vegan bolognese

Before you toss the idea of healthy vegan dinner recipes aside, give chef Michal Martínek of Very Good Cook’s vegan bolognese a try. Michal’s easy bolognese pasta sauce uses grated tempeh, a soy product which, if organic, provides a ton of clean nutrition and protein. This is a comforting dish that tastes as good as the original…

Subbing grated tempeh for ground beef might sound weird, but trust me on this one. Tempeh has a great, grainy texture and somewhat plain taste, which allows it to absorb flavors from the rest of the ingredients.

And those are pretty much the same you’d use for regular Bolognese: crushed tomatoes, soffritto base; olive oil, onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, mushrooms, red wine & stock

What’s tempeh?
Tempeh (tam-pay) is a nutritious, probiotic vegan protein made from fermented soybeans. It originated in Indonesia.

After the fermentation process, the beans are pressed into a small rectangular cake. You’ll most likely find it in the refrigerated section, next to tofu and other healthy, vegetarian products.

Tempeh has a beige color, firm texture and a nutty/savory flavor. It’s a little plain on its own, but great in all kinds of recipes.

How can you use tempeh?
+ Grated or finely chopped, and used in sauces such as this Bolognese pasta sauce, or in soups and stews.
+ Sliced or cut into cubes, steamed and added to salads.
+ Sliced or cut into cubes, and added to stir fry.
+ Make sure to buy organic tempeh, made with non-GMO soybeans.

Steps to make the Bolognese sauce using tempeh:
Unwrap the tempeh and get your grater out.
Coarsely grate the whole tempeh piece to get total 2 cups.
Sauté onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in olive oil.
Add mushrooms and spices.
Add grated tempeh.
Add crushed tomatoes, red wine, brown sugar and water.
In 45 minutes, you’ll have a delicious tempeh Bolognese pasta sauce.

bolognese pasta tempeh

Spaghetti are my favorite, but these pasta shapes are also great with the Bolognese sauce: Penne, orecchiette, farfalle, macaroni or pappardelle.

Vegan Tempeh Bolognese


  • 8 oz/227 g tempeh
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup diced, peeled yellow onion (about 1 small onion)
  • ½ cup diced, peeled carrots (about 1 small carrot)
  • ½ cup diced, trimmed celery (about 1 celery stick)
  • 1½ teaspoon minced/pressed, peeled garlic (about 1 garlic clove)
  • 2 cups diced, trimmed white or cremini mushrooms
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red chili pepper
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary (leaves only)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • 3 cups (28 oz can) diced tomatoes with their juice
  • 1 cup water or vegetable stock
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 pound (453 g) spaghetti or your favorite pasta
  • Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese (or vegan alternative like this!)


  1. Coarsely grate or finely chop the tempeh. You will get about 2 cups grated tempeh. Set aside.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, about 30 seconds. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, and the vegetables soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the mushrooms, salt, oregano, chili pepper, black pepper, sage, rosemary, and bay leaf, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are wilted and soft, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the grated tempeh and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes.
  5. Add the wine, tomatoes with their juice, water or stock, and brown sugar. Stir to combine and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid, and simmer, stirring twice or three times, for 45 minutes.
  6. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Adjust seasoning by adding more salt, black pepper, or brown sugar to taste.
  7. At this point, you can use the Bolognese sauce with pasta, or let it cool completely. It will last for up to 4 days in the refrigerator, or up to 3 months in the freezer. BTW it tastes better the next day, because it has time to set and develop deeper flavor.
  8. To serve the sauce with pasta: Fill a large pot with water, bring to a boil over high heat, and add, depending on the amount of pasta you’re cooking, about 2–3 tablespoons salt.
  9. Add the pasta to the pot and stir with a wooden spoon to make sure it’s not sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cook over medium-high heat until al dente. (Taste a piece of pasta to test).
  10. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water. This is an important step, because the water contains starch from the pasta, and will help thicken the pasta sauce. Set it aside, then drain the pasta in a colander.
  11. Add the pasta to the pot with the Bolognese sauce, add the reserved 1 cup of pasta water, and stir to combine.
  12. Serve the pasta in individual bowls, topped with the grated cheese.

Recipe Notes:

 I used organic Tempeh from Trader Joe’s for this recipe. It contains soybeans, rice, barley and millet. You can use any brand of plain tempeh as long as it doesn’t have flavor added to it, such as “smoky” or “barbecue”.

Tomatoes. You can either use a can of already crushed tomatoes or a can of whole, and chop them yourself.

Pasta shapes. Spaghetti are my favorite, but this sauce is great on penne, orecchiette, farfalle, macaroni or pappardelle.

To cook pasta for one or two. Cook about 120g of pasta per person, reserve some of the water, and drain. For one person, heat about 1 cup of the Bolognese sauce in a large skillet. Add the cooked pasta and the reserved water, stir until heated through and the sauce is emulsified, and sticks to the pasta. Serve in a bowl, topped with grated cheese.

Leftovers. If you have any leftovers of pasta mixed with the sauce, you can store them in a container in the fridge. To reheat, add some water, mix, and warm up in a large skillet over medium heat, or in a microwave.

+ Storage: Store the sauce in a container, covered, for up to 4 days in the fridge.

+ Freeze: Measure out 2 cups of sauce per container or freezer bag, seal, and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge and use within 1 day. Don’t freeze again.

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