This hearty protein-packed red lentil pasta sauce is the perfect 30-minute weeknight meal for pasta lovers! It's healthy, flavorful, and made with mostly pantry staples.
This is one of those vegetarian pasta recipes that you'll want to add to regular rotation because it's easy to throw together using pantry staples, but it is still flavorful and delicious!
- Dietary features: vegetarian, vegan, nut-free, soy-free, gluten-free optional (just use GF pasta)
- Ready in just 30 minutes!
- Made with inexpensive pantry staples
- Packed with flavor from simple ingredients
- Filled with plant-based protein and fiber
Adding red lentils to tomato sauce is a great way to add protein and make dinner more satisfying. This lentil pasta reminds me a lot of plant-based bolognese because it has a lot of rich and savory flavors.
What you'll need
- Red or orange lentils: Green or brown can be used but will increase the cook time.
- Pasta: Spaghetti is my go-to, but any pasta works. Whole wheat, protein pasta (like actual red lentil pasta), rigatoni, etc.
- Tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and tomato paste make up the sauce.
- Thyme, oregano and basil add herby depth. I use dry oregano and thyme for convenience and fresh basil because it also works great as a topping. One tablespoon fresh herb can be used in place of one teaspoon dry herb.
- Red wine is my go-to pot deglazer in savory dishes (think lentil sheperd's pie). Choose cabernet or pinot noir. Make sure it's a fresh wine that you actually enjoy. An equal amount of vegetable broth can be used with 1 tablespoon good balsamic vinegar for a similar effect.
Step by step instructions
- Saute diced onion in olive oil over medium heat until golden, almost brown. Stir it occasionally to promote even cooking. Decrease the heat if the onion starts to brown too quickly.
- Add tomato paste, dry herbs, and garlic. Saute another 1-2 minutes to bloom the herbs and toast the tomato paste. This helps enhance the flavor of the tomato paste.
- Deglaze the pan with 2-3 tablespoons red wine. This removes any stuck on bits and adds a lot of depth to the sauce.
- Add remaining ingredients: red lentils, nutritional yeast, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes with juices and vegetable broth. Bring to a simmer, then cover and simmer until lentils are cooked through.
5. After 10-15 minutes the lentils should be tender. Add additional liquid as desired (I usually keep it thick like this). Pasta water is a great way to thin the sauce because its starchiness makes it thicker than broth/water (and it's already hot). This is a method I use in my tahini pasta as well.
Expert tips and recipe FAQ
- Veggies: The lentil sauce goes well with a bunch of different veggies. Add diced bell pepper, shredded carrot, diced broccoli, etc. along with the onions for an extra serving of veggies.
- Greens: Stir in your favorite green at the end for a pop of color and iron. Spinach and kale should wilt very quickly.
- Lentil texture: Red lentils get mushy pretty quickly (think lentil curry) but I prefer them to have a firmer texture in this pasta, like with these lentil patties. Think al dente pasta. Of course, you can cook it to be soft and mushy if you prefer!
Yes, green or brown lentils will work but will take longer to cook. Red lentils should be ready after 10-15 minutes of simmering, whereas brown and green can take 20-25 minutes.
I store the pasta sauce separately from the pasta, but they can be stored together if you prefer. Toss pasta with a bit of olive oil if storing separately to keep it from sticking to itself.
For best quality, keep both containers refrigerated for 3-4 days. Reheat individual bowls in the microwave or the entire red lentil sauce on the stovetop over medium-low heat until warmed through.
Garnish the lentil pasta with Parmesan, basil, and red pepper flakes. Some kind of garlic bread (or garlic knots) is always a good option, as well as a small green salad.
Looking for more pasta recipes?
For an equally decadent dish, try this creamy garlic mushroom pasta.
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Hearty Red Lentil Pasta Sauce
- 8 ounces spaghetti or pasta of choice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion finely diced
- 3-4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon dry oregano see note #1
- 1 teaspoon dry thyme
- 2 tablespoons red wine see note #2
- 1 cup dry red lentils rinsed
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 15 ounce can tomato sauce
- 15 ounce can diced tomatoes with juices
- 1 and ½ cups vegetable broth
- ¼ cup fresh chopped basil
- red pepper flakes for serving
- salt to taste
- Cook spaghetti according to package instructions.
- Heat a Dutch oven or high sided skillet over medium heat. Once hot, drizzle in olive oil. Add diced onion and saute until golden to golden brown, stirring occasionally.
- Add garlic, tomato paste, oregano and thyme. Saute another 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning.
- Pour in 2-3 tablespoons red wine to deglaze the pan. Stir to remove any stuck on bits.
- Add remaining ingredients: dry red lentils, nutritional yeast, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes with juices, vegetable broth and basil.
- Bring to a simmer, then cover and simmer over medium-low until lentils are cooked through, about 10-15 minutes. Stir about halfway through and add extra broth if needed.
- Serve lentils with the cooked pasta. Top with red pepper flakes, fresh basil and salt to taste.
- Herbs: One tablespoon of fresh chopped oregano or thyme can be used in place of dry. One teaspoon dry basil can be used in place of fresh (add with the other herbs).
- Red wine: Choose a wine you enjoy. An equal amount of vegetable broth can be used instead. Add 1 tablespoon of good balsamic vinegar with the broth for a similar flavor.
- Leftovers and reheating: Store sauce and pasta separately. Toss pasta with olive oil to keep it from sticking to itself. Keep refrigerated for 3-4 days for best quality. Reheat leftovers in the microwave or on the stove-top over medium low.