Readers Digest
Magazine subscription Podcast
HomeFood & DrinkRecipes

How to make comforting lentil bolognese

BY FareShare

15th Mar 2024 Recipes

4 min read

How to make comforting lentil bolognese
Help fight food waste with this delicious lentil bolognese recipe from chef Alex Mackay and charity FareShare
I’m on very cosy terms with lentils because I’ve cooked them for SOFEA [a charity which operates FareShare in Didcot] weekly, if not daily, over the past 20 years. The time we’ve spent together in the kitchen has meant that I’ve gotten to know lentils intimately, discovered and explored their enormous versatility. I know how they are when they’re hot or cold, glamorous or simple, casual or comforting.
"Lentils can suit whatever is available or whatever tickles your fancy"
They are one of my close ingredients, and we have the sort of kitchen friendship that comes with easy familiarity. Because of this, lentil "bolognese" has long been a pasta sauce in my house, and we eat lentils much more often than mince. The lentils can quickly become chilli, you can give it a smoky flavour with smoked paprika, or add beetroot, barbecue sauce, baked mushrooms, they can suit whatever is available or whatever tickles your fancy. 
Makes: 4 portions to sauce pasta or as a base for other recipes 
Prep time: Approx 20 minutes
Cooking time: Approx 45 minutes


  • 1 medium sized red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and grated
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (this can be substituted with water or veggie oil)
  • 2 heaped tbsp concentrated tomato puree  
  • 1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes 
  • 600ml water or vegetable stock
  • 125g red lentils
  • 4 tbsp dark soy sauce (also good with barbecue sauce)
  • 1 fresh chilli, finely chopped or ½ tsp of powder or flakes (you can add more if you want it spicy) 
  • Salt, black or cayenne pepper and caster sugar
Sofea Lentil Bolognaise_photo credit Peter Knab


  1. Get a medium sized saucepan, add the onion, garlic, carrot and extra virgin olive oil. Put a lid on and sweat for 8–10 minutes over a medium heat until the onions are soft. Turn up the heat, stand over the vegetables, stirring constantly, and fry them them until they are golden brown. 
  2. Add the tomato puree, stir for a minute or so until it smells roasted, like sun dried tomatoes.
  3. Add the tinned tomatoes. Rinse out the can with some of the water or vegetable stock. Pour this and the remainder of the water into the pan.
  4. Add the lentils, soy sauce and chilli. Bring to the boil then simmer for 25 minutes, stirring frequently until the lentils are soft and the sauce is thick, sort of like mince. 
  5. Taste to make sure the lentils are soft, simmer them a little more if you need to. 
  6. Season to taste with salt, sugar, pepper and/or chilli. Take your time at this point and taste between each addition. Careful seasoning makes the difference between "nice" and delicious.

Recipe variations to use up your leftovers

Chilli con veggies 
Parsnips, squash, pumpkin, beetroot and pretty much any hard veg can be grated and used instead of or as well as the carrot. Diced red or yellow peppers are a lovely addition, as are mushrooms. Add them at the same time as the onion and make sure they are soft and sweet before moving to the next step. 
Chilli con chickpeas 
Add a tin of chickpeas and the liquid at the same time as the lentils. My boss in the south of Italy, Don Alfonso, used to cook chickpeas with pasta and he’d say, “It’s better than meat, boys, better than meat.” 
Half and half
I think the future of bolognese and burgers is not plant based but half and half. I was introduced to this idea by Noam Bar, one of the founders of Ottolenghi, and also by Delia Smith, who points out that much of Britain is no good for growing but great for grazing. To this end, make your bolognese with half chicken, turkey or beef mince, or even better and cheaper, chopped or minced liver. It will need more liquid and need to be cooked for longer. Be sure to fry the meat first, this will carry the flavour further. 

About FareShare and SOFEA 

FareShare is the UK’s biggest charity tackling food waste for social good. FareShare works with the food industry to take good to eat surplus food, which might otherwise go to waste, and redistributes it across a nationwide network of 8,500 charities and community groups, working tirelessly to tackle the root causes of poverty. 
Across the UK, 18 network partner charities support the work of FareShare by distributing food to charities within their region. One of these is SOFEA, which operates FareShare Thames Valley and is based in Didcot.
Award-winning chef, writer and cookery teacher Alex Mackay leads the Nourish & Flourish Kitchen at SOFEA. Opened last year, the kitchen is part of a specialist programme which aims to develop free nutritional support for both young people and the wider community. Alex helps youngsters develop new skills suitable for securing employment in catering and hospitality, alongside working with local groups to support local families learning to cook nutritious food.
To support FareShare and get more food to people who need it, visit
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter
*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.

This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you. Read our disclaimer

Loading up next...
Stories by email|Subscription
Readers Digest

Launched in 1922, Reader's Digest has built 100 years of trust with a loyal audience and has become the largest circulating magazine in the world

Readers Digest
Reader’s Digest is a member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (which regulates the UK’s magazine and newspaper industry). We abide by the Editors’ Code of Practice and are committed to upholding the highest standards of journalism. If you think that we have not met those standards, please contact 0203 289 0940. If we are unable to resolve your complaint, or if you would like more information about IPSO or the Editors’ Code, contact IPSO on 0300 123 2220 or visit