This vegan mushroom and lentil ragu is a great alternative pasta sauce for parpadelle, tagliatelle, or even gnocchi for a filling vegetarian meal. It also can top bruschetta for a snack or appetizer.
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What Is Lentil Ragu?
At its most basic, a lentil ragu is a vegetarian version of an Italian meat sauce. The Italian meat sauce is known as Bolognese, from Bologna, Italy. Bolognese is made with ground meat, normally a combination of ground beef, ground pork, and pancetta, depending on the Italian grandmother making it.
The reason why lentils make a good swap is because lentils, when cooked well, can give a similar look or texture of ground meat. The ragu can be used as a pasta sauce on a variety of different pasta shapes. Although bolognese is normally served over tagliatelle, which is wider than a linguini, lentil ragu will work on most types of pasta.
Is This Like A Bolognese Ragu?
I am a traditionalist when it comes to the definition of ragu. A Bolognese ragu is a meat-based sauce from Bologna, Italy. I am pretty particular about what I call Bolognese ragu because I’ve spent so much time in Bologna and its region, Emilia Romagna. So much so that I’ve written a book about the food of Emilia Romagna.
I love traditional ragu. Eric makes it several times a year. When we are in Bologna, Eric eats tagliatelle ragu almost once a day. But, I do recognize that alternatives need to exist for vegetarians and vegans. This lentil ragu is such a vegan alternative pasta sauce. It’s a lentil Bolognese, even if my Bolognese friends might pick on me for the definition.
Does it taste the same as traditional ragu? Absolutely not. Does it taste good slathered over a fresh dish of pasta? Absolutely. And, this makes it a perfect alternative pasta dish for a meatless Monday or a vegan diet.
Ingredients For This Mushroom And Lentil Ragu Recipe
What Kind Of Mushrooms For A Mushroom Ragu?
Most fresh mushrooms will work well in a mushroom ragu. Even a combination of mushrooms, including button mushrooms, chestnut mushrooms, or even portobello mushrooms.
The mushrooms should be diced rather than sliced so that they blend better into the lentil ragu, rather than being large slices of mushrooms.
What Type Of Lentils For Lentil Ragu?
Really, any type of lentil works fine. I prefer puy lentils, pardina lentils, green lentils, or brown lentils rather than red lentils for ragu. Red lentils cook quicker, but green or brown lentils hold their shape better. In this case, the lentils are a substitute for ground meat, so I like them to hold their shape. It gives a texture to the ragu.
The lentils should be rinsed and drained, but don’t need to soak. If you are short on time, you can soak the lentils for 30 or 60 minutes while doing something else. That will speed up the cooking process. But, it’s really not needed. That’s why I love cooking with lentils.
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Many Italian-inspired dishes start with olive oil, onion, and garlic. The onion should be diced small. The garlic should be minced or pressed. This is to make sure there are no large chunks of either in the final sauce.
Traditional ragu also uses carrots to form the soffritto. The soffritto is the mix of olive oil and vegetables that form the base of a dish, particularly sauces. In this case, shred the carrots so that there are no chunks of carrots in the final lentil ragu. The carrots also add a natural sweetness to the ragu.
Some recipes will add sugar, which I try to avoid at all costs. With sweet carrots, there is no reason to add sugar to a ragu.
Seasoning And Spices
A traditional ragu doesn’t really have a lot of spices or seasonings. Normally just salt, pepper, and thyme. For a vegan mushroom ragu or vegan lentil ragu, though, you do need a bit more spices to bring out the flavors. Mushrooms and lentils don’t offer the same kinds of flavors as the fat of ground meat when trying to mimic the experience.
This is also why a bay leaf works well, to add some depth of flavor and earthiness to this pasta sauce.
In this case, dried basil and oregano add an Italian flavor to the ragu. You can also use a mixed, dry Italian seasoning as a replacement. In addition, use a bit of sweet paprika, which adds color, and a bit of ground nutmeg, which adds an earthiness to the ragu.
In addition, crushed red pepper adds a bit of heat. But if you are sensitive to heat, just skip the pepper. Also, be liberal with seasoning with salt and pepper. I normally add salt a few times when cooking a dish like this, after each main ingredient. It doesn’t make the ragu salty, but helps to bring out the natural flavor of the ingredients.
Liquids And Other Ingredients
Another ingredient that is often used in traditional ragu is wine. In this case, just a bit of red wine. If you are vegan, feel free to use a vegan red wine. This wine helps to deglaze the bottom of the pot in addition to adding flavor and color to the lentil ragu.
In addition, both canned tomatoes and tomato paste serve the base of the sauce. They also add acidity to the dish. Finally, vegetable broth is used to give the lentils something to really cook in.
How To Make Lentil Ragu
Add the olive oil to a large dutch oven. Warm the oil over medium-high heat. Once warm, add the onion and carrot. Allow the onion and carrot to cook for 7-10 minutes or until yellow and soft. This forms the soffritto.
Add the garlic and stir to coat. Add the red peppers and mushrooms along with salt to season the vegetables. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until the vegetables soften and the mushrooms sweat and start to brown. Add all of the spices and seasoning. Coat the mushrooms and vegetables in the spices and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes. Feel free to add a bit of salt after each main ingredient to help blend the flavors.
Add the lentils and do the same, coating them in the spices and vegetables and allowing them to sweat for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, and vegetable broth. Stir well.
Reduce the heat to simmer and cover. Cook for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure the lentils don’t stick or burn to the bottom. If it starts to get dry, then add a ½ cup of water.
Serve over pasta and sprinkle with parmesan cheese or vegan cheese as a garnish.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ small yellow onion, diced
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced or diced
- 2-3 medium-sized carrots, shredded
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 2 cups fresh mushrooms (any kind, diced, adds a creaminess)
- ½ teaspoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
- 1 ½ cup lentils, rinsed and drained (puy, green)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ cup red wine (vegan) to deglaze
- 1 15 ounce can plum tomatoes
- 1 8 ounce can tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups of vegetable broth
- Add the olive oil to a large dutch oven.
- Warm over medium-high heat and add the onion and carrot. Allow to cook for 7-10 minutes or until yellow and soft. This forms the sofrito.
- Add the garlic and stir to coat.
- Add the red peppers and mushrooms along with salt to season the vegetables. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until the vegetables soften and the mushrooms sweat and start to brown.
- Add all of the spices and seasoning. Coat the mushrooms and vegetables in the spices and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the lentils and do the same, coating them in the spices and vegetables and allowing them to sweat for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, and vegetable broth. Stir well.
- Reduce the heat to simmer and cover. Cook for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure the lentils don’t stick or burn to the bottom. If it starts to get dry, then add a ½ cup of water.
- Serve over pasta and sprinkle with parmesan cheese or vegan cheese as a garnish.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 163Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 445mgCarbohydrates: 29gFiber: 9gSugar: 11gProtein: 9g
This nutritional data is provided by a third-party source and should not be relied on if you are on a strict diet.
Modifications And Variations For This Vegan Lentil Ragu Recipe
With these ingredients, there are so many things you can do to make a variety of mushroom lentil recipe. You can serve this over mashed potatoes. Skip the pasta and serve this in a bowl on its own as a mushroom lentil stew. Add a bit more liquid and make it a soup.
You can also add other vegetables to this lentil mushroom ragu. Feel free to add diced zucchini or eggplant, although then it starts to become more like a ratatouille.