This vegan spaghetti sauce recipe is easy to make with vegetables, lentils and lots of flavor! It creates a thick and hearty sauce that’s perfect to serve over your favorite pasta.
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Is Spaghetti Sauce Vegan?
Spaghetti sauce is an Italian-American classic that can be made in endless ways. From a basic tomato sauce to a bolognaise-style meat sauce, spaghetti sauce recipes may or may not be vegan.
Growing up, spaghetti sauce in my house meant tomato sauce with ground beef in it. This vegan recipe replaces the ground beef with lentils and mushrooms. You can use textured vegetable protein (TVP) or a vegan ground beef alternative in place of the lentils if you prefer.
Along with other vegetables and herbs, this sauce creates a delicious meal!
Ingredients to Make Plant Based Spaghetti Sauce
This recipe uses simple ingredients to create a thick, hearty sauce. It’s loaded with veggies, lentils and flavor! To make the sauce, you’ll need:
- Olive oil: Start the recipe by sauteing garlic and onions with olive oil. This essential step builds a delicious base of flavor for the sauce! Any type of oil should work fine.
- Garlic and onion: Building flavor with basic ingredients is easy when you start with lots of garlic and onion!
- Bell pepper and mushrooms: I like a veggie-packed spaghetti sauce and always include some chopped bell pepper (or zucchini) and mushrooms. Mushrooms have a nice texture for replicating ground meat, so I highly recommend them! Mince them finely or cut large pieces for a chunkier sauce.
- Lentils: The cheapest and most convenient way to add plant-based protein to this meal is with cooked lentils. I typically use canned lentils (drained and rinsed), but any cooked lentil can work. You could also use cooked TVP, veggie ground round or a vegan ground beef alternative to add delicious protein to the sauce.
- Crushed tomatoes: This is a tomato-based sauce so you’ll need a large can of crushed tomatoes (tomato puree).
- Nutritional yeast: This ingredient is optional but adds a delicious, savory and cheesy flavor to vegan spaghetti sauce. People often top spaghetti with Parmesan cheese and nutritional yeast is a great vegan alternative.
- Sugar: Tomatoes are very acidic and require some sugar to balance their acidity. While I use regular granulated sugar, cane sugar or another sugar alterative should work (just keep in mind the flavor). Store-bought tomato sauces are very high in sugar (typically) so don’t skip this ingredient; by adding just a little bit you’ll create an ultra-flavorful sauce that contains less sugar.
- Dry basil and oregano: These delicious herbs add a fantastic flavor to spaghetti sauce. If you have fresh basil and/or oregano on hand, feel free to use that instead or garnish with these fresh herbs.
- Salt and pepper: Always add salt and pepper to taste. By that I literally mean taste the sauce and see if you want more of these flavor-boosters.
- Pasta to serve: Cook your favorite pasta to serve this tasty sauce over. Of course, a spaghetti sauce recipe assumes you’ll use spaghetti noodles, but any shape noodle works just fine.
How to Make Vegan Spaghetti Sauce with Lentils
This recipe is incredibly easy to make and doesn’t take too long either. Read the detailed directions below to see how to make this tasty pasta sauce.
Step 1: Prepare Vegetables and Cook
Start by chopping the onion, bell pepper and mushrooms. You can chop them as finely as you like. Dicing them very finely creates a ground-meat-like texture in the sauce. You can also keep the veggies in larger pieces for a chunkier sauce.
You’ll also need to mince or crush the garlic.
Once you’ve prepped the vegetables, warm olive oil in a medium or large sauce pot over medium heat.
When your oil is warm, add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring regularly, for 4-5 minutes until the onion softens and turns translucent.
If the onion or garlic starts to brown, lower your heat. This step is essential for building flavor so don’t skip it.
Once the onion are garlic are ready, add bell pepper and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another 3-4 minutes. The pepper and mushrooms should cook down. If they release a lot of water, you’ll either need to cook this off (turn heat to high and cook until the liquid is evaporated) or drain away the liquid (I don’t recommend this option).
When there is very little or no liquid left in your pot, move onto the next step.
Step 2: Prepare Spaghetti Sauce and Simmer
While the vegetables cook, drain and rinse a can of lentils.
When your vegetables are ready, add the remaining sauce ingredients. This includes lentils, crushed tomatoes, nutritional yeast, sugar, dry basil and oregano, salt and pepper.
Stir the sauce until everything is well mixed, then simmer over medium-low heat for at least 10 minutes.
It’s helpful to help prevent splattering if you partially place a lid on the pot (on an angle so steam can release). If the sauce splatters a lot, turn down your heat.
This should be a very thick sauce. If you want it thinner, add some pasta cooking water. Alternatively, if you find the sauce is too thin, add 1-2 tablespoon of tomato paste to thicken it.
Step 3: Make Pasta and Serve
This recipe is just for the sauce, but you’ll need some pasta to serve it!
Cook your favorite spaghetti pasta (or any pasta shape) according to package directions. 375-400 grams of dry pasta a good measure for how much sauce the recipe makes.
Serve your sauce over freshly cooked and drained pasta. You can also toss the pasta with the sauce before serving.
How to Create a Balanced Vegan Meal
This sauce offers all the above. There’s plant-based protein and carbohydrates in the lentils. There are some healthy fats from the olive oil and plenty of vegetables in the tomato sauce.
Of course, this is intended to be served over pasta which adds carbohydrates to the meal. Feel free to top with some vegan Parmesan cheese for extra flavor (and protein/healthy fats, depending on the Parmesan you use).
If you want extra vegetables or a lighter meal, serve alongside some salad. Vegan Italian salad would be a great choice!
Vegan Spaghetti Sauce Variations
I use lentils to keep this recipe basic. They’re easy to find in most grocery stores and are cheap, which is always nice!
However, if you have textured vegetable protein (TVP), veggie ground round or a vegan ground beef alterative, these can replace of the some or all the lentils (even mushrooms if you aren’t a fan).
You’ll need to rehydrate TVP before using in this recipe (simply mix 1 C TVP with 1 C hot water or hot vegetable broth). Add cooked TVP in place of lentils for the recipe.
Cook veggie ground round or a vegan ground beef alternative (according to package directions) with the onions and garlic to start the recipe.
There are other ways to mix up this spaghetti sauce as well. You could use other vegetables; zucchini makes for a tasty alternative to bell peppers or mushrooms!
You can also play around with texture by serving this sauce over pasta shapes that are not spaghetti.
Then, serve topped with a chopped green herb (basil, oregano or parsley are tasty ideas).
How to Refrigerate and Freeze Spaghetti Sauce
Refrigerate leftover sauce in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Let your sauce cool to room temperature before placing into the fridge.
Reheat sauce either in a microwave or in a pot on the stove, over medium heat, until warmed through.
You can freeze this spaghetti sauce too! Let it cool to room temperature before placing into a freezer safe container. It should be okay frozen for up to 4 months.
Defrost your sauce in the fridge overnight (or on a countertop for a few hours). Then, place the sauce into a pot over medium heat to warm through before serving over freshly cooked pasta.
If you make this recipe, please rate and comment below to help others benefit from your experience!
Vegan Spaghetti Sauce (with Lentils)
- Sauce pot (large or medium)
- Large pot (to cook pasta)
Vegan Spaghetti Sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic , mined
- 1 cup onion , finely chopped
- 1 cup bell pepper , finely chopped
- 3 cups mushrooms , finely chopped
- 2 cups lentils , drained and rinsed (1 19oz can) *
- 3 cups crushed tomato (tomato puree/ tomato sauce)
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast (optional)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons dry oregano
- 1 ½ teaspoons dry basil
- ½ teaspoon salt , or to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper , or to taste
- 375-400 grams spaghetti pasta , uncooked
Step 1: Prepare Vegetables and Cook
- Begin by chopping the onion, bell pepper and mushrooms; mince the garlic. Chop as finely as you like, depending on your preferred spaghetti sauce texture.1 cup onion, 1 cup bell pepper, 3 cups mushrooms, 4 cloves garlic
- In a sauce pot, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and minced garlic. Cook, stirring regularly for 4-5 minutes.2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 cup onion, 4 cloves garlic
- The onion should soften but not brown (if they brown, lower your heat).
- Next, add chopped bell pepper and chopped mushrooms. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally for 3-4 minutes. If the mushrooms release a lot of water, cook until there’s little or no water remaining in the pot (or drain excess water away).1 cup bell pepper, 3 cups mushrooms
Step 2: Prepare Spaghetti Sauce and Simmer
- Drain and rinse a can of lentils.2 cups lentils
- Once your vegetables cook down, add the remaining sauce ingredients to the pot, including lentils, crushed tomatoes, nutritional yeast, sugar, dry oregano, dry basil, salt and pepper to taste.2 cups lentils, 3 cups crushed tomato, ¼ cup nutritional yeast, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons dry oregano, 1 ½ teaspoons dry basil, ½ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- Stir to evenly mix the sauce together.
- Simmer the sauce over low heat for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Leave your lid partially on the pot to prevent splattering. If it splatters a lot, lower the heat.
Step 3: Make Pasta and Serve
- Prepare your favorite spaghetti (or any shape) pasta according to package directions.375-400 grams spaghetti pasta
- Serve hot sauce over the cooked and drained spaghetti pasta! You could also toss the sauce and pasta before serving if you like.
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About Nicole Stevens
Nicole is a vegan Registered Dietitian (RD) and founder of Lettuce Veg Out.
She helps people thrive on a vegan diet with balanced recipes and easy-to-understand nutrition science.