Easy Vegan Pasta Bolognese That Tastes Like The Real Thing (I Promise!)

For the last year or so, Mat and I have been gradually transitioning our diet to be more plant-based.  We haven't gone full fledged vegan, or even vegetarian (we sometimes eat wild-caught fish), but we have been experimenting in the kitchen and trying to sub in plant-derived ingredients in place of animal-derived ones where and as we can. 

Case in point: I've been making a lot of nut milk, namely almond and cashew to replace the little bit of cow's milk in my diet.  Until recently, though, I'd just been making batches of the stuff to pour in my coffee or on my muesli in the morning, but hadn't tried adding it to a cooked recipe.

A friend of mine who has recently gone vegan mentioned to me that she sometimes substitutes lentils in place of ground beef, to vegan-ize non-vegan recipes.  I loved the idea - lentils have a hearty bite that could easily replace beef without sacrificing texture or flavor. 

 soak dry lentils overnight before cooking

soak dry lentils overnight before cooking

That's when I got the idea to try substituting puy lentils for ground beef in my favorite bolognese recipe.  This particular recipe, however, calls for both cream and parmesan cheese.  Since I'd been experimenting with nut milks, I knew I could make a cashew cream that could easily take the place of dairy cream.  One obstacle hurdled.

I also remembered that I had recently pinned a vegan parmesan recipe that I was interested in trying.  I whipped up a batch one night to see if it would pass the taste test.  It did, with flying colors.  

 this VEGAN PARMESAN is so simple to make

this VEGAN PARMESAN is so simple to make

I gave the bolognese a try one night, subbing in the vegan ingredients for the meat and dairy.  After one bite, Mat and I both declared it a hit!

 a little hit of fresh nutmeg adds surprising complexity to the sauce

a little hit of fresh nutmeg adds surprising complexity to the sauce

 red chilli flakes give it a little kick 

red chilli flakes give it a little kick 

 fresh basil gives this sauce that classic italian bolognese flavor

fresh basil gives this sauce that classic italian bolognese flavor

And voila!  With three simple substitutions I vegan-ized one of my favorite dishes, and I'd be willing to bet that in a blind taste test, you could hardly tell the difference.  This bolognese sauce is hearty, flavorful, and soul warming - the perfect dish for a cold winter evening.

Though it does require some planning and preparation (soaking the lentils overnight and pre-cooking them, pulling the cashew cream and vegan parm together), it's not a ton of added effort, and the end result is worth it!

Vegan Pasta Bolognese

Bolognese

Thanks to my new (second hand) kitchen scales, I can now more accurately give you both UK and US friendly measurements!  

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 150 g (1 cup) dry puy lentils, soaked overnight, drained and cooked (see note)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 200 ml (1 cup) dry red wine
  • 2 400 g (14 oz) tins chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 450 g (1 pound) dried pasta
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • Handful fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 50 ml (1/4 cup) cashew cream (recipe below)
  • 50 g (1/2 cup) vegan parmesan (recipe below)

Method

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and saute until soft, taking care not to let it burn. Add puy lentils and stir to incorporate.  Add the oregano, chili flakes, and red wine, and stir for one minute.  Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 teaspoon salt, and fresh ground black pepper to taste, and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta (I used spelt macaroni!) to al dente. 

While the pasta is cooking, add the nutmeg, cashew cream, and basil, and simmer until sauce has thickened.  Remove from heat and add the vegan parmesan.  

Add cooked pasta to individual bowls and top with a healthy helping of the bolognese sauce, garnishing with extra vegan parmesan.  Serve hot and enjoy!

Bolognese

Note: To soak lentils, place them in a bowl and cover them with two inches (5 cm) of water.  Allow them to soak overnight.  When you're ready to cook them, drain and rinse them, and place them in a saucepan.  Add enough water or stock to cover the lentils by 1 inch (2-3 cm), cover with a lid, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are soft, 20-30 minutes.  Drain excess liquid.  

Vegan Parmesan

Ingredients

  • 100g (1 cup) raw cashews
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 3 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt

Method

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until you reach a coarse meal texture. 

 

Cashew Cream

You can soak your cashews at the same time as your lentils, and both will be ready for the recipe the following day.

Ingredients

  • 100 g (1 cup) raw cashews, soaked overnight and drained
  • 300 ml water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Method

Place all ingredients in a blender and process for 1-2 minutes, until texture is smooth and even.  Straining not required.


Would you try it?  What recipes could you veganize?  I'd love to hear your ideas!

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A hearty, comforting, plant-based recipe that tastes just like the classic!