Savory, flavorful, and packed with healthy ingredients, this vegetarian tempeh bolognese is sure to be a new favorite! This is a hearty, comforting vegan meal that's perfect for weeknights.
I'm not usually much of a pasta person, but this bolognese-inspired pasta changed my mind.
This vegan bolognese uses tempeh for the classic meaty factor, along with a handful of pantry staples that pack a rich, hearty and flavorful punch. You're going to want to add this to your regular dinner rotation!
Bolognese is traditionally a creamy, meaty sauce. It's often simmered for 3-4 hours for a rich, velvety result.
Since I'm all about quick and easy meals without meat, this vegan bolognese takes its inspiration from bolognese but is by no means authentic.
- Dietary features: vegan, vegetarian, nut-free, and gluten-free optional
- Balanced: Packed with veggies and plant-based protein from tempeh. Use your favorite pasta or serve it over spaghetti.
- New to tempeh? Finely chopped tempeh makes this recipe great for those who are new to tempeh or plant-based eating in genearl.
- You only need a little over 30 minutes to make this deliciously comforting meat-free sauce, but you're welcome to simmer it as long as you like.
All about tempeh
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. It has a complex, nutty flavor and a firm texture. Most grocery stores sell it in the refrigerated aisle right next to tofu and other plant-based proteins.
I like using crumbled tempeh in bolognese it has a firm consistency that adds extra texture to an otherwise soft meal. It also absorbs flavor from the bolognese sauce as the sauce simmers.
Ingredients and substitutions
Don't let the long ingredient list scare you away. Most of these ingredients are pantry staples and everything else can easily be used up in other recipes.
- Spaghetti: Choose white, whole wheat, or even a protein spaghetti. Angel hair or linguine will work if you're in a pinch.
- Tempeh and mushrooms: A combination of finely diced baby Bella mushrooms and diced tempeh give a "meaty" texture. White mushrooms also work. I include the mushroom stalks because they add extra texture.
- Soffritto and garlic: Also known as celery, onions, and carrots. This finely diced mix of vegetables is the Italian equivalent of the French mirepoix and Cajun Holy trinity.
- Tomatoes: Crushed tomatoes and tomato paste make up the base of the bolognese-style sauce. I use cans labeled with "no added salt" for better control over sodium content. This way you can taste for salt while cooking instead of accidentally over-salting the dish.
- Wine: The alcohol cooks off while simmering, leaving behind a rich flavor. That being said, you can replace wine with equal amounts of vegetable broth if desired. I recommend using a dry white wine like sauvignon blanc. I also made this recipe with a cabernet sauvignon and it tasted delicious (though it definitely provides a different flavor profile than white). Choose a wine that you enjoy drinking, not one that has been open for a week.
Step by step instructions
Prep: While prepping the vegan bolognese sauce, cook spaghetti according to package instructions in salted water. The sauce should be about ready when the spaghetti is done.
Step one: In a 4-quart Dutch oven or large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add finely diced onion, celery, carrots, mushrooms, tempeh, and garlic. Sprinkle with soy sauce.
Step two: Sauté for 8-10 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender, stirring occasionally for even browning (image two).
Step three: Stir in the remaining ingredients, except for the pasta. Stir to combine.
Step four: Bring to a rapid simmer over high heat, then reduce to a gentle simmer over medium-low. Simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes to allow the flavor to develop, stirring occasionally. You can simmer the vegetarian bolognese sauce for up to an hour or for as little as 10 minutes.
- Disclaimer: This is in no way an authentic Bolognese sauce. This is my vegan version based on inspiration from other recipes that I have tried and loved over the years. Classic bolognese usually includes cream. If you're missing that creamy factor, cashew cream is a great addition!
- Simmering time: The longer the bolognese sauce simmers, the more the flavors develop. You will also be simmering off some of the liquid from the tomatoes and wine. More simmering also creates a thicker sauce. You can add a splash of vegetable broth to thin as needed.
- Serving: For a dairy-free option, top with vegan Parmesan (or regular Parmesan), cashew parmesan, or your favorite vegan cheese. Add fresh chopped basil and freshly ground black pepper for extra pizzazz.
- All good pasta dishes deserve a side salad. You might like adding whole wheat garlic knots or even sweet potato dinner rolls.
Start by roughly chopping the tempeh into bite-sized pieces. Use clean hands to crumble it further. You can also use a knife or a food processor to continue chopping into small pieces.
Yes, you can use green or brown lentils in place of the tempeh (similar to my red lentil pasta sauce). Tofu is also a good protein base for vegetarian bolognese, though the texture will be softer.
Storage and freezing
- Leftovers: Keep leftovers refrigerated in a closed container for 3-4 days.
- Reheating: Reheat in the microwave in just about 2 minutes, or reheat on the stove over medium heat.
- Freezing: The bolognese sauce can be frozen for up to 3 months in freezer-safe containers. Let thaw completely in the fridge before reheating in the microwave or on the stove over medium heat.
More tempeh recipes
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Vegan Tempeh Bolognese
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces finely chopped tempeh
- 8 ounces finely chopped baby bella mushrooms see note #1
- 1 cup finely diced yellow onion about 1 medium onion
- ½ cup finely diced celery about 1 celery stalk
- ½ cup finely diced carrot about 1 large carrot
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- ⅓ cup tomato paste
- ¾ cup dry white wine see note #2
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast optional
- 2 tablespoons vegan butter
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon salt more as needed
- 10 ounces dry spaghetti
- fresh basil, vegan Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper for topping
- In a dutch over or large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add tempeh, mushrooms, onion, celery, carrots, and garlic. Sprinkle with soy sauce.
- Saute for 8-10 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender, stirring occasionally for even browning.
- Stir in the remaining ingredients, except for the pasta: crushed tomatoes (including juices), tomato paste, wine, nutritional yeast, butter, Italian seasoning, bay leaves, salt. Stir to combine.
- Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer over medium low. Simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes to allow the flavor to develop, stirring occasionally. You can simmer this sauce for up to an hour or for as little as 10 minutes if you are short on time. The longer you simmer, the more the sauce thickens and flavor develops.
- Meanwhile, cook spaghetti according to package instructions in salted water. The sauce should be about ready when the spaghetti is done cooking.
- Discard bay leaves. Serve spaghetti and bolognese sauce topped with Parmesan, chopped basil and freshly ground black pepper.
- Mushrooms: Always rinse mushrooms before using to remove dirt. Use both the stem and the cap in this recipe. White or crimini mushrooms can be used if baby bella is unavailable.
- Wine: The alcohol cooks off while simmering, leaving behind a rich flavor. Replace wine with equal amounts of vegetable broth if desired. I recommend using a dry white wine like sauvignon blanc. I also made this recipe with a red wine blend and it tasted delicious. Choose a wine that you enjoy drinking, not one that has been open for a week.
- Freezing: This recipe can be frozen for up to 3 months in freezer-safe containers. Let thaw completely in the fridge for up to 24 hours before reheating in the microwave or on the stove over medium heat.
- Leftovers: Keep leftovers refrigerated in a closed container for 3-4 days.