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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

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 by using 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 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

Serving options

  • I serve the vegetarian bolognese sauce over any kind of pasta 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. 

Sauce variations

  • If you don’t have tomato sauce, you can use a 28 ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes and an extra 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. San Marzano tomatoes are excellent.
  • 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 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 dried chili flakes.

Stove top version

  • See the recipe notes for instructions

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 onions

carrots onion and celery sauteed in instant pot

Saute veggies in instant pot

ground plant based meat with carrots onion and celery sauteed in instant pot

Add plant based ground beef and sauté.

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 Saute 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 42 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

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 Burger 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
  • 2 bay leaves
  • optional: 1 tsp prepared mustard

Instructions

  • PRESS SAUTE BUTTON ON INSTANT POT: to heat to "HOT". Chop veggies while heating. (See Note 1 for stove top version)
  • SAUTE VEGGIES AND 'GROUND BEEF': Add oil, then veggies. Saute, stirring occasionally for 3-4 minutes. Add plant based ground beef, break up with utensil and saute for 3-4 minutes until it turns brown. Stir in garlic and tomato paste. Add wine, and deglaze, stirring for 1 minute. Press CANCEL button on instant pot.
  • ADD LIQUID AND COOK: Stir in 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 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 pasta with Parmesan cheese if desired.

Notes

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. 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 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.
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 tablespoons of tomato paste. San Marzano tomatoes are excellent.
  • 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 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.
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

Nutrition Facts
Vegetarian Bolognese (Instant Pot or Stovetop)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 201 Calories from Fat 63
% Daily Value*
Fat 7g11%
Saturated Fat 2g13%
Trans Fat 1g
Cholesterol 42mg14%
Sodium 1350mg59%
Potassium 921mg26%
Carbohydrates 15g5%
Fiber 4g17%
Sugar 9g10%
Protein 17g34%
Vitamin A 2916IU58%
Vitamin C 15mg18%
Calcium 62mg6%
Iron 4mg22%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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22 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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. 😊

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

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