This vegan Bolognese recipe is about to carjack your pasta nights and take you or a high-speed chase to the dreamiest, meatiest spaghetti on earth. It's a hearty, plant-based meat sauce that you can get ready in under 30 minutes. It’s got all of the the rich, deep flavors of a classic Bolognese, but made without harming a single adorable animal.
Ready for something heartier for your s'ghetti than marinara sauce? This sauce, traditionally known as ragù alla bolognese, comes from (you guessed it) from Bologna, Italy. You'll be amazed at how it perfectly mimics the meaty texture and savory depth of the traditional version but upgrades it with the bold umami depth of red wine and an almost secret whisper of bay leaves.
With some golden, herb-kissed vegan garlic bread to dip in it, or over pasta and with Turkish roasted eggplant, you’ll have a stupid-delicious, hearty meal on the table pretty darned quick. And the best part? You only need a handful of ingredients to create this bomb sauce.
I know what you're thinking: "Can I for real make a vegetarian sauce that tastes as good as the original?" Absolutely! This vegan bolognese recipe has been carefully tested about a zillion times to ensure that even on your first try, you'll nail it. So, grab your favey pot, and let's nail this sauce!
🥰 Why you'll adore this recipe
✊ Vegan AF and GF: Like all of my vegan Italian recipes, this Bolognese is 100% made without animal-based ingredients or cholesterol. It also just happens to be a completely gluten-free recipe too (provided you use vegan mince, not seitan in the recipe).
🍅 Tomato Magic: Look, everyone’s got a different style, and mine is to use big broken-up pieces of whole peeled tomato in the sauce. It gives this tomato sauce a chunkier, more rustic vibe. The chunks of tomato, simmered and broken down with red wine and herbs, create a depth of flavor that feels a bit sophisticated and old-worldy.
✅ Tested and Approved Worldwide: Like all my vegan recipes, this spaghetti sauce has been perfected and then tested by a massive team of recipe testers from all around the world. It got a lot of big thumbs-ups.
🍷 Notable ingredients and substitutions
Great quality first-cold pressed extra virgin olive oil makes a huge difference in this recipe. You will notice that in addition to using it for the initial sautéing onions and carrots, I also like to drizzle in a healthy glut of it at the end. By adding it at the end of the cooking process, the fresh, fruity, and slightly peppery notes of the oil are preserved, providing a deeper dimension of flavor to the sauce. If you're out of olive oil, avocado oil is a good substitute, but nothing on earth really has the classic taste of EVOO!
Carrots bring a subtle sweetness and add to the meaty texture of the sauce. If you bought a whole big bag of carrots to make this recipe with, and have a ton left over, some great carrot recipes to bang out next are my roasted carrot lentil soup, Indian carrot pickle, and my lemongrass tofu banh mi. If carrots aren’t your thing, try parsnips for a similar texture.
Vegan Ground Beef
Options like Beyond Meat or Impossible provide a meaty texture without the meat or gluten. Otherwise, you can make this recipe using homemade seitan. You can also add some ground vegan pepperoni to the mix to give the sauce more of a sausage flavor.
Red wine adds a rich, complex flavor to the sauce. Did you know that not all wines are vegan? Heck some aren’t even vegetarian! Since I don’t drink alcohol, and only cook with it occasionally, I always rely on barnivore, a helpful website that lets you look up brands and varieties of alcohol to verify if it’s safe for vegans. Otherwise, unsalted vegetable stock works great in this recipe in place of the wine. If you use a dry red wine, you can use a splash of it in my vegan tiramisu recipe, which is made with homemade vegan mascarpone cheese, and eggless ladyfingers soaked in espresso.
Tomato paste helps deepens the sauce's richness, and give it the right consistency. Another great option is to use tatli biber salcasi, a sweet Turkish pepper paste that is used in recipes like kisir, Turkish stuffed cabbage, and cig kofte. If you want a spicier sauce, you can swap it out for aci biber salcasi, a pepper paste made from hotter peppers with a similar consistency to tomato paste.
Adding an important touch of acidity and sweetness, balsamic vinegar balances and enlivens the flavors of the whole sauce. If you don’t have it, a dash of red wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar with a little sweetener of your choice can substitute.
This herb, "alloro" in Italian, infuses the sauce with a subtle, earthy flavor. Think of it as a “secret ingredient” people eating your sauce will not be able to pinpoint, that just adds a touch of magic. It’s best removed before serving as it can be a bit overpowering if eaten directly. You can also make the sauce using Indonesian bay leaves, which I use in dishes like sambal goreng potatoes, and Indonesian coconut rice to inflect a subtle, almost fresh-tobacco-like flavor.
*See the recipe card at the bottom of the page for exact quantities, nutritional info, and detailed cooking directions.
Walnut Lentil Bolognese: If you want to steer clear of using fake meat in your vegan bolognese sauce, you can make this vegan bolognese recipe using coarsely chopped cooked green or brown lentils and toasted walnuts as the plant-based protein. Place them in a food processor and pulse them together a few times to break up the whole lentil pieces. Use 1 ½ cups of that mixture as the meat in this recipe and you are good to go! Vegan lentil bolognese is also great added to lasagna filling!
Heart Mushroom Bolognese: Another less processed option is to grind portobello or cremini mushrooms into rough, shaggy bits and use that in place of the vegan beef. For best results, cook them a little longer than you would cook the ground beef, and you will have a similar texture and flavor, but made with whole food ingredients instead!
📖How to make this vegan bolognese recipe
Make this classic Italian sauce perfectly by following these step-by-step instructions with helpful tips. Or you can follow along with the easy-to-print recipe card towards the bottom of this page.
Sizzle & Soften:
Begin by warming the olive oil in a large pot, or non-reactive, large skillet on medium heat. Toss in the diced yellow onion and carrot, sautéing them for 4-5 minutes until softened and fragrant.
Garlic & ‘Grounds':
Next, add the minced garlic and your choice of vegan ground ground meat, or ground seitan to the pan. Cook this mixture for about five minutes, or until the vegan beef gains a slight golden brown hue.
Deglaze Put Your Weapon, I Mean You No Harm:
Pour in dry red wine or vegetable stock to deglaze the pan. Make sure to gently scrape off any delicious browned bits stuck to the bottom, then allow it to simmer for a short while.
After either hand-crushing, or fork-mashing the tomatoes, toss them into the pan along with their juice. Add the balsamic vinegar, sugar, bay leaves, oregano, salt, and black pepper, stirring well.
Simmer & Thicken:
Allow the sauce to gently simmer on low heat, uncovered, for about thirty minutes. Stir it now and then. The sauce will gradually thicken and deepen in color. Don't forget to remove the bay leaf and mix a liberal pour of good quality extra virgin olive oil into the hearty sauce just before you're ready to serve.
Pasta Plating: Finally, ladle the rich bolognese over freshly cooked pasta. For an extra touch, sprinkle some finely chopped fresh parsley, fresh basil leaves, and vegan parmesan, or a small amount of nutritional yeast on top. Perhaps some vegan meatballs too? Surely!
- Perfect the Sauté: Sautéing the onions and carrots at the start is a crucial step in any traditional bolognese sauce.. It's not just about softening them; it's about unlocking their natural sugars through caramelization. Those natural sugars add to the complexity of the vegan meat sauce by balancing the acidic tones of the wine.
- Make Sure Your Wine is Vegan: Some wines are made with animal-derived products like gelatin, Isinglass from fish bladders (ewwwww), or egg whites in the fining process. To ensure a wine is vegan, Barnivore.com is a life-saving resource, literally and figuratively, offering an extensive database to check the vegan status of various alcohol brands and varieties.
- Balance the Acidity: In the first restaurant I ever worked in (Ouest in New York City), our chef Tom Valenti had a squeeze bottle of vinegar and a bowl of sugar on every station to balance the sweetness and acidity of a dish. Some canned tomatoes have weak flavor, so taste the sauce before you serve it and if the flavor is too mild, feel free to adjust it wish a tiny splash of vinegar, or a little sprinkle of any sweetener you like.
🤷♀️ Recipe FAQs
Is Vegan Bolognese the same as meat sauce?
While similar, Vegan Bolognese has a deeper flavor profile, more body, and a heartier texture compared to the typical American meat sauce (which always makes me thing of school cafeteria sloppy joe grossness). Vegan spaghetti bolognese should be a sophisticated but simple meal, not something that gives you flashbacks to grade school (or prison) lunches...
Long pasta noodles like spaghetti or linguini are common choices, but wide pasta noodles like fettucini, pappardelle, or tagliatelle are best for scooping up the sauce. For a gluten-free option, you can use gluten-free noodles or even zucchini noodles.
It's a great idea to make a big batch and then portion and stock your freezer with it. Your whole family will be psyched to have an easy dinner nearly ready to serve. Just add some quick al dente pasta for a hearty dinner on nights you don't have time to cook.
To freeze Vegan Bolognese, let it cool down completely first. Then, transfer it into airtight containers. Always label and date containers you pop into your freezer so you know what they are and when they were made. I also make a habit of breaking the sauce down into smaller containers, so when you want some, you can thaw just what you need for making a meal, without thawing the entire batch.
This vegetarian bolognese recipe can be frozen for up to three months. To thaw, shift it to the refrigerator for about twenty-four hours before you plan to reheat it.
Your Vegan Bolognese can be kept fresh in the refrigerator for up to four days. Ensure it's cooled down to room temperature before transferring it into an airtight glass or metal container. Store it in the coldest part of your refrigerator. When you're ready to enjoy it again, simply follow the reheating instructions provided above for either stovetop or microwave. This way, your Bolognese stays safe and flavorful for your next meal.
🔥 Stovetop Reheating:
For reheating on the stovetop, transfer the thawed or refrigerated Vegan Bolognese into a saucepan. Heat it over low to medium high heat, stirring occasionally. If the sauce seems too thick, you can add a little bit of water or vegetable stock to get the desired consistency. Heat until it's thoroughly warmed through.
⚡️ Microwave Reheating:
To reheat in the microwave, place the Bolognese in a microwave-safe glass or ceramic dish. Cover it with a microwave-safe lid or a plate to avoid splattering. Reheat on high for about two minutes, then stir. Continue heating in thirty-second increments until it's heated thoroughly. Be sure to check the temperature before serving.
✌️Serve this vegan bolognese recipe with:
Say Hi on Social! 👋
Follow me on Instagram & Facebook for more recipes.
❤️Love this recipe? It helps me out greatly if you leave a 5-star 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟rating in the recipe card below and maybe even leave me a lovey-dovey comment too!
Vegan Bolognese Recipe
- 4 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 ¼ cup onion diced
- ½ cup carrot minced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 ½ cup ground seitan or vegan ground beef (Beyond Meat, Impossible, etc.) (12 oz.)
- 1 ¾ cup red wine (375 ml.) or vegetable stock
- 28 oz. whole peeled tomatoes (canned)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes optional
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb. Spaghetti cooked
- Chopped parsley optional
- Vegan parmesan optional
- Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Sauté diced onion and minced carrot for 4-5 minutes until soft and fragrant.
- Add minced garlic and ground seitan (or vegan ground beef), cooking for about 5 minutes until the mince is lightly browned. If using Beyond Beef, or Impossible meat, make sure to thoroughly break it up to avoid large chunks forming together.
- Deglaze the pan with red wine or vegetable stock, scraping up any bits from the bottom. Let it simmer for a few minutes.
- Add canned whole peeled tomatoes with their juice, breaking the tomatoes apart by hand or with a fork before adding them in.
- Stir tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, sugar, a bay leaf, oregano, red pepper flakes (if you are using them)salt, and ground black pepper into the pan with the sauteeing vegan meat and crushed tomatoes.
- Let the sauce simmer over low heat, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should thicken and darken slightly. Remove the bay leaf and stir in extra virgin olive oil just before serving.
- Serve the bolognese over cooked spaghetti, garnished with chopped parsley and vegan parmesan if desired.