooked in the one pot?


Very good! Will make again. Swapped my fav marinara sauce in place of tomatoes, and added a few organic Italian chicken meatballs, EXCELLENT! Oh.. and used 1/2C homemade bone broth for some of the water. Thanks Megan! xoxo
This and your “Perfect Almond Flour Brownies” makes for wonderful meal/desert!


I made this today but didn’t have a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, so I used the 14.5 oz can I had along with a cup of fresh cherry tomatoes & a 1/4 cup marinara sauce with basil. I also added a red bell pepper because I had it and a little extra water.

I am in love! This is so delicious. Who needs a meat bolognese sauce when this is available? Super easy to make and it will definitely be a repeat recipe in the future.

Thank you for the recipe! 🙂


I added some cashew butter (about a tablespoon) to make the sauce creamier, it was really tasty! Plus served it with red lentil pasta and a side salad. Yummy!


Made with red lentils and did 15 mins less as suggested and it was great! Thanks for the recipe Megan !


Hi I cant wait to try this! I was just wondering if the maple syrup can be swapped for honey as that’s all I have at the moment?


    I do it all the time since I hate maple syrup.


Just made this for dinner and it was a real hit! So delicious, filling and nutritious too.

    Megan Gilmore

    I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for coming back to let me know. 🙂


We loved it! I made this tonight & served it over organic quinoa as we had pasta just 3 days ago. I used 1 C red lentils, 1 red bell pepper, 2 carrots, 2 stalks celery, 6 cloves of garlic, 5 stalks of left over broccolini & 1/2 zucchini. Used Italian seasoning instead of basil/oregano & left out the maple syrup (we don’t like maple). It was a hit & we’ll definitely be making it again.Thanks for another great & healthy recipe!

Ellen Dionisio

This recipe was sooooo good. Served it over rice pasta. Loved it especially the kick with red pepper flakes


I made this in the instant pot and just like AGI said 1 1/2 cup of water was good and 10 minute set on the instant pot and when finish let sit 10 minute more before you let the steam out. First time making this, excellent Thank you


If I cook the lentils separately, how long do I cook the sauce for? Thank you!


could this be done in the instant pot?

Andrea Richardson

Easy, delicious and satisfying!


I made this for my family last night, and my husband, whose approval of a meal is usually summed up in the words “Yeah, it’s good,” said, “Yeah, this is really good. I like it!” And this morning when I told him I needed to go to the store for a couple of things for dinner, he asked, “Do we have any more of what you made for dinner last night? That was so good!” Ha! So, I think it’s safe to say we will definitely be putting this in the regular rotation! Thanks so much for the delicious, simple recipe!

Also, the only adjustments I made were adding about another half cup of water and tossing in one veggie bouillon cube. Delicious!


Delicious!!! The flavor is perfect. I tried in the instant pot and used 1 1/2 cup water. Next time I’ll try 1 cup water though.


Delicious! My husband and I loved it. This recipe is a keeper.

Caroline Walsh



Hi! I made this for dinner tonight and it was really good! At first I wasn’t sure if 3/4 cup of lentils would be enough but it was perfect. I ended up cooking the pasta longer than 45 mins to make sure the lentils were tender. (About 60 mins). We had this with gluten-free pasta and it was good. Even my 10 year son liked it and he doesn’t even really like pasta dishes. Thank you for recipe!

    Megan Gilmore

    Oh, I’m so glad to hear your son liked it, too! Thanks for letting me know!

Amanda g

It was more of a clean primavera than a hearty bolognese. But the red pepper flakes were a great addition. I used veggie broth instead of water for some extra flavor.


Made this tonight and loved it! Definitely going on our monthly menu.


Delicious! I use organic canned lentils. Also added some red wine. I had a great recipe before and misplaced it and was so happy to find this one as it’s closest to what I had before.
Thank you so much.

Yhadi C.

Delicious! My super picky, meat-eating husband even ate it. The only thing I did differently was leave out the syrup. I’ll definitely be including this recipe as a staple in my house!

Sarah PDX

Ohhh, this is so addicting! I made it in my Instant Pot: one and a half cups water, no salt until the end. Added a very small splash of balsamic and also a pinch of nutritional yeast. Will absolutely be making this again. Highly recommend.


So tasty! The entire family loved it. We will definitely be adding this into our weeknight dinner rotation.


Amazing!!! Everything a comfort meal should be but full of nutrition!!! My husband loved it and even had seconds!!!


Love this recipe sooooo much. If I go too long without it, I crave it like crazy! Make it exactly as written, except I usually have whole Italian tomatoes in my pantry, so use those. At the end I use my immersion blender to blend it all up in the pan and love the texture. Thank you for the wonderful recipe.


I may have another review here, because we LOVE this. But I had to come to say that I just took a batch out of the freezer, added chunks of garden zucchini, pepper, onion, and carrots for the most amazing summer veggie stew ever!

Hilary Thompson

I’ve only got a tin of green lentils so it that ok? I’m going to cook this today as looks delicious 😋

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