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.