While it might seem like there is nothing less exciting than boring old spag bol, especially without the meat, this was a pleasant surprise. The eggplant and tomatoes made this rich and substantial, and the protein in the red lentils kept me full without making the whole thing too bland and sandy in texture (as healthy as lentils are, they really do require some consideration when you’re cooking them, I’ll be perfectly honest).
Unlike most vegetarian bolognese recipes, this doesn’t forget the protein, but it also doesn’t load the dish up with heaps of cheese (which I have nothing against, but cheese isn’t exactly cheap, or particularly healthy in large quantities). The top selling points: it’s delicious (appreciated even by meat-appreciative, lentil-hating boyfriends), incredibly virtuous (even with white pasta, this is a fibre and nutrient packed meal), easy and simple (it didn’t even require any herbs or hard-to-find sauces), and takes very little time to cook. It’s also easily made vegan (just replace the butter with oil and omit the parmesan on top – still delicious! Fresh basil as a garnish would also set this off), and is quite versatile to boot (replace the carrots with finely chopped red peppers, or the eggplant with mushrooms). Use whatever pasta you have lying around (I loathe spaghetti, so I used spirals). I could cook this sooo many nights in a row.
The bonus is that leftovers are easily refrigerated or frozen, and you simply have to cook up a fresh batch of pasta and reheat the sauce while that cooks. Or if you want to grab-and-go the next morning for lunch, mix the sauce with the pasta and refrigerate, then microwave at work/Uni (slightly covered, but not airtight).
- 1 onion, finely diced*
- 1 small/medium eggplant/aubergine, finely diced then roughly chopped a little more, or equivalent in button/portobello mushrooms
- 1 large carrot or 2 small carrots, chopped as above, or 1 large red capsicum/bell pepper
- 4-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 can or around 400g tomato puree, chopped, whole or passata (passata is ideal)**
- splash olive brine (you could use red wine here)
- few Tbs cooking oil
- 1 small good quality vegetable stock cube/bouillon cube or approx 1 tsp home made vege bouillon (latter is best obviously)
- about 3/4c dry red lentils, rinsed + 1 1/2c water
- 400g dry pasta, whatever you have on hand
- about 20g butter (substitute with oil if making vegan)
- about 20g parmesan, freshly and finely grated, or a few fresh torn leaves of basil, or both!
*Don’t whizz in a food processor, as there will be too much onion juice and the onions won’t brown for aaages. The carrot and eggplant can be whizzed though.
** I like to use the big glass jars (around 700g) of tomato passata, which are available at Mediterranean food markets and some greengrocers (like Grower’s direct market). They’re usually around $3, which is comparable in price.
On medium heat in a small saucepan, bring lentils and water to a boil (covered or uncovered – although if you cover, make sure to listen for it boiling over!). Uncover once boiling, reduce heat to medium low, and stir. Add water as needed – basically what you want is for the mixture to look like wet mashed kumara/orangey-brown potato. Red lentils aren’t really meant to keep their shape, so they are ideal for this. Once it’s at this stage you can crumbled half the bouillon/stock cube in, stir through and set aside.
In a large deep-ish frypan, heat a few Tbs cooking oil on medium heat, then add onion and stir, keeping on an even sort of layer. Once the onion starts turning golden, add the carrot, and cook about a minute (do not stir). Now stir in the eggplant and butter or oil, letting it cook a minute before stirring. Once the eggplant bits start turning translucent, stir in the garlic and cook until the garlic starts going golden. Add the tomatoes, a splash of the olive brine, the other half of the stock cube and the lentils. Stir through, cover and switch heat to low.
Cook pasta according to packet directions. Once done to your liking, drain, plate, and remove sauce from heat. Taste sauce and add more salt if you want. Ladle some of the sauce over the pasta, then serve with shavings of parmesan and/or basil and a few grinds of black pepper.