My recipe for vegan bolognese is quite simple and very flexible. Here are some of my top tips.
For a typical bolognese, I use:
- tinned tomatoes – the juice makes up the majority of the sauce
- carrots – these add sweetness and balance out the acidity of the tomatoes
- bell pepper
- walnuts – they add a mealy, meaty texture and a nice earthy flavour
- whole dark speckled lentils – constitute most of the meatiness in terms of texture and flavour, and give you a really thick and rich sauce
- sundried tomatoes – provide the salt and a super umami tomato flavour to kick everything up a notch
- bay leaves
- smoked paprika
- Italian seasoning
- red wine – for even more richness
The dark speckled lentils really upped my bolognese game, but I’d caution you to not use too many. If I use 2 tins of tomatoes and aim for 6 portions of bolognese, I only need to boil up 1/3 cup of dry lentils with 2/3 cup water to get enough lentils to balance out the whole pot of bolognese.
I boil up my lentils in stock and add the paprika to that, to make the lentils themselves quite meaty and smoky, instead of adding the paprika to the main pot.
I dice all my veg and fry it all together at once in a good glug of extra virgin olive oil. Particularly when using mushrooms, the veggies can release a lot of water, which softens everything up and it can take a long time to evaporate the water off to the point where you are actually frying your veggies and getting that lovely caramel browning. Now, I dump all the veggies in the hot pot, and I push them from the centre out to the sides, to create a well in the middle of the pot where there are no veggies and I can see the bottom of the pan. This allows you to watch as the juices come out and gives them a direct route to evaporate out of the pan. You don’t need to stir until this has reduced and started to thicken, at which point you should turn the heat down a bit and your veggies will start to brown.
Finally, like chilli, make bolognese ahead of time if you can: it always tastes better the next day after all the flavours have had a chance to mingle and get to know each other. 😸