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Vegetarian Bolognese (Instant Pot or Stovetop)

I’m pretty sure you couldn’t tell the difference between a traditional steaming bowl of pasta with meat sauce (classic Bolognese) and our quicker vegetarian Bolognese sauce made with plant-based ground beef in an Instant Pot.

No kidding – same rich flavor, texture and deliciousness.

vegetarian bolognese in bowl sprinkled with parmesan cheese f

You can make this bolognese recipe in the Instant Pot or on the stove. Instructions for both are in the recipe. The only difference is that you save 30-40 minutes or so – the magic of the Instant Pot.

I took some license with the recipe by not including milk and not serving it with a wider pasta typically used with a classic Bolognese sauce.

Nevertheless, this vegetarian Bolognese is a thick, rich, savory meatless ground beef sauce that would fool most meat eaters I think. It’s that close. And it tastes great.

Why you should try this plant-based ground beef spaghetti sauce

Purists may snub their noses, but the rest of us are thrilled to serve the same meatless pasta recipe to meat eaters and vegetarians alike at the same time. For me, this is a big deal. For over 20 years, I have had to make my vegetarian daughter a separate vegetarian meal 🙁 With this recipe, I don’t!

The vegetarian spaghetti Bolognese tastes just like the homemade spaghetti meat sauce on pasta I grew up with. Totally satisfying to meat lovers like me and my husband. But totally plant-based to satisfy vegetarians or vegans too. (And me because I’m trying to cut back on meat).

It’s really nice for vegetarians to feel like they’re not the odd man out for a change when a vegetarian dish is the main event. My daughter tells me vegetarians share a few frustrations the rest of us don’t think about much.

And it’s also heartening to know that you’re helping the environment by reducing beef consumption which is responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions.

Are plant-based beef products healthy?

The two best plant-based beef products on the market (at this point), based on several taste tests, are Impossible Burger and Beyond Beef. The taste, texture and nutrition are very similar to ground beef.

BUT, are these products healthier than regular ground beef? No, not really. Beyond Beef and regular ground beef have about the same calories and fat (although Beyond Beef has less saturated fat).  Beyond Beef has more fiber and a bit less protein than ground beef. The downside is that these products are highly processed with a long list of additives.

So this meatless meal cannot be considered a health food just because it’s plant-based. It’s certainly not bad for you, though, particularly as an occasional indulgence.

Tailor To Your Taste

  • Serve the vegetarian bolognese sauce over your favorite pasta (any kind) with a salad and crusty bread.
  • You can also use it for Sloppy Joes or to make a Lasagna.
  • Sometimes I add these all-purpose Italian meatballs to the sauce served over pasta. Not for vegetarians of course.

Shortcuts

  • Leave out the carrots and celery. Less chopping.
  • Use jarred or frozen cubes of garlic instead of chopping fresh garlic.

Make Ahead Vegetarian Bolognese

  • The sauce will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days and in the freezer in a sealed container for 3 months. 
 

Other vegetarian sauce recipes

Here are a few other vegetarian sauces that are delicious on pasta, veggies or tofu

How to make Vegetarian Bolognese in an Instant Pot

tomato sauce, package beyond beef, garlic, seasonings, tomato paste, wine, chopped carrots, celery and onions
Ingredients: Tomato sauce, packaged plant-based ‘beyond beef’, garlic, seasonings, tomato paste, wine, chopped carrots, celery and onion
carrots onion and celery sauteed in instant pot
Press Sauté function. It’s ready when it says “hot”. Add oil and veggies. Sauté 3-4 minutes.
ground plant based meat with carrots onion and celery sauteed in instant pot
Add plant based meat and sauté until browned.
pot of vegetarian bolognese ready for cooking
Add garlic and tomato paste. Deglaze with wine, then add liquids.
finished vegetarian bolognese in the instant pot
Cook on high pressure for 20 minutes. Then do a quick release. Use the Sauté button to thicken sauce for a few minutes if needed (it will thicken on standing and in the fridge as well).
scoop of vegetarian bolognese over pot
vegetarian bolognese in bowl sprinkled with parmesan cheese f
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4.93 from 51 votes

Vegetarian Bolognese (Instant Pot or Stovetop)

I'm pretty sure you couldn't tell the difference between a traditional steaming bowl of pasta with meat sauce and our quicker vegetarian Bolognese sauce made with plant-based ground beef in an Instant Pot. No kidding – same rich flavor, texture and deliciousness.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time38 mins
time to rise to pressure10 mins
Total Time53 mins
Course: Sauces
Cuisine: Italian, vegan, Vegetarian
Servings: 5
Author: Cheryl

Equipment

  • Instant Pot (or check notes for stove top instructions)

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon neutral olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced about 1 1/2 cups
  • 1 carrot, peeled, finely diced
  • 1 celery stalk, finely diced
  • 3/4 pound (0.34kg) plant-based ground beef (like Impossible Meat or Beyond Beef)
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 3 teaspoons)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup (118ml) red wine
  • 3 cups (710ml) tomato or marinara sauce (use 3 1/2 cups if you like it saucier)
  • 1/2 cup (118ml) water

seasonings

  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder, or more
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper or more
  • 1 bay leaf (or 2)
  • optional: 1 tsp prepared mustard, pinch of red chili flakes

Instructions

  • PRESS SAUTÉ FUNCTION ON INSTANT POT: and heat to "HOT". Chop veggies while heating. (See Note 1 for stove top version)
  • SAUTE VEGGIES AND 'GROUND BEEF': Add oil, then veggies. Sauté, stirring occasionally for 3-4 minutes. Add plant based ground beef, break up with utensil and sauté for 3-4 minutes until it turns brown. Stir in garlic and tomato paste. Add wine, and deglaze by scraping the bottom of the pot, stirring for 1 minute. Press CANCEL button on instant pot.
  • ADD LIQUID AND COOK: Stir in the rest of the ingredients – tomato sauce, water and all seasonings (including mustard if using). Close lid and set valve to 'SEALING', then set to HIGH PRESSURE OR MANUAL button on High for 20 minutes (use + or – buttons). The Instant Pot will take about 8-10 minutes to come to pressure depending on size of pot before it starts the 20 minute cooking process. When finished (it will beep), do quick pressure release of the pressure by turning valve to VENT. When button drops, you can open the lid.
  • FINISH VEGGIE BOLOGNESE SAUCE: Change function to SAUTE and stir sauce for 2-3 minutes or until desired thickness. It will thicken more on standing or in the fridge. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve over any type of pasta with Parmesan cheese and/or a little olive oil if desired. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Notes

  1. No Instant Pot? Use this stovetop method: Heat oil in medium-large pot on stove to medium high. Add veggies. Saute 3-4 minutes. Lower heat to medium heat. Add plant based ground beef. Saute another 3-4 minutes until brown, breaking up with a spoon. Stir in garlic and tomato paste. Add wine and deglaze, scraping the bottom of the pan, for a minute until absorbed. Add tomato sauce, seasonings and water. Stir. Bring to boil, then lower heat and cover. Simmer for 50-60 minutes until bolognese sauce is rich and thick. If not thick enough, uncover and cook another 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  2. Variations and substitutes for the veggie bolognese sauce:
    • If you don’t have tomato sauce, you can use a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes or diced tomatoes and an extra 2 tbsp tomato paste. San Marzano tomatoes are excellent for making a rich tomato sauce.
    • If you like a mellower or creamier sauce, add some milk or cream at the end.
    • Use a homemade tomato sauce if you prefer.
    • The veggie Bolognese sauce is a hearty sauce that is quite thick, especially the next day. Feel free to add additional tomato sauce, broth or water to make it saucier.
    • Vary the heat with more chili powder or red pepper flakes.
  3. Make Ahead: Cool sauce and store in fridge for 3-4 days or in freezer for 3 months. If too thick, add a bit of broth, water or more tomato sauce when reheating on stove or in microwave. 
 
Estimated Nutrition values do not include pasta. Only the sauce. Note – the nutrition calculator included regular ground beef instead of plant based which has no cholesterol, but similar protein and fat content. 

Nutrition

Calories: 201kcal | Carbohydrates: 15g | Protein: 17g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 42mg | Sodium: 1350mg | Potassium: 921mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 2916IU | Vitamin C: 15mg | Calcium: 62mg | Iron: 4mg
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24 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I’ve made this many times now, and it’s a hit. It’s also very forgiving. Last night I added an obscene amount of puréed spinach (I had bags of fresh that were running out of time), just to see what I could get away with, and the fussy children still ate it. And it was still really good! I sometimes use Beyond Meat and then double the recipe with Yves ground. My question is about the nutrition calculation: how big is a ‘serving’?

    1. Hi Anne. I love how you made the bolognese extra healthy with a load of spinach. As far as how big a serving is, that would depend on what extras you’re adding (like spinach), but I would say 1 serving is approximately 1 cup. I hope that helps. Thanks for leaving such a helpful comment about the spinach add-in.

  2. So good! I added mushrooms because I had them and a little bit more water. I threw my carrots, onions and celery in the food processor to help with the chopping. I used the instant pot and Impossible meat. My family didn’t even know it wasn’t meat! Thank you!

    1. Hi Erika, I am not a dietician, but I know that the plant based meat has no cholesterol and that carrots, tomatoes and onions help to lower bad cholesterol. The nutrition calculator seems to have picked up regular ground beef (instead of plant based) – sorry, I will have to find a way to correct that. Thanks for catching that!

    2. Read the labels on the plant-based meat carefully – at least one of them has a large amount of saturated fat per serving, probably because of the coconut oil in it.

  3. 5 stars
    I made this for my mom who is very hesitant to try plant based meats. She did not even know that it wasn’t real meat and actually loved it! I also subbed out the red wine for equal parts vegetable broth and it still came out spectacular! Very tasty!

  4. 5 stars
    Wow. Just wow. I was really skeptical of this and put it off for weeks. I made it last night and my husband and I were both blown away. The only slight change I made was to add one bouillon cube along with the water. Everything else was exact. I made it in the Instapot and it was just superb. I caught myself eating just the sauce without an pasta when I was supposed to be putting away the leftovers. Even better the next day. The flavor is so rich and hearty and you wouldn’t have ever known it was fake meat (we used Impossible meat). Thank you very much for this recipe. 😊

    1. You are very welcome Susan! Really happy to hear you liked the recipe so much. And thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  5. 5 stars
    This sounds great and trying it tonight. When the recipe calls for “tomato sauce” do you mean a pre-made canned marinara? Or just plain tomato sauce without seasoning that you would find in the store next to tomato paste/stewed tomatoes?

    1. Hope I’m not too late. I use a basic Marinara (White Line from Costco). Plain tomato sauce is fine or any tomato sauce. Just adjust your seasonings accordingly. Hope that helps. Good luck!

  6. 5 stars
    My boyfriend and I just tried this recipe and WOW. Absolutely delicious. It’s a keeper. Only note I have is we used San Marzano peeled/canned whole tomatoes and crushed them by hand. Worked perfectly with this dish.

  7. 5 stars
    Great Recipe!! Added a touch of soy sauce to add umami and finished with almond milk to add creaminess. This is a versatile recipe that can be used for Sloppy Joes, Lasagna, or a pasta sauce.