Bolognese or meat sauce, as we used to call it in my household growing up, was a Sunday night staple. My mom would always make it with ground lean turkey and use jarred sauce. She was not the best cook, or ever really enjoyed cooking, but meat sauce was her signature move. Thus the reason why this dish is my comfort food. In my continual effort to think with a more plant-forward focus, I swapped the turkey for lentils, made my own sauce, and added meaty mushrooms and tons of fresh and dried herbs and spices to create a flavorful and comforting meal.
Lentil Bolognese is a great dish to put into your repertoire. It is extremely easy to make, can be thrown together with pantry staples, and is even better as leftovers. I opted to eat the bolognese with quinoa and brown rice pasta, but for a lighter spin, sautéd kale, spiralized noodles of any sort, or spaghetti squash would all serve as delicious and satisfying alternatives.
Lentils are powerhouse legumes, they come in many varieties and colors, but the three main types are red, green, and brown. Red lentils are sweeter than the other two, cook quickly, and breakdown when cooked. They work great for creamy soups, dips, and dals. I would not recommend using red lentils for salads since they get very soft and loose their shape when cooked. Green and brown lentils maintain their shape when cooked and, are best in salads, side dishes, or in soups.
Until like other dried legumes, they do not require soaking before cooking. Regardless, I like to give them a 12 hour soak. Soaking helps increase the bioavailability of the nutrients. Always give your legumes a hearty rinse prior to cooking. Lentils contain fiber, which helps move things along during digestion, they also contain 18g of protein in 1 cup, and are a great source of non-heme iron.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 3 medium-sized carrots, peeled and chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 pound of baby bella mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika or pimenton
- 2 teaspoons tried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons dried chili flakes
- 1 cup green or brown lentils, rinsed and soaked for 8 hours (optional)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 18 -ounce jars crushed organic tomatoes
- 1/2 cup red wine
- Sea salt and black pepper
- Fresh basil, torn
- 12 ounces quinoa brown rice pasta , spaghetti squash, spiralized noodles, or sautéd kale
- Parmesan cheese for finishing (optional)
- In a dutch oven or large pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the paprika or pimenton, oregano, thyme, and chili flakes, and toast the spices for 1 minute. Add the onion and carrots, and cook for 7 to 8 minutes or until soft.
- Add the garlic and mushrooms and continue to cook until mushrooms soften, another 5 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and sauté for a minute coating the vegetables. Pour in the drained lentils, crushed tomatoes, and wine. Fill one of the jars that contained the tomatoes 2/3's of the way full with filtered water. Swish the water around to get every last bit of tomato, pour the water into the second jar, repeat the swishing, and add to the pot. Add a pinch of salt and black pepper and stir well. Bring sauce to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and partially cover the pot. Cook for an hour stirring occasionally. Taste the lentils to make sure they are cooked through, if not, continue cooking partially covered until tender. If the sauce is too liquidy continue simmering uncovered until reduced to desired consistency. If the sauce is too thick, add 1/4 cup of water.
- 15 minutes before serving, make your pasta. Alternatively serve sauce over spaghetti squash, spiralized noodles, or my personal favorite, garlicky kale. Top with fresh basil and grated Parmesan, if you wish.