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  • Writer's pictureIdil Farah

Vegan Bolognese Sauce

As child growing up in the middle east good food as I knew it was Somali food cooked and eaten at home. It was delicious and my love for food grew from these meals. There were other cuisines we enjoyed when we went out to eat at restaurants- especially Syrian, Indian, Moroccan and Ethiopian food, but to me comfort food has always meant Somali food.

"To Me, Food Is Both Nutrients And Connections"

As an immigrant, we brought with us the food of my homeland. Cooking our traditional food gave us comfort, helped preserved our cultural identity. I am an immigrant, a nomad and a proud Canadian. My food story is deeply imbedded in my cultural identity

Somali Food

Somali food is a rich and spicy mix of flavours and it may surprise many to know that pasta is almost a national dish in Somalia (we actually call it baasto because we don’t have the letter ‘p’ in the Somali language).

Pasta bolognese (baasto iyo suugo) was introduced to Somalia in the 1880s by the Italians when they colonized the southern part of the country. This dish is so popular that it has since morphed into something wonderfully Somali with additions of spices like cumin and coriander.

Today I am taking this dish one step further and making it vegan and gluten free with by substituting green lentils and mushrooms for the ground meat and chickpea pasta (made of a mix of chickpea & Lentils) as gluten free alternative.

What Is Bolognese Sauce?

Bolognese is a traditional Italian long-simmering meat sauce used for lasagna and tagliatelle. The sauce starts with a base of aromatic vegetables such as onion, carrot, and celery—cooked in olive oil until soft. Ground or diced meat, usually beef and pancetta, make up the body of the sauce, with wine, chicken stock, and tomato puree forming the braising liquid.

The Somali version is made with only beef and without the addition of wine. We also add coriander or xawaash, a Somali spice mix.

How To Make Vegan Bolognese Sauce:

  • For the ground beef: Lentils make the best ground beef substitute because they have a meaty texture and are full of protein. Also, found adding mushrooms for savoury, umami flavour and quinoa for chewy texture to make the bolognese really shine.

  • For the parmesan cheese: to a traditional bolognese sauce parmesan cheese is added both during the cooking process and as a topping before serving. Nutritional yeast has a creamy texture and a cheesy, nutty flavour and makes for an ideal substitute. It's perfect addition to dish to make the dish a little more decadent.

  • For the milk: In bolognese sauce milk or heavy cream is used as a thickener. I personally liked using oat milk for this recipe. You can substitute dairy if you are not vegan or lactose intolerant, otherwise use your favourite unsweetened plant-based milk.

Recipe Tips:

  • I love cooking with dry lentils because they’re so budget friendly and can be found easily in any grocery store.

  • If you’re looking for a shortcut, canned lentils definitely work in this recipe. You’ll want to use 15 ounce two cans (about 2 1/2 cups) in place of every cup of dried lentils. Be sure to rinse them well.

  • This recipe freezes really well, so it’s perfect for meal prep. I like to freeze it in individual portions so I can pull out whatever amount I need. Freezing it in smaller portions which helps it defrost faster. Remember to label with date because it’s best to eat frozen sauce within 3 months.

  • This recipe is slow cooker friendly. Omit the oil and decrease the vegetable stock to 1 cup. Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until the lentils are tender.


SERVINGS 4 | TIME 35 | NF | V | GF


  • 1 medium onion, quartered

  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped

  • 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped

  • ½ pound mushrooms, woody stems removed

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled

  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 3 ounces (½ can) tomato paste

  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or tamari if gluten-free)

  • 3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

  • 1 cup unsweetened oat milk

  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed

  • ½ cup quinoa, rinsed

  • ¼ cup vegan parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast, plus more to serve

  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste

  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, for garnish


  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms, and garlic and pulse until finely chopped (or mince the veggies by hand.)

  2. In a Dutch oven over medium heat, warm some olive oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the minced veggies. Sauté until very soft, for about 5 minutes.

  3. Add a cup of the broth to deglaze the pan and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Let simmer until broth almost fully evaporated, about 5 minutes.

  4. Use a spoon or spatula to push the vegetables to one side of the pan, and add the tomato paste to the other side of the pan. Let the tomato paste brown slightly, then stir and let it brown a little more, about 4 minutes.

  5. Add the balsamic vinegar and soy sauce to the side of the pan with the tomato paste and stir to deglaze. Add vegetable broth, oat milk, black pepper, and bay leaf. Stir to combine all the contents of the pot.

  6. Add lentils and quinoa and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast and stir to combine. Let simmer until slightly thickened, about 2–4 minutes. Taste and season with salt and garnish with basil leaves. Serve with your gluten free chickpea pasta or spiralized veggies (zucchini, butternut squash or sweet potato noodles) or even over cauliflower rice.

If you need help with meal ideas or are looking to book a nutrition consultation to discuss further health goals, book an appointment with me at

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