Vegetarian Bolognese Sauce with Lentils and Roasted Cauliflower

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Jump to Recipeplate of vegetarian bolognese topped with basil

Making a rich filling sauce without the meat can be tricky but this meat free bolognese does not disappoint. This vegetarian bolognese recipe has depth of flavor and a rich sauce that anyone will find filling. It is one of my favorite dishes to make when cooking for family or friends.

Main Ingredients in Vegetarian Bolognese

  • Pasta: The best pasta shape for this sauce is spaghetti noodles. You could easily use fettuccine or rigatoni as well.
  • Cauliflower: Chop up your cauliflower into really small pieces. Roasting the cauliflower with the spices will really add that depth of flavor.
  • Tomato Paste: I like using tomato paste because is has a very concentrated tomato flavor. You could also use crushed tomatoes or diced canned tomato. I would just add less water if using one of these canned tomatoes.
  • Lentils: This recipe uses red lentils to substitute the ground meat that is normally in a bolognese sauce. Red lentils cook super quick and it gives the vegetarian bolognese sauce some texture and protein.
  • Optional Ingredients: You can always add in more fresh veggies like red bell pepper or a handful of spinach. If you want a little spice, top the spaghetti sauce with red pepper flakes or black pepper.
roasted cauliflower on a baking sheet

What is in a meat free bolognese?

A traditional bolognese sauce is a rich and hearty meat sauce made with ground beef, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, and red wine.

A great way to get that same flavor without the meat is to use the right mix of seasonings. There are many different types of vegetarian bolognese. In this recipe, there is a mixture of roasted cauliflower and lentils with a lot of seasonings. You can often find lentil only bolognese, but having the cauliflower mixed in really adds a nice texture.

For the sauce part of the bolognese, I use a tomato paste instead of tomato sauce. This give it a rich flavor. I use water from the pasta to thin out of the sauce to my desired consistency. It is a thick sauce but you can use the water to thin it out to your liking.

Why add lentils to your bolognese?

Lentils are a great source fo plant protein. Adding in some type of protein when making a meatless meal is always a good idea. In the recipe the lentils also act as a great texture mixed in with the sauce. It gives it that thick and chunky meaty texture you would typically get in a bolognese sauce recipe.

This recipe uses red lentils but you could also use green lentils or brown lentils. If using brown or green lentils you might want to cook them before adding them to the sauce, since these types of lentil take longer to cook than red.

a person holding a fork in a pile of pasta

Can you make this a vegan bolognese?

Yes! You can easily make this a vegan bolognese recipe. This delicious sauce recipe is vegan except for the parmesan cheese. Feel free to leave out the parmesan or use a vegan parmesan substitute such as nutritional yeast.

Can you make this a gluten free bolognese?

Yes, you can! The only thing with gluten in this recipe is the pasta. To make this healthy meal even healthier, you can easily be swapped out for a brown rice or chickpea pasta. You could even put this meatless bolognese sauce on top of spaghetti squash.

Other Pasta Recipes You Might Enjoy

Vegetarian Bolognese Sauce with Lentils and Roasted Cauliflower

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  • 1 head of cauliflower (about 5 cups), chopped in small pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp crushed fennel seed (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp salt


  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 shallots, minced (or sub 1 medium yellow onion)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, mined
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 can (6oz) tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 1 1/2 cup water


  • 1 lb dry pasta, such as spaghetti
  • grated parmesan and fresh basil for topping


  1. Preheat oven to 425° F.
  2. Chop up the cauliflower. You can do this with a knife or food processor. Then mix the cauliflower with olive oil, paprika, oregano, fennel seed (if using), and salt on a lined baking sheet. Add to oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.
  3. Make the Sauce. Heat olive oil in a large pan or dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add in shallot and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Mix in tomato paste, cook for 2 minutes. Add water, salt and red lentils. Bring to a boil and let it simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. Make the Pasta. Cook pasta according to instructions on the box. Before draining, save 1 cup of pasta water.
  5. Add pasta, sauce, and cauliflower to the pot. Add in pasta water 1/4 cup at a time to thin out the sauce until it reaches a good consistency.
  6. Top with parmesan and basil and serve!


To store this for later add it to an airtight container and keep in the fridge for up to 4 days. Add a little water or pasta sauce when reheating it since it tends to dry out slightly in the fridge.

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