easy vegan meat sauce over pasta

Easy Vegan Meat Sauce

  • Author: Nina | Tofu Test Kitchen
  • Prep Time: 10
  • Cook Time: 25
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x


  • ½ cup uncooked red lentils*
  • 1 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 garlic cloves , minced
  • 16 oz shiitake mushrooms*, diced
  • 24 oz jar of your favorite marinara sauce (Recommended: Rao’s)
  • Noodles of your choice (bowtie, zucchini, etc.)
  • Suggested toppings: basil, oregano and cashew Parmesan cheese


  1. Rinse lentils and remove any discolored pieces. Add to a pot with 1.5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Top off with extra water if needed to keep lentils submerged. When ready, they will be fluffy and starting to break down a bit. Let cool.
  2. In a large pan, combine oil, onions, and salt and cook low heat until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and cook another 30 seconds.
  4. Add mushrooms and increase heat to medium-low until mushrooms are softened and shrinking, about 10 mins.
  5. Blend the sauce and cooked lentils in high speed blender or food processor into well incorporated (this may take a few minutes). 
  6. Pour sauce mixture into the mushroom pan and stir to combine.
  7. Serve over noodles of your choice, and consider topping with fresh basil, oregano and cashew Parmesan cheese.


Be sure to use red lentils. Red lentils will break down and get a bit mushy while cooking, so they’re great for sauces, stews, and soups. Brown and green lentils, however, retain their shape. They are better for things like salads or sturdy veggie burgers.

You could use crimini mushrooms (or portobello, the mature form of crimini) instead of shiitake mushrooms. Portobello varietals are popular meat substitutes because of their meat-like texture. However, they tend to soak up a lot of moisture, and we don’t want the tomato-based sauce to be too dry. Shiitake mushrooms, on the other hand, have an irresistible smokey flavor, plus a softer meaty texture.  Plus in this recipe, the lentils are the secret ingredient for texture, providing plenty of bulk and heartiness.