vegan lentil pepper bolognese

Since I went vegan, the one thing I miss making the most is spaghetti bolognese. I loved my spaghetti bolognese. And I loved making it. This year I’ve experimented with a few different vegan versions. Cauliflower. Aubergines. Meatless Farm soya mince. But now I’m convinced I’ve cracked it. The answer? Red lentils and roasted red peppers.

I’ve never transcribed a recipe before, so bear with me. One thing I do know, though, is I hate scrolling through someone’s life story just to get to “ingredients” and “method” at the bottom of the post. So I’ll get right to it.

COOKING TIME: 3-4 hours


2 red peppers
2 red onions
2 sticks of celery
2 medium carrots
1 cup of red lentils
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
1 handful of sun dried tomatoes
1 handful cherry tomatoes
2 bay leaves
veg stock cube
5-6 cloves of garlic
red wine
red wine vinegar
tomato puree
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp marmite
3 tbs nutritional yeast flakes
seasoning; smoked paprika, cajun, garlic and parsley, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary
fresh basil
salt & pepper
vegan cheddar / parmesan


The first thing I do is preheat the oven to 200°C and dice up two red peppers. Chop them into neat little cubes – I’d use a food processor but that just turns them into mush. Then put them in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and coat in seasoning. All over. The choice and quantity’s up to you, but I usually go for smoked paprika (not hot), cajun and garlic and parsley. About a tablespoon of each. Then stir the bowl, making sure the pepper cubes are all nice and smothered in that banging seasoned olive oil. Add a bit more seasoning if you like. And olive oil. Go on.

Next pop the peppers in a tray and stick them in the oven. If you’ve got the time, go all out. I like to roast my peppers for at least an hour. Maybe an hour and 20 minutes. Til they’re slightly singed, properly roasted little flavour bombs, ready to melt and disappear into your thick bolognese sauce.

While the peppers are roasting heat up a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a large pot and dice two red onions. I use a food processor, to get the bits nice and small. When the oil’s heated throw in the onions and fry til they’re nice and soft, and browning a little. Most recipes suggest a few minutes but I proper fry them for about 15-20 minutes. You can use a splash of water to stop them burning if you need to. But go for it. Add two bay leaves about halfway through.

While the onions are frying blitz two sticks of celery and two medium carrots in your food processor. Then throw the bits in with the onions and bay leaves and let that simmer for a while. Grate in five or six cloves of garlic and sprinkle in a bit more garlic and parsley seasoning.

Cook the vegetables til they’re nice and fragrant. Not burnt, just long enough so they know they’re on fire. Now add your roasted red pepper cubes from earlier and a large glass of red wine (make sure it’s vegan). When the mixture has reduced and thickened drop in a teaspoon of Marmite and two heaped tablespoons of nutritional yeast flakes. Add a splash of red wine vinegar as well and let that simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until it forms a kind of congealed bolognese paste. The base of all your flavour.

Next add two tins of chopped tomatoes, a stock cube, a handful of diced sundried tomatoes, a handful of cherry tomatoes, a squirt of tomato puree, a cup of water and a heaped cup of red lentils. You can add the lentils later, but I like to really cook them. Pre-dhal. So they play a soft, crunchless, background role in the overall bolognese texture.

Now throw in dried oregano, basil, thyme and rosemary. I also add a bit more garlic and parsley for good luck, a splash or two of red wine vinegar and a glug more red wine. Let the sauce bubble and come together a bit before lowering the heat. Then comes the long haul. You need to let it cook, simmer and bubble for at least two hours. So it turns into a rich, thick, genuine bolognese sauce. You can’t beat it and there’s no cheating it.

The longer you cook the bolognese the better it will be. The only challenges are not letting the lentils turn into dhal and not burning the sauce. Lentil-based bologneses seem to burn easier than meat-based alternatives, so you have to stir and lubricate the mixture quite often, using splashes of water and red wine vinegar when needed. But at the same time, you need to let it cook properly as well. It’s a balancing act. A labour of love. Don’t let it get too watery. Don’t dry it out.

Towards the end I throw in another tablespoon of nutritional yeast flakes and salt and pepper. Then I let the bolognese cook a bit longer, until the tinned tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, wine, lentils and everything else has melded into one soft, saucy pot of lentil-based bolognese “mince.” Stir in chopped fresh basil and serve with spaghetti and vegan parmesan (or cheddar). Violife cheese alternatives are usually a safe, easy bet.


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