Vegan recipe for ‘Bolognese’ uses mushrooms for depth of flavor

Mushroom and Lentil ‘Bolognese’

Active time:40 mins

Total time:1 hour

Serves:6

Active time:40 mins

Total time:1 hour

Serves:6

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I’m not usually one for quote marks in recipe names, especially when it comes to plant-based versions of meat-focused dishes. You know, fried “chicken” sandwiches when the “chicken” is actually an oyster mushroom, that kind of thing. In recipes I’m developing for a new cookbook, I’m calling a whole selection of bacon-esque versions “crisps” for that very reason.

But sometimes you just can’t help it, such as when you’re cooking a sauce that is renowned for its use of multiple types of meat and for its long process, and you’re doing neither of those things, yet you still want to evoke the reference and feeling. You want to focus on vegetables, and you want to get dinner on the table quickly.

This fantastic recipe from Ella Mills’s latest cookbook is a radical departure from the Italian classic ragu Bolognese. It comes together quickly enough for a weeknight and gets its depth of flavor not from meat or from time, but from a smart combination of umami-packed ingredients: two types of mushrooms, two forms of tomato and soy sauce. To all you Italian purists out there, I know what you’re thinking.

I wanted the ultimate Bolognese. Six recipes later, I came up with the best ragu of them all.

Here’s the thing: I don’t eat the meats that are in the traditional Bolognese anymore, and yet I want something with that same vibe. So when I spied the recipe in “How to Go Plant-Based,” I gave it a whirl, and appreciated how dried porcinis and fried creminis, along with canned (or any precooked) lentils, gave me some of that same effect. I tossed the sauce with pasta, twirled my fork, and issued an audible sigh that communicated sheer comfort and satisfaction.

In her book, Mills uses the B word without any qualification, but I decided to give it the old quotation-mark treatment. You can do either — or call it something else altogether if you’d like — but whatever way you go, I hope you make it. It’s that good.

Mushroom and Lentil ‘Bolognese’

The sauce is great over pasta, as shown here, but you can also use it to top rice or other grains, or baked white or sweet potatoes.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days. The sauce can be frozen for up to 3 months.

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  • 1 ¼ cups Scrappy Vegetable Broth or store-bought low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion (8 ounces), chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, scrubbed and chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon tamari or light soy sauce
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • Two (15-ounce) cans green lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 1 pound dried whole-wheat spaghetti
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Pour the broth into a microwave-safe bowl or liquid measuring cup and microwave on HIGH until hot, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the dried mushrooms and soak for 10 minutes, then pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer to catch any grit. Rinse the mushrooms, squeeze out the extra water and chop them.

While the mushrooms are soaking, in a Dutch oven over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until it shimmers. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 8 to 10 minutes.

Pour in the mushroom broth and chopped mushrooms, and add the tomato paste and tamari, stirring to combine. Bring to a simmer, then add the tomato puree and lentils. Return to a simmer and cook until the mixture thickens and the flavors have melded, 15 to 20 minutes.

While the lentil mixture is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti until al dente according to the package instructions. Drain well.

Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet over high heat, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil until it shimmers. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding the skillet, add a layer of mushrooms and let it cook without disturbing until lightly browned on one side, 1 minute. Flip the mushrooms and cook on the other side until lightly browned, 1 minute. Transfer the cooked mushrooms to the lentil mixture. Continue with the remaining mushrooms, adding 1 teaspoon of oil before frying each batch, and adding more oil as needed.

Stir the parsley into the sauce. Taste, and season with more salt as needed.

Add the spaghetti to the sauce and toss until thoroughly coated, and serve hot.

Per serving (1 1/3 cups pasta plus 1 cup sauce)

Calories: 512; Total Fat: 7 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 445 mg; Carbohydrates: 96 g; Dietary Fiber: 13 g; Sugar: 11 g; Protein: 27 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Adapted from “How to Go Plant-Based” by Ella Mills (Mobius, 2022).

Tested by Joe Yonan; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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