Honestly, I’m so ridiculously pleased with myself right now. I’ve tried the odd lentil bolognese or lentil moussaka recipe before, and the results have been entirely edible and all, but this one actually tastes like the real thing. Well, my version of the real thing – it’s been a standing joke in my circle of friends for a while that my standard bolognese recipe is practically vegetarian, because the meat gets so thoroughly outnumbered by all the tomatoes and red wine and onions and herbs…
Anyway, this is good, hearty, winter food (which is to say, I put what I thought was a standard-sized helping on a plate and it was *way* too much, though the wholemeal pasta probably added to that effect), just right for a rainy night, and pretty straightforward to make. It’s also the sort of recipe I’d make if I were trying to feed vegetarian food to someone who really doesn’t like meals that don’t have meat in them – it somehow gains a meaty flavour from the cashews and mushrooms and red wine.
Did I mention that I’m really, really impressed with myself about this dish? Because I am…
Your Shopping List8 sun-dried tomatoes – the kind you buy dry, not in oil 1-2 tbsp olive oil 1 onion 4 garlic cloves dried herbs and spices of your choice, but probably rosemary, thyme, black pepper, oregano, chilli, marjoram – I used rosemary and thyme plus a pasta and pizza blend from Gewürzhaus, but I think that everyone has their own idea of what bolognese herbs and spices are supposed to be, so this is very much your call 125 g mushrooms (one or two large ones would work best) 1 cup of cashews 400 g tinned tomatoes (chopped or whole) 90 ml tomato paste 250 g red lentils 200 ml red wine 300 ml water
Now what will you do with it?
Put the sun dried tomatoes into a bowl to soak in hot water for 10 – 20 minutes (while you prepare everything else).
Chop the onion finely and crush the garlic. Heat the oil in a largeish saucepan and add the garlic and onion. Cook for a few minutes over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft.
While the onions are going, chop the mushrooms as finely as you have the patience for, but really, finer is better than coarse here. When the onions are about half done, add them to the onions with your dried herbs. Do not add salt at this point, because the lentils won’t go mushy if they are in salty liquid. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms release their juices and start taking them up again.
Drain the sun dried tomatoes and put them in a food processor or blender (I’d recommend the former) with the cashews to grind fairly finely.
Add the tinned tomatoes and process again briefly. Add this mixture to the onions and mushrooms and stir around. Add the lentils, and stir some more.
Add the red wine, water and tomato paste, stir everything very well, then cover and leave to simmer on the lowest heat you can for at least an hour, but two would be even better if you can keep the heat low enough that things don’t stick.
The sauce is done when it thickens and the lentils are soft. You could add salt now if you like, but I didn’t think it needed it.
Serve over pasta, with parmesan if you like, or plain. I don’t think it really needs parmesan, but then, I like my meat bolognese without, too.
This recipe is vegan, low GI and gluten-free (assuming you serve it with gluten-free pasta). It isn’t nut-free, and I think it does need the nuts – I don’t know what it is exactly that they add, but they add something that was missing from my previous attempts at this. You might be able to substitute in sunflower seeds instead, but I’m not sure. It isn’t that it’s terrible without the nuts, but they really make it more bolognese like. I’m afraid that once again, this recipe isn’t much use to the fructose intolerant – all those tomatoes and onions, and I have a feeling that lentils can be a problem, too.
You could certainly use different kinds of nuts, and I think walnuts would be lovely. Pistachios might be good, too, though the colour might be a little odd here. Brown lentils would probably also work instead of red – I just wanted something orange for my monthly vegetarian challenge! – but I don’t think the puy kind would, as they just don’t go mushy.
Honestly, this is really good as it is. I’m thinking of retiring my meat bolognese, except that it’s Andrew’s favourite thing, and he reckons there is a difference, at least in texture, even if I think the flavour is a very, very good mimic.
Did I mention that I’m really proud of this recipe?
I’m submitting it to my Anyone Can Cook ORANGE Vegetarian Food challenge, because perfecting lentil bolognese was one of the reasons I came up with an ORANGE theme this month in the first place. Feel free to join in!
And, just for fun, I’m also submitting it to Jaclyn’s Pasta Please challenge, hosted this month by Lavender and Lovage because the theme is nuts, and it really was the nuts that made this work, so yay, nuts!