Vegetarian Lentil Bolognese Over Polenta Cakes

June 3, 2015

Umami-rich, vegetarian lentil bolognese served over polenta cakes or your favorite pasta is a filling and flavorful dinner.

Umami-rich, vegetarian lentil bolognese served over polenta cakes or your favorite pasta is a filling and flavorful dinner meal.

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One of my favorite pasta dishes is among the simplest – pasta bolognese. This is a dish that you really don’t need to go to a restaurant to enjoy since it’s so easy to make at home. Traditionally I make my bolognese sauce with ground turkey breast, ground beef, or a mixture of the two. But keeping a Kosher home means I can’t sprinkle cheese on top of my pasta with meat bolognese, and if you’ve been around my blog you surely know I love my cheese! So it was about time I made a vegetarian bolognese that could be topped with cheese.

Sure, I could add cheese to any of the other non-meat sauces I make, but I wanted that rich, umami flavor that you find in traditional bolognese sauces. And boy did I achieve this goal.

I took my already umami-rich tomato sauce with mushrooms and added lentils, which amplified the meatiness of the sauce to the point that my lentil-averse husband had no idea this was a meatless dish. (Apparently he didn’t pay attention to the cheese on top of the bolognese. He didn’t grow up Kosher, so I’ll cut him some slack!) I also added spinach for some added nutrients and flavor (and as a good way to get my kids to eat spinach!).

Nutrition Tip: Did you know the iron in spinach is more bioavailable when combined with vitamin C? And guess what – tomato sauce is an excellent source of vitamin C, so it’s the perfect place to add spinach!

vegan bolognese sauce made with lentils

Serving Vegetarian Lentil Bolognese

Normally I serve bolognese over whole wheat pasta, but in the spirit of mixing things up I decided to put it over polenta cakes. I’m not so into mushy, porridge-like polenta, but polenta fries and polenta cakes are delish! I recently saw a fellow Recipe ReDux participant use Trader Joe’s packaged polenta roll as a base for huevos rancheros and since then I’ve been curious to try it out. Now was the perfect opportunity.

Lightly pan-fried or oven-broiled polenta cakes covered in meaty, umami-rich, vegetarian lentil bolognese, sprinkled with grated Parmesan (or nutritional yeast for a completely vegan meal!). Now that’s a meal worth repeating! Try it for your next Meatless Monday meal!

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Umami-rich, vegetarian lentil bolognese served over polenta cakes or your favorite pasta is a filling and flavorful dinner meal.

Vegetarian Lentil Bolognese over Polenta Cakes

Yield: 5
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Vegetarian lentil bolognese served over polenta cakes and sprinkled with grated Parmesan is a filling, flavorful, and low-calorie meal.


For the Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3 cups sliced baby bella (crimini) mushrooms, (~8 ounces)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 26-28 ounces canned or boxed crushed/finely chopped tomatoes, (preferably no-salt added)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper,, to taste
  • 2 cups baby spinach, (~1 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 cup cooked lentils*

For the Polenta Cakes:

  • Cooking spray or oil
  • 1 package pre-cooked polenta,, cut into 10 slices

For Serving (optional):

  • Grated Parmesan,, for serving (or Nutritional yeast for vegan)


For the Sauce:

  1. Heat oil in a medium-large pot over medium high.
  2. Add onions and sauté, stirring occasionally until translucent and starting to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic and stir 30 seconds to 1 minute until fragrant. Add mushrooms and stir occasionally until water from the mushrooms has released and begins to evaporate, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add rosemary, thyme, oregano, and tomato paste to mushroom onion mixture and stir to combine for 30 seconds. Add balsamic vinegar and stir, scraping up any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.
  4. Add crushed/finely chopped tomatoes, water, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Lower heat to low and simmer 20 minutes.
  5. Stir in baby spinach and lentils, cover, and simmer 10 minutes more.

For the Polenta Cakes:

  1. Set oven to broil at level 1 (about 500 degrees). Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.
  2. Spread polenta slices on prepared baking sheet and coat tops with cooking spray or drizzle with oil. Broil for 5 to 7 minutes, flip and broil another 5 minutes until starting to brown on outside.
  3. Serve polenta cakes with vegetarian bolognese on top and sprinkle with Parmesan (or nutritional yeast, if vegan). 


The longer you simmer the sauce, the deeper and richer the flavor becomes.

*You can use freshly prepared lentils, canned lentils, or packaged steamed lentils, which can be found in the produce aisle of some supermarkets. 

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 5 Serving Size: 5 Servings
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 203

lentil bolognese is vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free. serve over whole grain pasta or polenta cakes.

What’s your favorite pasta sauce?

Have you ever made polenta cakes?

Share with me in the comments below!


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    1. Thanks Heather! It was my first time making the polenta and it was really delicious and such a great base for sauces!

  1. Haha, I was literally reading this post when your comment on my compote popped up! As always, we’re on the same wavelength 🙂 This bolognese looks so hearty and tasty, I’m sure it would satisfy even the biggest meat lovers!

  2. This sauce is an umami-flavor bomb IMO! The tomato pasta and mushrooms and vinegar. GF you’ve got it going on! I’ve been on the hunt for the polenta tubes… my Trader Joe’s was out last week!

    1. Thanks so much Katie! I’ve seen the polenta tubes at the regular supermarket too – Roland brand sells them (not sure if you have that by you). Hope you find it soon and make this!

  3. Okay so Italian food is totally my jam and bolognese is pretty high up on my list! I never thought to put it over polenta cakes nor have I ever made a vegetarian version…so naturally I need to try this!! Looks and sounds delish!

  4. Love this idea Jessica! I like to make polenta fries topped w/ rosemary and Parmesan -so yummy! I’ll definitely be making this for my family soon!

    1. Yum – polenta fries w rosemary and parm. So good! LMK if you make this and if it’s a winner w the fam!

  5. You inspired me to add black lentils to my pasta sauce tonight. I was DELICIOUS! Thank you for the idea. My sauce also has tomatoes, garlic, onions and spinach. And tonight, it was much better with the lentils. I’ll do this again!

    1. Oh you are so welcome Jill! This comment just made my day. Love inspiring people to make changes – healthy ones especially – in the kitchen! So glad it was a success!

  6. This sounds awesome Jessica! I’m anemic, so I’m always looking for ways to boost iron absorption by pairing my iron sources with vitamin C. I also avoid dairy and caffeine around those times because apparently both hinder absorption. I don’t know if I’ve ever tried polenta before but you’ve got me wanting to now!

  7. This has been sitting open on my computer since you posted it to remind me to make it. Finally did tonight and it was delicious! Thanks!

  8. 5 stars
    Made it exactly as recipe written and it was delicious. Served it to ex-husband who had no idea it was meatless or lentils, which historically give him horrible gas. Oops, my bad

  9. This recipe looks amazing!! I love that it’s mostly things I usually have in my kitchen anyway. I’m definitely going to try this out!

    1. Thanks so much Melanie! I made it again the other night and everyone gobbled it up. I can’t wait to hear what you think of it if you give it a try!

  10. 5 stars
    ohh i have a recent love of polenta. since it’s quick, i often have pasta (whole wheat, bean based, gnocci, or spaghetti squash) for a meal and this would be an awesome easy switch!!

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