Monday: Vegan Spaghetti Bolognese
- Brown onion
- Dried chilies
- Bell pepper
- Brown lentils
- Vegetable stock
- Condensed tomato soup
- Brown sugar
Spaghetti bolognese, for me, is a huge comfort food. It’s one of my mum’s best dishes, and reminds me instantly of home; so this meat-free vegan alternative had a lot to live up to.
I decided to choose a meat-free bolognese recipe that didn’t simply use a mince substitute – I wanted to make a dish that didn’t rely on replicating the taste of meat to make it enjoyable; I wanted a dish whose ingredients used their own flavours to “make” the dish. Although the recipe instructed the use of brown lentils, I was unable to source them in the local shop, and so instead used green canned lentils. Though I cannot be sure of what the dish would have tasted like had I used the advocated brown, the green ones were just as satisfactory, and so I am sure that most lentils would be suitable for this dish. I found that lentils were able to give a texture that mince is unable to, and so eating this dish brought something new to my usual experience of ‘bolognese’.
When I looked at the ingredient list for this dish, my first reservation was using tomato soup as a sauce. I thought the dish would essentially be soup with lentils floating in it (resembling tomato and lentil soup), but I was wrong. The soup serves as an excellent sauce, for when it is supplemented with spices, herbs and stock, it is simply a quicker way to make a tomato base. When pushed for time, using the soup speeds up the process entirely, as the time it takes to reduce the sauce is significantly less – this makes it perfect for a weekday meal needed in a hurry. If I were to improve the sauce, I would consider making my own and using this instead – fortunately I am not often short of time! To make a replacement sauce, I would use a 400g can of tinned chopped tomatoes (to serve 4), and add a vegetable stock cube to give depth. The herb combination I would not change, and so I would add parsley, thyme and oregano in equal measure to taste to the tomatoes, along with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and simmer this until it was reduced to a desired volume.
Overall, I was impressed with this dish. It was incredibly tasty, and not very difficult to make. I would consider next time using a sauce that I had made instead of soup, but that is not to say that the soup did not make a satisfactory sauce. I’m not sure if I prefer this over the meat equivalent: I would make this dish again, and although I wasn’t craving the taste of mince whilst eating it, I definitely think that if you like meat, it brings something that lentils can’t quite. However, for a healthier substitute to this traditional comfort food, I would absolutely recommend it.
- Heat oil in a medium saucepan on a medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, then add the garlic. Once the garlic is beginning to brown (as with the meatball recipe, it will begin to emit an aroma), add the chopped pepper and mushrooms. Continue to cook on this heat, until the mushrooms are softened.
- Add the lentils, and stir until combined – if the lentils are both brown and dried they will take longer to cook, but will apparently give a nuttier taste. I used canned for speed of cooking – remember to rinse the lentils in a sieve with cold water before adding them to the pan.
- Add dried chili to taste, and pour in 50ml of water. Add 100ml of vegetable stock, and reduce the heat to a minimum. Stir well so all the water and stock combine to make the base of the sauce – efficient mixing of different components is what will give the dish flavour here, so remember to stir when new ingredients are added!
- Stir in the tomato component – the soup or the alternative homemade made sauce – and cover with a lid. If using soup, add a teaspoon of brown sugar at this point and stir – this gives the sauce a sweetness that is sometimes needed when using tinned tomato soup as it can be slightly bitter.
- Simmer for 25 – 30 minutes, until the lentils are softened and the sauce is reduced. Add parsley, thyme and oregano to the sauce, and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
- Whilst the sauce is simmering, boil spaghetti in a saucepan for roughly 20 minutes until ‘al dente’ (softened, but with a slight tenderness in bite)
- Drain the spaghetti; season and give a slight drizzle of oil to prevent sticking. Serve the bolognese sauce on top, seasoning with more fresh herbs if desired
- This dish is already incredibly healthy, but also goes well with a dressed mixed salad; enjoy!