The idea of making a vegan “Bolognese” with legumes has been at the back of my mind for some time, and while the concept is not exactly new, I think I have come up with quite a cracker vegan lentil bolognese recipe which will convince even the most ardent meat lover! At the point of making this, I had run out of diced tomatoes in my pantry (yes, it happens). I had neither the time nor the inclination to run out to the shops and get some so I used the last bit of Maggie Beer tomato sauce we had in the fridge.
The result was divine, which is the best proof that you don’t need a tin of tomatoes or a jar of marinara sauce if you make bolognese (you’ll be hard-pressed to find a recipe for bolognese on the net, vegetarian or not, which doesn’t include a tin of tomatoes or a jar of marinara sauce).
Back to the vegan bolognese – you won’t miss anything in here. My husband, an avid meat eater, loved it and simply couldn’t believe there was no meat in it. This is comfort food at its best, and at the same time full of goodies while being very low in fat. Your vegan/vegetarian and omnivore friends will be raving alike. Serve it with gluten free pasta like I did (photo) or “voodles” (spiralised vegetables) and it’s gluten free as well. So what inspired me to make a lentil bolognese?
While mushrooms or quorn mince would be an obvious choice, there had to be a more cost-effective solution. I love the effect legumes have on my blood sugar and satiety levels – I don’t so much love their effect on my gut. However, I found the “smaller” the legume the more easily digested, hence lentils are usually my legume of choice. (They taste friggin’ delicious too.) I love kidney beans and chickpeas, but if I have too much of them, they just about kill me (or rather, my bowels). Of course I know the spiel about soaking and phytic acid and blabla, but I couldn’t find a huge difference between soaking dry lentils and just rinsing organic tinned ones very well, and if in doubt, I always opt for the easier and quicker option but it is of course up to you if and how you prepare your lentils.
With all this being said, you would assume that lentils are the hero of this dish, but they are actually not…it’s celery! What the…? Well, I have to admit I’ve never liked celery all that much, especially in its raw version. In fact, celery is probably the only vegetable I couldn’t eat raw to save myself (something I inherited from my mum). So while I have recently found a new organic box delivery service which I really like, their inclusion of celery in the last box was a bit of a letdown for me at first. But an unknown vegetable for the amateur chef is like a new country to the devoted adventurer, so I knew I had to experiment. My internet search about the uses of celery only yielded raw salad recipes – three strikes, I was out. Had to do it without the help of Uncle Google.
Soups and stocks usually contain traces of celery. I figured if I just cooked it long enough, maybe it would act a bit like vegetable stock without imposing the (imho yucky) raw flavour of celery. Bingo! This bolognese tasted so rich and just had this certain “je ne sais quoi”, and since I don’t cook with onions, I knew it had to be the celery which lended this dish “a depth of flavour”, according to my hubby.
So I’ll be sure to include celery more often in my creations. You never stop learning, do you?
Vegan Lentil Bolognese
2 generous portions
1 garlic clove, minced
2 carrots, grated or finely sliced
2 celery stalks, very finely sliced
1 tin organic brown lentils, drained and rinsed very well (or sub other legumes)
a dash of tomato sauce or tomato paste or diced tomatoes (amount depends on your preferences)
250-350 ml good vegetable stock
basil, oregano, salt, pepper and any other herbs and spices of choice
other vegetables of choice (optional) (mushrooms are a great choice)
nutritional yeast (optional)
Make sure to have all the ingredients readily prepared. You don’t want your garlic to burn while you are still slicing the celery! Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the garlic and fry for a few minutes until soft. Add carrots, celery and lentils and heat through for another few minutes, than add the tomatoes and stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the desired consistency is reached. Adjust the amount of stock according to your preferences. Stir in the nutritional yeast for a lovely cheesy flavour. Season to taste and serve with gluten free pasta or voodles. (I’ve got no idea how long this stuff lasts and if it tastes better the next day – we finished it in one sitting!)