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How to Make Vegan Bolognese: Meatless Bolognese Recipe

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 9, 2020 • 2 min read

It might be hard for some to imagine Bolognese, the classic meat sauce from Bologna, without the meat and dairy. But with a few clever substitutions, it can be done.



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What Is Bolognese Sauce?

Bolognese is the international name for ragù alla Bolognese, a long-simmering Italian meat sauce traditionally used for lasagna and tagliatelle. The sauce starts with a base of soffritto—aromatic vegetables such as onion, carrot, and celery—cooked in olive oil until soft. Ground or diced meat, usually beef and pancetta, make up the body of the sauce, with wine, chicken stock, and tomato puree forming the braising liquid.

How to Make Vegan Bolognese

To make a meatless bolognese, you'll need to substitute not only the meat, but the milk and parmesan cheese that typically go into this pasta sauce.

  1. For the ground meat: There are many ways to make vegan bolognese, but a vegan ground meat substitute is the easiest. Lentils, which have a meaty texture and are full of protein, make a great ground meat substitute. Add mushrooms (for savory flavor) and quinoa (for chewy texture) to make your lentil bolognese really shine.
  2. For the parmesan cheese: In traditional bolognese, parmesan cheese is added both during the cooking process and as a topping. Some grocery stores sell vegan parmesan, and nutritional yeast is also a good parmesan replacement.
  3. For the milk: Italian-style ragù alla Bolognese incorporates milk or heavy cream as a sauce thickener. You can substitute cow's milk for your favorite plant-based milk, such as oat milk. Just make sure to get an unsweetened version—vanilla doesn't really go with bolognese.
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Hearty Vegan Bolognese Recipe

Prep Time
15 min
Total Time
35 min
Cook Time
20 min


  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  • ½ pound mushrooms, woody stems removed
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine (or substitute red wine)
  • 3 ounces (½ can) tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or tamari if gluten-free)
  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup unsweetened oat milk
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
  • ½ cup quinoa, rinsed
  • ¼ cup vegan parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast, plus more to serve
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, for garnish
  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms, and garlic and pulse until finely chopped. (Alternatively, mince the veggies by hand.)
  2. In a Dutch oven over medium heat, warm olive oil. Once shimmering, add the minced veggies. Sauté until very soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the wine to deglaze the pan and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Let simmer until wine has almost fully evaporated, about 5 minutes.
  4. Use a spoon or spatula to push the vegetables to one side of the pan, and add the tomato paste to the other side of the pan. Let the tomato paste brown slightly, then stir and let it brown a little more, about 4 minutes.
  5. Add balsamic vinegar and soy sauce to the side of the pan with the tomato paste and stir to deglaze. Add vegetable broth, oat milk, black pepper, and bay leaf. Stir to combine.
  6. Add lentils and quinoa and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast and stir to combine. Let simmer until slightly thickened, about 2–4 minutes. Taste and season with salt and garnish with basil leaves. Serve with your favorite pasta, zucchini noodles, or cauliflower rice.

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