Last summer, I spent nearly a month in Europe, and while I want to say I went there for the arts and culture, the truth is, I went for the food! I savored it, studied it, and sampled everything. And I came back with a deep appreciation for Italian cooking. True Italian chefs use seasonal foods and cook with locally-sourced ingredients and their food showed it. It. Was. Divine.
Traditional bolognese (what we might call "red sauce") is made with a little bit of ground beef, celery, onion, garlic, tomatoes, and sometimes ground carrot. In Italy, it was amazing--and the flavor varied depending on the region you were in. When I got home from Italy, I experimented with making my own bolognese sauce using vegetables I had in the house. It quickly became a staple. And, to make the sauce just a little bit healthier, I opted to omit the ground beef and replace it with lentils. Yes, lentils!
Most people I know are a bit unfamiliar with (and intimidated by) lentils--but, hear me out: they are so easy and so versatile! Not to mention: they're low in calories and high in protein and fiber, so they keep you feeling full. Lentils are small, round, lens-shaped legumes that come in many sizes and colors. Benefits of lentils include: lowering cholesterol, improving heart health, digestive health, stabilizing blood sugar, and increasing energy because they are complex, slow-burning carbohydrates (which means your body uses them for fuel over a long period of time).
Here's a breakdown of lentil varieties – adapted from TheSpruce.com
Brown lentils: the most basic variety, small, and hold their shape well during cooking but may become mushy if overcooked. Do not require pre-soaking like other beans. Subtle, earthy flavor food for soups, stews, salads, pilafs, and more.
Green lentils: Larger than brown, tend to be flatter than other varieties. Very flavorful, retain their shape when cooking, perfect for salads or pilafs. This variety does not break down when cooking.
Yellow Lentils: Sweet and nutty in flavor, but tend to break down quickly when cooking. Great for recipes that require thickening or pureeing.
Red Lentils: These are just yellow lentils that have been hulled and split. Light red to orange in color, small in size, and create a very smooth puree when cooked.
Are you convinced to try lentils!? You're going to LOVE this dish!
What You’ll Need:
- 1 cup cooked red or yellow lentils
2-3 Tbsp. EVOO
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ yellow onion, chopped
1 cup finely shredded carrots
½ zucchini, finely chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
a handful of mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. oregano + fresh oregano for serving
1 tsp. or more sea salt to taste
½ tsp. red pepper flakes to taste
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. onion powder
1 jar (24-26 oz.) your favorite marinara (look for an organic kind without excess added sugar)
fresh basil for topping
1 box whole wheat or GF rigatoni or fusilli style pasta
Optional: parmesan cheese for topping
- Prepare red or yellow lentils (your preference) as directed on the packaging. (Lentils usually cook at a 1:3 ratio of lentils to water or vegetable broth.) When lentils are cooked but not mushy, drain using a mesh strainer. Set aside.
- In a large sautéing pan, drizzle EVOO and add in minced garlic and onion. Sauté for 2-4 minutes, until fragrant. Then add in one more tablespoon of oil and chopped carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, and bell pepper. Add in garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, and salt. Sautee another 3-4 minutes, then carefully pour in organic marinara sauce. Add in cooked lentils and stir using a spatula or large spoon. Turn heat to low and cover with a tight fitting lid. Simmer for 10-12 minutes or until all vegetables are soft.
- Prepare pasta noodles al dente. Then drain and rinse. Serve pasta topped with the bolognaise sauce and parmesan cheese, if you prefer. Top with basil. Enjoy!