Traditional Spaghetti Bolognese is my usual standby in that case. It’s always a crowd-pleaser and a very easy dish that was probably the very first recipe my Mom taught me to make.
But in this case, there was going to be at least one vegetarian in the group. So I decided to try to change things up a bit come up with a vegetarian version instead.
Lentils seemed a logical choice.
And when I did a search online about possibilities, I found a couple of good options that I combined and tweaked a bit to arrive at the recipe here.
The results were better than I had hoped for, and were a hit with my guests.
The prep is almost identical to the classic Bolognese sauce, as well, so it's very simple to put together.
That said, there are a couple of things to remember about cooking lentils in this type of recipe.
When you cook them in any kind of tomato sauce is that it takes a long time for them to cook. So instead of your usual 20-30 minutes of cook time for boiled lentils, it can easily take 90 minutes when they’re cooked in sauce.
That’s perfectly fine if you have a lot of time on a weekend, of course. Or if you use a slow cooker.
But this meal can also be cooked much more quickly – in about 45 minutes, total – if you use a pressure cooker or the so-called Instant Pots.
However you cook it, the results are a very satisfying pasta meal that is about as easy and cheap as it comes.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes about 8-12 servings
Prep time - Approx. 20 minutes
Start to finish time – 45-90 minutes (depending on cooking method)
Total recipe cost – Approx. $6.50
Total per person meal cost with tossed salad and garlic bread– Approx. $1.00
2 cups lentils
2-3 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 large onion
1 celery stalk
2 large carrots
4-6 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup dry wine (red or white)
2 cans crushed tomatoes (28-32-ounce size)
1 can tomato paste (6-ounce size)
2 vegetarian bouillon cubes
4 cups water
1 tablespoon crushed, dry basil
1 teaspoon dry oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
1-1 ½ pounds whole grain pasta
Tossed green salad
Garlic bread (optional)
- Heat the 4 cups of water and the bouillon cubes in the microwave for about 3 minutes or until the water is hot enough to dissolve the cubes when stirred to make a vegetable broth. Set it aside until you need it.
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot with a lid, or in a pressure cooker.
- Meanwhile, dice the onion. Start by cutting the ends off the onion and peeling it. Cut it in half through the point where the stems were. Place each half flat side down. Holding it firmly with one hand, cut it lengthwise into narrow strips. The cut across the strips to finish dicing the onion into pieces about ¼- inch in size.
- Add the diced onions to the oil in the pan and stir to coat them well.
- Meanwhile, wash and chop the celery stalk. Start by cutting off the ends. Then slice it lengthwise into three or four lengths. Cut across the lengths to make small diced pieces. Then take a large knife and put one hand on the top of the blade and one hand on the handle and continue to chop through the stalk until it is all in small pieces. Scrape it into the pot with the onions and stir to mix well.
- Wash and peel or scrub the two carrots. Then chop them in a similar fashion to the celery. Cut off the ends and cut them lengthwise into fourths. Cut across the strips to dice the carrots. Then take the knife and continue to chop it into fine pieces. Add it to the onions and celery and stir well.
- Continue by peeling and mincing or chopping the 4-6 cloves garlic. Start by cutting the very tips off each clove and peeling it. If the peel is stubborn, it also helps to press down firmly on the garlic clove with the blade of a large knife to loosen it. Cut each clove crosswise into thin strips and then across the strips to make a coarsely chopped consistency. Or simply mince it.
- Stir the vegetables in the pan and cook them for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent.
- Add the garlic to the vegetables, and cook for an additional minute or so, stirring frequently
- Add the 1/3 cup of wine and allow it to simmer for several minutes.
- Stir in the 6-ounce can of tomato paste so that it is well blended.
- Add the 4 cups of bouillon broth, the two 29-32-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes, the 2 cups of lentils, the 1 tablespoon of dried basil, and the 1 teaspoon of dried oregano to the pot and stir everything to mix well.
- If you are using a pressure cooker or instant pot, secure the lid and bring it up to pressure over medium heat. Once it is up to pressure(see article here for how to determine that), set the timer for 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool slowly, or place it in the sink and run water over it to cool it down quickly. Remove the lid and check the sauce. Adjust seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Or if you are using a heavy pot, cover it and bring the contents to a simmer over medium heat. Allow it to simmer for at least 60 minutes, until the lentils are very tender.
- While the sauce is cooking, put on a covered pot of water to boil over high heat. When it is boiling, add the 1-1½pound of pasta and cook it according to the instructions (usually about 7-9 minutes for al dente). When it is done to taste, drain it in a colander.
- Serve the Lentil Bolognese sauce over the pasta, along with a fresh, tossed green salad and optional garlic bread.