This Red Lentil Pasta Sauce brings tons of protein to your Italian tomato sauce equation.
Which means a scoop of pasta and a scoop of this savory lentil-tomato goodness on top could equal a full, satisfying meal if you want. Score!
I used to call this Red Lentil Pasta Sauce recipe “Red Lentil Marinara Sauce,” but finally decided to change the name to something that felt a little more accurate.
I first shared this recipe in 2014, and I thought it was super revolutionary to sneak lentils into my sauce. Then lentil bolognese became an actual vegan thing and I sort of feel like my lentil pasta sauce was left in the dust. Poor recipe!
Because the split red lentils don’t add a lot of texture to this pasta sauce, I actually don’t think it’s all that bolognese-y, so I’m simply calling it a lentil pasta sauce. But I also created another version awhile back with beans AND lentils and named that Legume My Marinara. SIGH. I have pasta sauce branding issues. Anyway, if you’re looking for a nice hearty vegan bolognese situation, check that one out too!
Why split red lentils?
Split red lentils are one of the most common types of lentils found in grocery stores. They’ve been processed a bit more than other lentils – their seed coat has been removed and they have been split in half. Split red lentils tend to “break down” and cook faster than their non-split relatives. This makes them excellent candidates for soups and sauces – they thicken without adding loads of texture. They also cook faster than most other types of lentils.
Red lentils are a great protein-rich addition to tomato-based pasta sauces because, unlike some other lentils, they cook down, get mushy, and sort of become one with whatever else you’re cooking them with.
Yes – you can see some in there. But the taste and the texture? Pure mouth-watering pasta sauce goodness.
Hearty Red Lentil Pasta Sauce starts with onions, green peppers (strange, I know, but trust me), and carrots. Sometimes I’ll add some bonus veggies like mushrooms or shredded zucchini. And then a big can of fire-roasted tomatoes, red lentils, veggie broth, a nice amount of garlic, spices, and some other good stuff.
Oh, and honey. Trust me on that, too – it helps to balance the acidity of the tomatoes. (To make this recipe vegan, just sub an equal amount of vegan granulated sugar).
We love this sauce served over whole-wheat spaghetti or rotini, but really, the possibilities are endless. I can’t wait to try it on some zucchini pasta, ooh or a nice gluten-free brown rice pasta, and it’ll make a perfect dip for breadsticks. I think it would be incredible in lasagna, or spooned over stuffed shells.
This sauce freezes wonderfully, too. Just scoop it in a freezer bag, label and date, and then pull it out when you need it.
Protein-o-rama + pasta sauce. It’s happening.
Hearty Red Lentil Pasta Sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion (diced)
- 1 green bell pepper (seeded and diced)
- 2 medium carrots (peeled and diced (about 1 cup))
- 6 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 28-ounce can whole fire-roasted tomatoes (plain whole tomatoes will work fine too)
- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup red wine (optional)
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1 tablespoon honey (or sub vegan-friendly granulated sugar if vegan)
- 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, green peppers, and carrots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring, for one more minute.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetable broth, wine (if using), lentils, and honey. Stir to incorporate. Heat until the mixture comes to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer sauce for about 25 minutes or until the lentils are tender.
- Stir in parsley. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if desired. Serve as desired.
- Keeps refrigerated in an airtight container for 3-4 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Yum!! I cannot wait to make this and serve it over spaghetti squash (before it is completely out of season!). Thanks for sharing 🙂
Hannah, that is such a brilliant idea! So brilliant that I ran out and got a spaghetti squash. Can’t wait to give it a try. 🙂
emmm it look very delicious thank you for sharing
Looks great! I am always looking to add more protein to my diet as well, especially since joining My Fitness Pal and being shocked at how much protein they recommended I eat daily.
Looks good, but you should toss the sauce with the pasta before you plate it; ensures each bite is covered in sauce.
Oh my god, red lentils are one of my staples and I NEVER thought to do this … but I’m doing it SOON. Fiber also helps you stay full – I’m thinking I will do this with whole tomatoes roasted under the broiler, then partially pureed – skins, seeds, and all. That’s what I do for tomato soups, too – leave the seeds for fiber. (I do scoop some of the excess seeds/seed goo beforehand so the soup isn’t too thick.) As a former vegetarian and current minimal meat-eater, I really appreciate your ideas! 🙂
Thank you so much, Sara! What a terrific idea to leave the tomato seeds for fiber. Love it.
I tried this recipe (sans wine) today and used it in a veggie lasagna- it was wonderful and a very good way to add more protein to a veggie dish! Thanks!
Glad you liked it! Yeah, I do love the red wine in there but I think it’s plenty good without. Now I’m craving lasagna! 🙂
This was amazing! My husband who is a meat eater and usually doesn’t like tomato based sauces, LOVED this! :). Definitely will make it again. Thanks!
Made it tonight, very good, really filling. Had enough for dinner for four, two lunches leftover and a freezer quart bag filled to freeze.
So glad you liked it! I have some in the freezer, too. So handy to have on hand! 🙂
Just made this tonight with a few tweaks and it is delicious!
I’m so glad you liked it! 🙂
Great idea! I adore pasta with tomato sauce for dinner. Adding lentils makes it more of a complete meal. Can’t wait to try this. Looks super delicious!
You should not tag this under “vegan” when the recipe calls for bee vomit, aka honey, but, leaving that aside, it does look amazing and fortunatelly it can be substituted by agave.
Thanks for the idea.
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I am just getting into some veggie cooking and I love lentils (and chickpeas). Wee bit confused about coooking lentils though so can I just ask – is it ok to cook dry lentils straight into the tomato sauce (as I understand from this recipe)? Do they not have to be cooked in water then added? Thanks
Yep, it works well!
I made this over the weekend, and it was scrumptious! We had it over spaghetti squash.
I’m so glad you liked it! It’s one of my favorites. 🙂
Thanks for sharing this recipe! I used lentils and the sauce was great. I recommend chopping up mushrooms (1/4″ dice) and pre-sauteeing them. They help make the sauce “meaty.” No honey or sugar for me, so I added a little bit of pumpkin puree to cut the acidity of the tomato — works particularly well over spaghetti squash.
Love those ideas; thanks Liz!
My italian mom made lentels and pasta òn Fridays in Lent . This came so close to my moms
Thanks for the gòod memory.
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Just made this for dinner. Amazing!! As a new vegetarian I highly recommend this dish for people making the transition! Next I want to put it into our meat lasagna recipe.
Can’t wait to look at your other vegetarian recipes.
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Wow that recipe sounds scrumptious!
Thanks! It’s one of my faves!
This was delicious. I made as described, but increased spices and added a zucchini and some extra mini tomatoes I had sitting around. Also would be good with red chilli flakes if that’s your thing.
We just got a gazillion zucchinis from our CSA and now I know how I am going to use them! Thanks for the idea! 🙂 So glad this was a hit for you.
Made this for dinner tonight and it was excellent! I substituted zucchini for the carrots and basil for the parsley because that’s what I had on hand. I also added 1/2 tsp chili flakes for a little heat. Definitely keeping this one to make again!
This pasta sauce tasted great! Perfect amount of sauciness and great flavor from the vegetables and tomatoes. Love the added protein from the lentils. I did leave out the honey, and I didn’t miss the sweetness. Next time I will sauté some mushrooms and add them at the end.
Love the idea of adding mushrooms! The honey is just to mellow out the acidity of the tomatoes so definitely fine to leave out if you prefer. 🙂 Thank you so much for the review, and I’m glad you loved it!
Made it for dinner tonight… trying to convince my hubby plant based can taste good. This one did!
Such a delicious sauce, thanks so much for posting! We also added a parmesan cheese rind during cooking. 🙂