Vegan Seitan and Mushroom Ragù Bolognese Recipe

Layer upon layer of savory, meaty, and rich flavor from mushrooms and seitan.

A Dutch oven containing vegan ragu with mushroom and seitan.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Mushrooms add a deep savoriness, while seitan offers a more convincingly meaty texture.
  • Crumbling both the mushrooms and the seitan gives the impression of a ground beef texture.
  • Soy sauce, miso, and coconut oil provide savory depth and a silky, rich texture.

A Bolognese sauce is defined by meat and dairy, which makes creating a convincing vegan version a real challenge. This one pulls it off by combining the flavor and textural qualities of mushrooms and seitan, and building in layer upon layer of savory, meaty, and rich flavor.

I build the ragù much the way I would if I were using meat, starting by sautéing minced aromatic vegetables, like onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, in olive oil until they're tender and beginning to turn golden. Then, instead of adding meat, I add my meat substitute.

I use two things to stand in for meat. First, mushrooms, which are an obvious choice, thanks to their deeply savory flavor. But I didn't want to go 100% mushrooms, since mushrooms also have a distinctly earthy flavor, and a texture that's a little silkier than that of ground meat. If I were to use only mushrooms, my sauce would taste exactly like a mushroom ragù—which is a beautiful thing, but not my goal here.

To round out the mushrooms, I use an equal quantity of seitan, also known as wheat gluten. It's a wet, chewy, and spongy substance with a mild and oddly bread-like flavor, but it absorbs other flavors well. It also really wins in the texture department, with a bite that's a lot more like meat.

Breaking up seitan into irregular pieces for texture.

To give both the mushrooms and the seitan an appropriately ground-meaty texture, I crush and tear them by hand into little pieces. You could save time by chopping them, but those clean cuts won't deliver an important textural cue that tricks your mouth into thinking it's eating ground beef.

In the pot, I cook the mushrooms and seitan until the mushrooms have dumped all their liquid and have started to brown. This can take a while because seitan is quite wet as well, which slows down the browning process. Once the browning does start, I stir in a large spoonful of tomato paste, then follow it with a generous dose of wine.

I prefer white wine in a classic Bolognese, but in this vegan sauce, I need my smokescreens, and red wine has a more robust flavor that flirts with your taste buds more—and the more flirting your taste buds get from the red wine, the less they'll notice that you're not eating meat.

Once the raw alcohol smell of the wine has cooked off, I add a can of puréed tomatoes—I prefer to start with canned whole tomatoes and purée them myself—followed by even more flavor smokescreens: rosemary and sage sprigs, soy sauce, and red miso.

Rosemary, sage, and bay leaf in a pot of vegan regu.

Those woodsy herbs are a classic pairing with Italian braised and grilled meats, so they're perfect for suggesting meat even when it isn't there. The soy sauce and miso, meanwhile, while clearly not traditional, add complexity and deep savoriness that normally come from the meat itself.

My final touch for the sauce is a scoop of flavorless refined coconut oil. Its role is to add the silkiness and richness of emulsified beef fat in a classic Bolognese sauce. Without it, the sauce is too lean, a dead giveaway that it's a vegan impostor.

Adding coconut oil to vegan ragu for lasagna.

After the sauce has stewed for a while and grown thick, I stir in a little bit of my vegan béchamel to make the ragù lightly creamy. Now it's ready to be used in your vegan lasagna alla Bolognese.

Adding bechamel to vegan ragu.

March 2018

Recipe Facts

Active: 60 mins
Total: 90 mins
Serves: 6 to 8 servings
Makes: 2 quarts sauce

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Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 medium yellow onion (about 12 ounces; 340g), finely minced (see notes)

  • 1 large carrot (about 8 ounces; 225g), finely minced (see notes)

  • 3 ribs celery (about 6 ounces; 170g), finely minced (see notes)

  • 5 medium cloves garlic, finely minced (see notes)

  • 1 pound (450g) cremini mushrooms, stems discarded and caps crumbled into small pea-size pieces

  • 1 pound (450g) seitan, drained of excess liquid and torn into pea-size pieces

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) tomato paste

  • 1 1/2 cups (355ml) dry red wine

  • 1 (28-ounce; 795g) can peeled whole tomatoes, puréed with a blender or immersion blender, or crushed by hand

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 sprig rosemary

  • 1 sprig sage

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) refined neutral coconut oil (see note)

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) red (aka) miso

  • 2 teaspoons (10ml) dark soy sauce

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Directions

  1. In a Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring and scraping frequently, until aromatics are beginning to turn golden, about 8 minutes.

  2. Add mushrooms and seitan and cook, stirring and scraping frequently, until much of the water in the mushrooms and seitan cooks off and a brown film develops on the bottom of the pot.

    Adding mushroom and seitan pieces to a Dutch oven of sauteed aromatics for vegan ragu.
  3. Stir in tomato paste and cook for 30 seconds. Add wine, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer wine until it has almost fully reduced and the raw alcohol smell has cooked off, about 5 minutes.

    A collage: sauteeing mushroom, seitan and aromatics in a Dutch oven, adding tomato paste, red wine, and canned tomato to the same Dutch oven.
  4. Stir in puréed tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add bay leaf, rosemary, and sage. Stir in coconut oil, miso, and soy sauce and cook at a very gentle simmer until sauce has reduced and thickened, about 30 minutes.

    Adding soy sauce and red miso to vegan lasagna.
  5. Discard bay leaf and rosemary and sage sprigs. Season with salt and pepper (taste first, as it may not need much salt). Stir in nutmeg.

  6. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Serve it on pasta or polenta, or use it in a vegan lasagna.

Special Equipment

Dutch oven, food processor (optional), blender or immersion blender (optional)

Notes

To speed up the mincing of the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, feel free to pulse them in a food processor.

Make sure your coconut oil is refined and free of any coconut aroma or flavor.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
254 Calories
11g Fat
19g Carbs
18g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
Amount per serving
Calories 254
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 11g 15%
Saturated Fat 4g 20%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 418mg 18%
Total Carbohydrate 19g 7%
Dietary Fiber 4g 14%
Total Sugars 8g
Protein 18g
Vitamin C 20mg 98%
Calcium 102mg 8%
Iron 2mg 12%
Potassium 758mg 16%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)