For tonight’s Meatless Monday dinner, pasta is on the menu! This is Vegan Lentil Bolognese (or “Faux-lognese”) sauce is a recipe that I have been developing for years. I’ve tested it countless times to make sure it captured the exact savory flavor I wanted. I am excited to finally share it with you!
The word “bolognese” conjures the image of a very meaty sauce. Let’s face it, often vegan versions of classic meat dishes just don’t measure up. They can certainly be tasty, but meaty? That’s a real challenge, especially if you don’t want to use processed soy-laden ground meat alternatives.
After mulling over what to put in this sauce, it was finally time to get in the kitchen and give it a try. After several tests, I believe I’ve come up with something truly tasty!
I’ve used lentils in vegan dishes before, like these tacos, but the real secret to this sauce is dried mushrooms. I first learned about the power of these dried-out delights when my friend Etti Hadar shared her family food history with me. Together, Etti and I read through a memoir written by her Uncle Dov, a Polish Jew who served in Italy in the Jewish Infantry Brigade and fought the Nazis during World War II before later settling in Israel. It was clear in the memoir that Uncle Dov loved food.
In one section he discussed dried mushrooms, and the idea has always stuck with me. Because meat was expensive and difficult to find, especially in winter, mushrooms were often used as a meat substitute. They were collected during the summer, and Dov’s mother would string them up with a thread and needle, hanging them to dry in the attic beside the chimney.
During winter, these dried mushrooms would be used in a number of different ways—they were sometimes added to potato soup, or “barbecued” like a meat entrée. Since learning this trick through Etti’s Uncle Dov, I’ve used dried mushrooms in a variety of dishes, but never as a true substitute for meat. When soaked and added to this bolognese, the mushrooms take on a meaty flavor and texture that even meat eaters will love. The savory flavor is off the charts!
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Vegan Lentil Mushroom Bolognese Sauce
- 2 oz dried mushrooms (boletus, porcini or a mix)
- 4 cups water
- 2 cups green or brown lentils, rinsed and sorted
- 6 cups low sodium vegetable broth
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 whole large onion, diced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp tamari sauce
- 1 1/2 tsp crushed garlic
- 28 oz crushed fire roasted tomatoes
- 1/3 cup fresh chopped parsley, divided
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 3/4 tsp salt, or more to taste
- 1 tsp basil
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp thyme
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (adds a kick - if spice sensitive, omit)
- Cooked pasta for serving (if wheat sensitive use gluten free pasta)
- Boil mushrooms in 4 cups water for 5 minutes. Let them soak in the hot water for a few minutes while you cook the lentils, until the liquid is dark brown and has cooled off a bit.
- Meanwhile, bring lentils to a boil in vegetable broth. Reduce to a simmer, then cook for about 15 minutes or until just tender. Drain. Remove the soaked mushrooms with a slotted spoon and rinse them under cool running water to remove any excess residue. Chop up the soaked mushrooms, then rinse them once again (there can be stubborn debris that clings, multiple rinses are the best way to remove any residual dirt). Reserve the chopped mushrooms.
- Line a handheld mesh strainer with a coffee filter. Strain the mushroom cooking liquid through a coffee filter into a bowl or measuring cup. This may take a few minutes and a bit of maneuvering. I find I have to swirl the liquid around a bit for it to go through the filter, and often I need to replace the filter a couple of times in order to get all of the liquid to go through. While this takes some effort, the liquid often contains a bit of dirt residue from the harvested mushrooms. Straining it out allows us to use this very flavorful liquid in the finished product. Reserve the strained liquid.
- In a large 5 quart sauté pan or sauce pot, heat 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil over medium. Sauté diced onion for 10-15 minutes until soft, translucent and starting to turn golden.
- Add the tomato paste, tamari and minced garlic to the onions. Sauté for 1-2 minutes longer until fragrant. Pour in the reserved mushroom liquid to deglaze the pan, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom and simmering them in the liquid for a few minutes.
- Add the fire roasted tomatoes to the pot along with the cooked lentils, soaked diced mushrooms, ¼ cup freshly chopped parsley and remaining spices. Stir. Cook the mixture 10-15 minutes longer until the lentils are fully tender, the excess liquid has reduced, and the sauce is thick.
- Serve sauce over pasta as a vegan alternative to Bolognese, or you can enjoy this on its own as a flavorful lentil stew. Garnish with remaining 1 tbsp parsley. If you’re not vegan, a sprinkle of parmesan on top is also lovely.