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.
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.
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.
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.
1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion (about 12 ounces; 340g), finely minced (see note)
1 large carrot (about 8 ounces; 225g), finely minced (see note)
3 ribs celery (about 6 ounces; 170g), finely minced (see note)
5 medium cloves garlic, finely minced (see note)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dutch oven, food processor (optional), blender or immersion blender (optional)
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.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 6 to 8|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 11g||15%|
|Saturated Fat 4g||20%|
|Total Carbohydrate 19g||7%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||14%|
|Total Sugars 8g|
|Vitamin C 20mg||98%|
|*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.|