Luscious Lentil Bolognese

Growing up, there were seven of us in the house, five kids. So I totally understand my mum when she tried and put in some sort of rotation menu, to get cooking and weekly spends under control. I mean, she wasn’t a short order cook for the household. Unfortunately, due to varying opinions and tastes in our household, of the few rotating meals, more than half of us hated a dish at any given time.

Except for spaghetti bolognese. We’d never even heard of lentil bolognese at that stage, but everyone loved spaghetti bolognese. You could be sure that any day we were having it, mealtime would be marked by a kumbaya atmosphere, as hungry adults and children chowed down with nary a complaint.

Chock full of rich tomato flavours, carrots and onions, adorning perfectly cooked spaghetti al-dente it was an economic crowd-pleaser.

A bowl of spaghetti with lentil bolognese

Until burnt night.

My mam was a stickler for cooking times, something which has continued with me, and it would be a rare blue moon where we found our meal overcooked. Until the blue moon to end all blue moons happened. BURNT NIGHT.

One wintry wet night in Meath, Ireland, four starving children, a small starving toddler, and a starving husband sat down to eat. Secure in the knowledge that it was spaghetti bolognese night, and good food would be had. Drooling with anticipation as we sat there, waiting to have our overflowing plates put in front of us, we immediately noticed an overpowering and nauseous burnt smell. We couldn’t pin point the source of the odour, until our meal was set in front of us.

Mother had burnt the bolognese. Now she wouldn’t have been the first one to burn bolognese and it’s always a risk when cooking anything in large quantities in narrow pots. But she had made the cardinal mistake of vigorously stirring the bolognese AFTER it had burnt. And so, the burnt taste had been thoroughly distributed among all the bolognese.

Even today, particularly when I cook with a pressure cooker, at the first hint of a burnt aroma I will decant all food from the pot tout-de-suite, without disturbing the burnt layer, a sort of food first-aid.

Suffice to say, our food love became a food nightmare as all of the children faced a long night at the table, unable to leave until we had finished our food. In our house, either your plate was clean or you were at the table until it was. There was no in-between. My older brother and I seethed in quiet resentment and jealousy when our talented younger brother developed the ability to vomit on demand, thereby rendering his meal inedible, according to my mother (we begged to differ….).

Likewise when our stepsister was excused from the table, as her mum wasn’t a fan of the clean-your-plate practice. In time, we learnt to distract our more blessed siblings ,and shift some of our food onto their plates. They must have thought they were suffering a really early onset of dementia as their previously half-full plates were suddenly piled high again.

Then there was the napkin drop trick. Our mother was so delighted when we asked for paper napkins,  look at how polite and grown up we were! But actually we would be dropping food onto them, hidden on our laps, and then folding them over and placing them in our pockets, to be flushed down the toilet at the first available opportunity.

Years later, this has heavily influenced my food practices and eating times with my own kids. When they were very little, I tried to expose them to everything several times. What they didn’t like the first time they might come to like later, or when served in a different way. But as a general rule, most meals we eat have at least three components. If the kids don’t like one component (and I try to be reasonable with what I give them), then they can leave it but must eat the other two. Or they can divide the plate up and eat whichever half they prefer.

But they don’t have to clean their plate. And they won’t get anything else made for them. So “I’m full, I don’t like this, can I have a plate of chicken nuggets, my dear unpaid short order cook?” won’t wash in our house.

On burnt night, I sat at the table with all my siblings until the early hours of the morning. Then my stepfather took pity on us and sent us to bed. Albeit amidst threats of having to finish our plates for breakfast… And so, I didn’t touch bolognese for years after going vegetarian. Back then, in Ireland, it was also very difficult to find tofu, or meat substitutes.

But years later, one night, I found myself yearning for bolognese, and made a ketchup and tinned tomato and red wine version with TVP (textured vegetable protein), that was my go-to bolognese for years.

Later on I got pretty fed up, as there is a big lack of the tastier “fresh” TVP (a lá Linda McCartney) in both Madrid and India, so I had to use the dried stuff, and soak it and rinse it several times. I kept hearing about lentil bolognese but completely rejected it. I mean lentils and pasta? Didn’t sound good.

But then one day, back in Spain where perfectly cooked legumes are cheaply available, I decided to try it. Wary of lentils with pasta, I researched several recipes to see if I should make any changes, and found this amazing site, the simply vegan blog. Their approach to bolognese was completely different and focused on using vegetables to infuse the sauce with even more flavour, and heavily influenced this recipe.

They are also the reason that I will never post a Spanish Vegan Omelette recipe as theirs is near perfection (hint – cook it at a lower temperature and turn it more often), but I can definitely see myself basing some vegan or vegetarian frittatas on their amazing recipe.

Yield: 4

Lentil Bolognese

lentils in tomato sauce with herbs scattered over piled on spagehtti

Lentil Bolognese


Tomato sauce ingredients

  • Olive oil 1.5 tbsp
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 carrot
  • 5 large tomatoes
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 150 g tinned tomato
  • 100 ml red wine
  • 150 ml water

Bolognese ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • ½ tbsp each oregano basil dried
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • Large jar lentils
  • 1/3 veg cube
  • Black pepper and parmesan to serve


  1. Chop the carrots in thin slices (to reduce cooking time and maximize the surface for caramelisation). Heat up the olive oil in a large frying pan meanwhile.
  2. Add the carrots and crushed garlic to the pan and cook for five minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes, tinned tomato, salt and red wine. Cook stirring every few minutes, for about ten minutes until you see oil spotting the top or sides.
  4. Add the water and continue to cook for another 15 minutes until thickened. Then blend. Chop one onion finely and one 2 carrots quartered and sliced in the meantime.
  5. Now introduce another tablespoon of oil to the pan. When it’s hot, put in the onion and carrots and turn up the heat to high. Cook for five minutes stirring as little as possible to prevent sticking. What you want are slightly browned onions and carrots.
  6. Add in the basil, oregano and thyme. Leave for three minutes, stirring once.
  7. Now add in the drained lentils, veg stock cube, and 1 cup of water. Cook for 5-15 minutes, stirring often, depending on whether you want firm lentils or slightly deconstructed.
  8. Whisk briskly, top with sliced basil and freshly ground black pepper. Serve over courgetti or spaghetti al dente.

Nutrition Information



Serving Size


Amount Per Serving Calories 239Total Fat 10gSaturated Fat 1gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 8gCholesterol 1mgSodium 251mgCarbohydrates 28gFiber 9gSugar 11gProtein 8g

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