Rich, hearty, and packed with nutritious ingredients, this vegan tempeh bolognese is sure to be a new favorite! This is a comforting meatless meal that's perfect for weeknights or special occasions.
If you're looking for a hearty vegan recipe that is just as comforting as it is nourishing, then it's hard to beat this tempeh bolognese.
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.
Bolognese is traditionally a creamy, meaty sauce. It's often simmered for hours for a rich, velvety result. Since I'm all about quick and easy meals without meat, this tempeh bolognese certainly doesn't count as authentic but it does a heavy dose of inspiration from its namesake.
- Flavors: This bolognese sauce has a rich tomato base dappled with fresh basil, mushrooms, and onions.
- Balanced: The sauce is packed with veggies and plant-based protein from tempeh. Serve over spaghetti for a well-balanced and satisfying vegan meal.
- New to tempeh? The tempeh in this recipe is ground, which makes it almost hidden in the sauce. This is a great recipe for those who are new to tempeh or plant-based eating in general.
- Cook time: You only need a little over 30 minutes to make the sauce, but you're welcome to simmer it as long as you like.
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.
- Milk: Traditional Bolognese sauces includes a small amount of milk or cream. I used to make this recipe without milk, but found that adding just a little bit of soy milk adds extra body to the dish. Oat milk is another good option, but if you want to take things to the next level try adding cashew cream.
Step by step instructions
Prep: While cooking the vegan bolognese sauce, cook spaghetti according to package instructions in well-salted water. The sauce should be about ready when the spaghetti is done.
Step one: In a 4-quart Dutch oven or tall-sided skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the mushrooms. Cook for just 2-3 minutes to begin browning. I cook the mushrooms a little bit first to avoid overcrowding the pan.
Step two: Add in the finely diced onion, celery, carrot, and tempeh. Continue cooking for 8-10 minutes, or until the onions are softened.
Step three: Stir in the tomato paste, soy sauce, and Italian seasoning. Toast the tomato paste for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.
Step four: Add in the remaining ingredients. Bring to a rapid simmer over high heat, then reduce to a gentle simmer over medium-low. Simmer for just 5-10 minutes or up to an hour.
Just before serving, add in ½ cup of non-dairy milk. I use soy milk, but any unsweetened and unflavored milk works. This gives the sauce extra body and imitates a classic bolognese sauce, which uses milk or cream.
- Disclaimer: This is not an authentic Bolognese sauce, but it is inspired by other recipes that I have tried and loved over the years. Classic bolognese is, of course, not vegan.
- Texture: I highly recommend blending the sauce. This creates a meaty texture that melds all of the ingredients together. It's easiest to use an immersion blender, but a food processor or blender also works. Pulse the sauce just a few times to break down the tempeh. Do not puree it completely.
- Simmering time: The longer the bolognese sauce simmers, the more the flavors develop. More simmering also creates a thicker sauce, because it simmers off some of the liquid. You can add a splash of vegetable broth to thin it 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.
- All good pasta dishes deserve a side salad. You might like adding whole wheat garlic knots or even sweet potato dinner rolls.
- Not a fan of tempeh? You can use cooked green or brown lentils in place of the tempeh (similar to my red lentil pasta sauce). Add them at the same time as the crushed tomatoes. 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 ways to cook tempeh
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Vegan Tempeh Bolognese
- 8 ounces tempeh
- 12 ounces dry spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons vegan butter
- 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms finely chopped
- 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
- ½ teaspoon salt adjust to taste
- 3-4 cloves garlic minced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup dry white wine see note #1
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast optional
- 2 bay leaves optional
- ½ cup soy milk or other non-dairy milk
- for serving: fresh basil, vegan Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper
- Thinly slice the tempeh. Use your hands or a knife to crumble the slices into smaller pieces. They do not need to be uniform in size. Cook spaghetti according to package instructions.
- In a Dutch oven or high-sided skillet, heat butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the mushrooms. Cook for just 2-3 minutes to begin browning.
- Add in the finely diced onion, celery, carrot, tempeh, and salt. Continue cooking for 8-10 minutes, or until the onions are softened.
- Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, soy sauce, and Italian seasoning. Toast the tomato paste for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add in the remaining ingredients, except for the pasta: crushed tomatoes, white wine, nutritional yeast, and bay leaves.
- Bring to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer over medium-low. Simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes to allow the flavor to develop, stirring occasionally.
- Discard bay leaves. Use an immersion blender to blend the sauce into a ground consistency. If using a blender or food processor, just pulse the sauce a few times to break it down into ground-consistency.
- Serve spaghetti and bolognese sauce topped with Parmesan, chopped basil and freshly ground black pepper.
- 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.
- Simmer time: You can simmer this sauce for up to an hour or for as little as 10 minutes. The longer it simmers, the more the sauce thickens and flavor develops.
- 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.
Did you make this recipe?
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I've never cooked with tempeh before, I've heard it is bitter. Will the cooking process for this recipe make it not bitter?
Cassidy Reeser, RDN, LD
For most of my recipes I do recommend steaming the tempeh for ~10 minutes to decrease bitterness. Since the tempeh in this recipe is so finely chopped and simmered for a while I don’t find steaming to be necessary. That being said, steaming it for 10 minutes before cooking it won’t hurt! Hope you enjoy 🙂
Made this a couple of days ago! It's super tasty, and extra yummy with fresh basil on top. Makes great left overs as well : )
Cassidy Reeser, RDN, LD
Thanks Sarah! So happy that you liked it.