Vegan bolognese (easy, protein-rich) – Lazy Cat Kitchen

vegan bolognese

Happy New Year everyone, I hope that 2024 started off on the right foot. I am going through the usual (for me) change in eating habits as the Christmas period, with all the sweet recipes I typically share on here, wreaks a bit of a havoc on me personally. I love baking and coming up with dessert recipes but I am not superhuman so I typically enjoy some (not all) fruit of my labour a bit too much. I am therefore resetting my tastebuds this month and sticking to only savoury, nourishing food for January (maybe longer, I will see how I get on). With that in mind, I start with one of my staples – this vegan bolognese is something I tend to make most weeks.

This vegan bolognese is easy and quick to make and rich in plant protein, which I great especially if you exercise a lot or have higher need for protein – when you are growing or elderly or pregnant. It doesn’t take much time at all and it’s my perfect kind of meal after a gym session, a run or a hike in the cold. It’s satiating, nourishing, packed with fibre and protein.

If you serve this vegan bolognese with wholemeal instead of white pasta, a portion (one sixth – about 130 g / 4.5 oz – depending on how much pasta water you add) of this pasta will give you 19 g of protein which is almost half of the recommended daily allowance if you are an average weight woman (0.75 g per kilogram of body weight is the recommendation for regular people) so that’s a lot.

If you follow WHOLEFOOD PLANT-BASED style of eating or count calories, it is perfectly possible to make this vegan bolognese pasta sauce without little to no oil – when I make it for us, I use 1 tbsp of olive oil for the whole dish to make it more nutrient dense. To make this vegan bolognese oil-free, simply sauté aromatics in some veggie stock instead of oil. And you lean the opposite way or are actively trying to gain weight, use more olive oil for a more luxurious taste and mouthfeel.

MORE ABOUT THE INGREDIENTS

vegan bolognese ingredients

AROMATICS: Onion and garlic need no introduction and as with most savoury dishes, these two are how this dish starts. I chop them both very finely and pan-fry in little oil until fragrant, softened and translucent. If you want to make this dish oil-free to comply with wholefood plant based way of eating or to reduce the amount of calories, simply use veggie (or mushroom) stock to sauté the aromatics.

SMOKED TOFU: I used an entire block of smoked Tofoo tofu. This particular brand comes in 225 g / 8 package and is already pressed so if using another brand go for 300 g / 10.5 before pressing or 200 g / 7 oz and use more walnuts. Apart from tofu, you can use ground up tempeh, soy mince, firm (Puy or brown) lentils or ground up chickpeas – all of which are rich in plant-protein. If using plan tofu, give the dish some smokiness by adding more smoked paprika or using a few drops of liquid smoke and smoked paprika.

WALNUTS: Toasted, well chopped walnuts add another texture to this wholefood plant-based vegan bolognese. I like to use them for flavour, texture and extra nutrition. You could also use sunflower seeds if you want to avoid nuts. In both cases, I recommend toasting them gently on a dry pan as this intensifies the flavour a lot.

MUSHROOMS: I used finely chopped chestnut mushrooms (known as cremini in the US) as a partial replacement for minced meat – tofu and walnuts are the other two components – each of them adding different flavour, texture and nutritional benefit to boot.

DRY SPICES: I used a bit of smoked paprika and a small amount of ground nutmeg to amp up the flavour of this dish. Both are easily accessible cupboard staples and so you should have no trouble finding either of them.

TOMATO PASSATA: I used an entire bottle (400 g / 14 oz) of tomato passata to bring this vegan bolognese together and it works a treat. Tomato passata does not need as much time in the pan as canned tomatoes so that’s why I would recommend it here. If you don’t have passata, you can use whole canned tomatoes but you may want to blitz them first to make sure there are no chunks of tomatoes in the finished sauce.

WHOLEMAL PASTA: I love using wholemeal pasta in my day-to-day cooking. It’s healthier and offers a lot more fibre and protein content. For this vegan bolognese, I chose to use penne, but rigatoni, tagliatelle, spaghetti or casarecce will work just as well.

vegan bolognese aromatics

Sauté finely chopped onion and garlic in little olive oil (or veggie / mushrooms stock if making this dish oil-free) until translucent and fragrant. Add finely diced mushrooms – you can dice them by hand or pulse in a food processor, while your onion-garlic mixture is sautéeing.

vegan bolognese mushrooms passta

Sauté mushrooms until dark brown (cooked) and all of the excess what has evaporated – once this happens you may want to add more olive oil for a more luxurious feel, but that’s not necessary at all. Add smoked paprika, soy sauce, herbs and tomato passata.

vegan bolognese tofu walnuts

Stir tomato passata through and crumble smoked tofu straight into the pan. Mix it and and cook down in the sauce until the sauce is longer raw and is super thick. Stir it chopped (toasted or raw) walnuts (or sunflower sauce). Season and store in the fridge overnight for the flavours to deepen or stir through cooked penne and serve.

vegan bolognese sauce

vegan bolognese pasta mixed in

vegan bolognese bowl

vegan bolognese portion

EASY BOLOGNESE SAUCE

  • 1-2 tbsp / 15-30 ml olive oil OR veggie stock (if oil-free)
  • ½ large onion, finely diced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 250 g / 9 oz mushrooms, I used chestnut/cremini
  • 225 g / 8 oz smoked tofu*
  • 400 g / 14 oz tomato passata
  • 100 g / 3.5 oz walnuts or sunflower seeds
  • 1 tsp (more if using plain tofu) smoked paprika
  • 15 ml / 1 tbsp soy sauce (or tamari if GF)
  • 1 tsp Italian dried herbs
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 10 ml / 2 tsp quality balsamic
  • 5 ml / 1 tsp brown sugar or date syrup (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)

REMAINING INGREDIENTS

  • 420 g / 15 oz wholemeal pasta (I like penne), cooked
  • chopped parsley, (optional)
  • vegan parmesan (optional), I use homemade nut-free parm

METHOD

  1. Heat up 1 tbsp of oil in a large frying pan, add diced onion and sauté on a low heat until translucent, add garlic and sauté until fragrant and softened. Stir every now and then.
  2. Meanwhile, finely dice the mushrooms by hand or in a food processor – if the latter, chop them roughly first and use ‘pulse’ function to chop further – be sure not to overprocess. Keep food processor for chopping walnuts later.
  3. Add chopped mushrooms to the pan with onion and garlic mixture. Season with salt and sauté until the mushrooms turn dark brown and all of the excess water has evaporated.
  4. At this point you may (skip if you use oil sparingly) want to add another tablespoon of oil and fry them briefly in oil. Stir smoked paprika, soy sauce and herbs (if using) through the mushrooms.
  5. Add tomato passata, crumble smoked tofu straight into the pan. Season with pepper and a couple of pinches of salt.
  6. Stir everything together and simmer until the passata is cooked and the sauce is super thick (about 30 minutes). Stir regularly.
  7. Meanwhile, you many want to toast the walnuts in a separate pan for extra flavour or keep them raw for a higher nutritional benefit. Chop them small by hand or using a food processor – again, don’t overprocess – you want small bits, not flour.
  8. Add chopped walnuts to the sauce, stir well. Season with balsamic, sugar (or date syrup) and more salt and pepper to taste. I also like to add 1/8 tsp of ground nutmeg at this point.
  9. Store in the fridge overnight to allow the flavours to develop or stir it through cooked pasta and serve – use some pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce if needed or use a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil if you want a more luxurious texture.

NOTES

*SMOKED TOFU: I used a whole block of smoked Tofoo tofu. This particular brand comes in 225 g / 8 package and is already pressed so if using another brand go for 300 g / 10.5 before pressing or 200 g / 7 oz and use more walnuts. Apart from tofu, you can use ground up tempeh, soy mince, firm (Puy or brown) lentils or ground up chickpeas – all of which are rich in plant-protein.

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