Lentil Ragu


This Lentil Ragu recipe puts a vegetarian spin on a classic Italian meat sauce. It’s packed with veggies and red lentils, ready in less than 35 minutes, and doesn’t skimp on the rich, smoky flavors.

a bowl of pasta with sauce and chopped parsley beside a glass of white wine

Lentil Ragu is the vegetarian version of the true Italian red sauce. Instead of meat, we’re using red lentils and vegetables to bring plenty of volume and substance to every bite. You won’t miss the protein, either - just one cup of red lentils has 18 grams of protein!

The red lentils are braised in a sofrito (onion, carrots, and celery) and tomato-based sauce, resulting in a thick, stick-to-your-bones pasta sauce loaded with rustic Italian flavors. It’s a sensational crowd-pleaser that both vegetarians and meat eaters will love.

Recipe features

  • It’s quick, easy, and the perfect pasta sauce for Meatless Monday.
  • Making ragu with lentils packs it with a ton of protein and heartiness. Both meat eaters and vegetarians will love it!
  • Make it fresh or freeze it for later! The reheated leftovers are just as good as the freshly cooked batch.
a bowl of pasta topped with sauce, beside a glass of white wine

Ingredients 

Lentils - Dried red lentils are best in sauces, soups, and stews because they don’t need to be soaked ahead of time and take on a silky smooth and creamy texture. They’re the perfect fit for this pasta sauce and my Red Lentil Soup. You can try using green or brown lentils instead but they’ll need to be soaked and cooked in advance (or simmered in the sauce for much longer).

Vegetables - All you need are carrots, celery, onion, and garlic to make the aromatic sofrito. You can also add diced bell peppers and mushrooms if you like.

Tomato paste - It adds flavor and acts as a thickening agent.

Soy sauce - For depth and a hint of a savory umami flavor. You can use tamari if you’re gluten free.

Marinara sauce - Any type of jarred, mildly seasoned marinara will work just fine.

Sugar - To help cut the acidity of the tomato-based ingredients and bring balance. Don’t skip it!

Cream - Finishing the sauce with a creamy element, like half and half, heavy cream, whole milk, or dairy-free milk like soy milk, improves the viscosity and adds a silky element to the texture.

Step-by-step instructions

Step 1: Saute the aromatics. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Once hot, add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic and cook until very soft and fragrant. 

Step 2: Add the flavor. Next, stir in the tomato paste, soy sauce, and chipotle powder.

cooked carrots, celery and onion in a skillet on the left and with tomato paste on the right

Step 3: Let it simmer. Add the lentils, marinara sauce, vegetable broth, bay leaf, sugar, and salt. Give everything a good stir and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and leave it to simmer. 

Step 4: Add the cream, then enjoy. Once it’s starting to thicken and the lentils are almost soft, stir in the milk or cream. Continue simmering until the lentils are soft and the sauce is thickened. Serve over pasta and enjoy!

ragu in a skillet with a wooden spoo

Tips and FAQs

  • Red lentils do not require soaking, just a good rinse under cool running water to remove any debris. 
  • Dice the onions, carrots, and celery into small, evenly-sized pieces. This way, the sauce looks great and everything cooks evenly at the same time.
  • Serve the vegetarian ragu sauce with any type of pasta you love. Long and flat noodles (like fettuccine) will scoop up the sauce while short, tubular shapes (like penne, fusilli, and cavatappi) trap it in their nooks and ridges.

What’s the difference between ragu and bolognese?

To sum it up, traditional ragu is a pasta sauce traditionally made with ground meat, vegetables, wine, and tomatoes. Bolognese is also a meat and tomato sauce but features more meat than tomatoes. 

Check out my Rigatoni Bolognese for a great example. And if you’re looking for vegan bolognese, these Tofu Bolognese and Lentil Bolognese recipes are the best!

What else can you add to vegan ragu?

This hearty sauce already has a solid foundation but it’s easy to enhance with complementary flavors and textures. After piling the ragu on pasta, finish the dish with chopped toasted walnuts, vegan parmesan, nutritional yeast, fresh basil, or a drizzle of olio di peperoncino (Italian chili oil). 

How do you serve lentil ragu?

This vegan ragu recipe is excellent served over al dente pasta or as a filling in vegan lasagna. No matter what, be sure to serve thick, crusty bread or vegan garlic bread on the side to soak up every drop of sauce. 

As for sides, this flavorful sauce is best complemented with simple vegetable sides, like grilled broccolini, sauteed asparagus, roasted broccoli, or a light green salad. 

Storage

Refrigerator: Let the leftover lentil ragu cool completely to room temperature. Transfer it to an airtight container and store it in the fridge for 2 to 3 days.

Freezer: You can also freeze this ragu in smaller, individual portions for up to 3 months. Simply thaw as much as you need in the fridge overnight, then reheat the next day. 

Reheating: To reheat lentil ragu, dump the thawed sauce in a pot, add a splash of vegetable broth, and bring it back up to a simmer. Add another splash of broth and continue simmering until heated through.

a fork twirled around pasta and pasta sauce

More healthy and hearty pasta recipes

If you made this recipe, be sure to leave a comment and star rating below. Thanks!

a bowl of pasta with sauce and chopped parsley beside a glass of white wine
Print

Lentil Ragu

This Lentil Ragu recipe puts a vegetarian spin on a classic Italian meat sauce. It’s packed with veggies and red lentils, ready in less than 35 minutes, and doesn’t skimp on the rich, smoky flavors.
Course dinner
Cuisine Italian
Diet Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Keyword lentil ragu, vegan lentil ragu, vegan ragu
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 291kcal
Author Erin

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large carrot diced
  • 1 celery rib diced
  • 1 cup yellow onion diced
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon chipotle powder or sub chili powder
  • 1 cup red lentils rinsed
  • 25 oz. marinara sauce
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt plus more to taste
  • ¼ cup soy milk or milk of choice; sub heavy cream if not vegan

Instructions

  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the carrot, celery, onion, and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes. Then, add the tomato paste, soy sauce and chipotle powder and and sauté for 1 minute.
  • To that skillet, pour in the lentils, marinara sauce, vegetable broth, bay leaf, sugar, and salt and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When you have about 10 minutes left, pour in the soy milk (or heavy cream, if not vegan).
  • Simmer until lentils are soft and enjoy!

Notes

*Calories are per serving and are an estimation
Storage:
  • Refrigerator: store leftovers in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days
  • Freezer: wait for the ragu to cool, then transfer it to a freezer-safe bag or container for up to 3 months
  • Reheating: pour ragu in a saucepan, add a splash of broth and stir over medium heat until it's warmed through 

Nutrition

Calories: 291kcal | Carbohydrates: 49g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Sodium: 2287mg | Potassium: 1211mg | Fiber: 18g | Sugar: 14g | Vitamin A: 4454IU | Vitamin C: 22mg | Calcium: 96mg | Iron: 6mg

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