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No Substitutes: Meaty But Not Really Pasta Sauce

Meaty But Not Really Pasta Sauce

Last night, after enjoying a drink at the local pub, Andrew and I stopped in to visit my sister and her boyfriend, both to catch up and see if there were any spare baked goods lying around. (She is a baking blogger, after all.) Naturally, the conversation soon turned to food.

“You know what I hate?” Hil asked as she prepared a pizza for dinner. “Vegetarians who eat meat substitutes. Vegetarian chicken cutlets, vegetarian mince, vegetarian sausage- what’s the point?”

While “hate” might be a bit strong (she didn’t really mean it, anyway- I’m the sister given to emotional hyperbole), I completely agreed with her. I strongly believe in real food; food that’s natural, close to its intended form and isn’t pretending to be something else. This isn’t intended as elitist preaching; I just don’t like those meat substitutes my sister spoke of. In fact, I rarely even eat tofu.

It’s now been about 18 months since I gave up eating meat. What at first I viewed as a challenge turned out to be the easiest thing I’ve ever done, and now I barely even notice what I’m not eating. Of course, there are those few “off-limits” foods that I still crave occasionally.

You know the common-held belief that the one meat vegetarians miss is bacon?Bacon schmancy, I say. These days, the only meat I’m even tempted to miss is ground beef. I know you’re all scratching your heads and wondering where on earth my sense is, but to me, mince means food from my childhood. My Mum’s homemade hamburgers in the summer, spicy chili in the winter and her delicious spaghetti bolognese. My sister and I both mastered this dish by the age of 12, and have been making it ever since.

I don’t make my Mum’s Bolognese anymore, but when I’m craving a quick, simple pasta sauce, I make this. Using red split lentils instead of meat, it’s hearty without being heavy. While it won’t make you believe you’re eating meat, it will make you want to add it to your real-foods roster.

Note: Don’t feel that this is just a pasta sauce; I’ve had it with vegetables, spaetzle, in an omelette- like any good sauce, it’s pretty darn versatile.

Meaty But Not Really Pasta Sauce

Meaty But Not Really Pasta Sauce

serves 6 with pasta

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped finely
  • 2 carrots, quartered lengthwise and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. chili flakes
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup passata or stock (if I have some passata open I’ll use that, otherwise I’ll use water and bouillon powder- either will
  • make a good sauce)
  • 3/4 cup red split lentils
  • sea salt and black pepper

  1.  Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a lid (I use a Dutch oven) over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and carrots and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2.  Add the garlic, chilli flakes and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, for another 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate.
  3.  Add the chopped tomatoes and passata (or stock) to the pan and bring the mixture up to a simmer. Add the lentils, cover and turn the heat down so the mixture just simmers. Cook for 20 minutes until the lentils are tender stirring occasionally. (You may need to add a bit of water, but the sauce should be thick.)
  4.  Season the sauce with salt and black pepper to taste. Serve over pasta, with parmesan cheese on top.

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  • Nicole Tereza @
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 5:35 am

    This is so something I’m going to make. I even think you could add a little cyan or red pepper to spice it up. Ladle it over some cubed squash or chickpeas if you don’t want the pasta. Love this – thanks!

  • Dana
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 5:36 am

    Ele, this looks amazing! I absolutely love red lentils and I never have thought of serving them this way. What a healthy and protein-packed meal.

  • Ele
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 5:36 am

    Nicole- It’s got chili flakes in there already (I can’t seem to make anything without them- it appears I’ve got a problem), but I’m sure anything added would be great. I love the idea of it with chickpeas, too!
    Dana- I like red lentils for sauces and things because they cook down so quickly. I first got the idea when I saw Nigella Lawson add some to a lamb ragu for added bulk- it looked great, so I just did something similar, minus the lamb!

  • Twistie
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 5:37 am

    Mmmm..delish! I love red lentils. Thanks for sharing. I can see this becoming a winter staple at Casa Twistie.
    My guess is that when giving up entire food groups for whatever reason, different people will miss different things. When Mr. Twistie got his diabetes diagnosis, everybody commiserated with him about how he would have to give up cake. Thing is, that wasn’t what he liked. The thing he misses is pie. He’s never tempted if I bake a cake, but he goes out of his way to behave himself culinarily in the weeks before Thanksgiving so he can have one slice of pumpkin pie as a treat.
    I have a good friend who is moving toward vegetarianism for ethical reasons. She’s not that worried about missing bacon, though. Her greatest sorrow is that she won’t eat duck again.
    You miss what you miss, and while I’m a huge bacon fan, I’m betting what I would miss most (if I went veggie) is lamb. Not everyone loves the same foods to begin with, and not everyone has the same associations with the same things.
    All that to say I completely get why someone who has converted to vegetarianism might miss ground beef more than bacon.

  • Ele
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 5:37 am

    Twistie- You’re so right- different strokes for different folks, I guess. My guess is that I miss beef because of all the childhood associations- hearty home-cooked food in the Canadian winter and all that. I never had lamb at all as a kid, and can probably count the times I’ve had it as an adult on one hand!

  • Sara
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 5:37 am

    oh ele, think back to the days of the united way breakfast when you tried to steal all the sausages from the kosher kids!! i guess mira and maya’s sausages are now safe from you!! 🙂

  • Ele
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 5:38 am

    Sara- Ha! I had completely forgotten about the United Way breakfast- oh, yum. Yes, I miss me some sausages sometimes- but not so much as to go stealing others’. I’ve evolved 🙂

  • Dawn
    Posted July 26, 2017 at 5:38 am

    Oh my god, what a delicious dish! I had it for dinner this evening and it was so fantastic!

  • Sandra
    Posted August 1, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    Parmesan cheese is actually not vegetarian, just in case any vegetarians were planning on making the recipe just a heads up!

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