Slow Cooker Lentil Bolognese is made with hearty lentils, crushed tomatoes, vegetable broth, and Italian seasoning for a vegetarian twist on a classic meaty dish. Serve this rich and flavorful dish on top of your favorite pasta for a dreamy and nourishing meal!
Traditionally, bolognese is an ultra-meaty recipe made with beef and pork. Sometimes the meat is swapped for mushrooms for a plant-based bolognese, but we’re thinking out of the box today. This vegetarian bolognese swaps the mushrooms for lentils for a protein-packed dish that doesn’t compromise on flavor. Simmered slowly in a rich and flavorful tomato sauce, these lentils will have you drooling over your bowl.
On top of being insanely delicious, slow cooker lentil bolognese is surprisingly easy to make! The key is simmering the dish very slowly over low heat for several hours. Not only does this give the ingredients ample time to develop in flavor, but it all cooks down into a cohesive bolognese sauce that is wonderful for spooning over your favorite pasta.
After you’ve had a taste of this plant-based lentil bolognese, you’ll have a hard time going back to the original version. Lentils are loaded with tons of plant-based protein and fiber, making for an incredibly filling meal that will keep you feeling satisfied. Serve this dish over pasta with a side salad or some crusty bread for the ultimate pasta night!
What You’ll Need for Lentil Bolognese
To prepare this healthy slow cooker lentils recipe, you’ll need the following key ingredients:
- Dried lentils: You can use any type of lentils you prefer. Note that red lentils will get the mushiest, while brown and green lentils will hold their shape better. It’s all about personal preference! You could also swap in canned lentils, just shorten the cooking time to 2-3 hours.
- Italian seasoning: A good Bolognese is incomplete without Italian seasoning. An aromatic blend of basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram, this unique mix vastly improves the flavor profile by infusing distinctive flavor notes.
- Vegetable broth: Opt for low-sodium broth if you can. If you don’t have vegetable broth, chicken broth will also work (if you aren’t working about keeping the dish vegetarian).
- Eggplant: Naturally mild and a little sweet in flavor, eggplant makes a fantastic nutrient-rich addition to this slow cooker bolognese. The texture gets super soft in the slow cooker and the eggplant itself will absorb all of the wonderful flavors. You could swap in mushrooms here as well and it would turn out delicious.
- Crushed tomatoes: Look for a quality brand like San Marzano, as this will serve as the base for our bolognese.
- Parmesan cheese: I absolutely love serving bolognese with some nutty, fragrant parmesan on top! For a vegan bolognese, swap out the parmesan for a plant-based cheese alternative like nutritional yeast or leave the cheese out altogether.
Slow Cooker Lentil Bolognese Recipe Tips
Here are some of my top tricks and tips to help you make the best lentil bolognese every time:
- Pick the perfect lentils. Before you choose your lentils, think about what you want out of this dish. Do you want lentils that hold their shape? Opt for green, brown, or black lentils. Do you want lentils that break down quickly? Go for red lentils but note that this will be more of a thick sauce since the red lentils will fully break down.
- Add healthy fats. This dish is relatively fat-free (save for the parmesan cheese) but if you want to add some heart-healthy fats, go right ahead! Crushed walnuts or hemp seeds would work wonderfully and add a delicious nutty flavor. You could also add a few glubs of olive oil.
- Add more veggies. Bolognese is the perfect dish to sneak in extra veggies if you have some to get rid of or simply want an even more nutrient-dense meal. Finely chopped cremini mushrooms, cauliflower, or zucchini would all work great!
- Transform it into a soup. Hearty lentil soup, anyone? You can turn this dish into a rich and flavorful soup or stew by adding additional broth. Enjoy your lentil soup with some crusty bread on the side. Yum!
Ways to Serve Lentil Bolognese
There are so many ways to serve this bolognese that you can try out. Sometimes when I’m in the mood for something classic, I like to serve it over some pasta with a nice hunk of rustic bread. You could also make this the star of a low-carb vegetarian dish by serving it with zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash.
Here are some of my favorite ways to serve lentil bolognese:
- Pasta. Use a pasta that’s either broad, like pappardelle, or one that can hold the sauce, like penne rigate, rotini, or campanelle. You can also serve it over spaghetti (or Garlic Squash Spaghetti for a low-carb alternative) or layer it into lasagna. There are plenty of pasta options for bolognese!
- Polenta. A soft and creamy polenta like this Baked Italian Polenta makes for a terrific base for all kinds of sauces, lentil bolognese included. Even my Creamy Spinach Polenta goes exceptionally well with this dish, for a super nutrient-rich and delicious meal.
- Grains. Not in the mood for pasta or polenta? You can serve this slow cooker lentils dish over a bed of brown rice, quinoa, or cauliflower rice for a low-carb option.
Lentil bolognese is a great make-ahead meal that can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days after cooking. I love to prepare a huge batch of it all at once, then save the leftovers for quick and easy weeknight dinners when I don’t have time to cook.
Can you freeze lentil bolognese? Absolutely! Leftover bolognese actually holds up really well in the freezer. Once the dish has cooled, transfer it to an airtight container and store it in the freezer for up to 1-2 months. To reheat the dish, let it thaw in the fridge for 24 hours and then reheat it on the stove until warmed through.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about this slow cooker lentil bolognese recipe:
Yes! If you don’t have the time to wait for a slow cooker meal, you can cook lentil bolognese on the stove or in an Instant Pot. However, I must mention that there’s a certain silkiness and deep, rich flavor profile that can only come from all-day cooking.
If you want to try this dish with something else but want to keep it plant-based, I recommend going with the classic mushroom bolognese. You could also try it with extra firm crumbled tofu, but I haven’t tried that myself so I can’t say how it would turn out. If you aren’t worried about keeping it vegetarian, try making this dish with lean ground beef or turkey.
Yes and no. While this recipe calls for parmesan cheese, making it vegetarian but not vegan, you could easily swap that out for plant-based parmesan or leave out the cheese entirely for a vegan lentil bolognese.
To reheat this dish, simply add a splash of water and heat it in a medium-sized pot over medium heat until warmed through. If you’re in a hurry, you can reheat it in the microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring every 30 seconds, until warmed through.
Slow Cooker Lentil Bolognese with Eggplant
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- 1 cup dried green lentils
- 1 U onion, diced
- 2 U carrots, diced
- 2 U celery ribs, diced
- 4 U garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
- 1 U bay leaf
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 1.5 lbs. eggplant, chopped
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup red wine (or vegetable broth)
- 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.
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