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my favourite vegan ragu: mushrooms, lentils, walnuts

The dictionary definition of ragù is ‘an Italian sauce with meat and tomatoes.’  Clearly, that definition needs to be updated because there is an ever-increasing number of delicious meatless ragù sauces to choose from, either to cook from scratch or tinned/jarred ready to use. But do please try my favourite vegan ragù which has a base of mushrooms, lentils, and walnuts – plus copious tomatoes, of course! It is an absolutely delicious and extremely healthy option, with a mince-like texture, that can be used in any mince-based recipes such as Bolognese, lasagne, chilli con Carne, shepherd’s pie, moussaka etc.

My favourite vegan ragù is an adaptation of Elly Curshen’s Mushroom Lentil and Walnut Ragu recipe featured in Let’s Eat. (Elly Curshen is the owner of Bristol’s ‘Pear Café’ and is also known as Elly Pear.) The recipe is included in her batch cooking session which will make 16 – 20 meal portions depending on your final meal choice and/or required portion sizes.

I’ve costed the recipe below today (4th January 2021) using the Waitrose website and the total cost is £14.84, without taking advantage of any offers. That’s less than £1 per portion and far less than a meat-based version would cost. You could reduce the cost even further by using extra stock instead of the wine and buying carefully and, of course, using homegrown produce as much as possible!

My adaptation of the recipe results in a rich, tasty ragù base that still leaves scope to adapt with additional herbs and spices. It is moist without being too saucy, so you can also easily increase sauce levels by adding, for example, extra tomato puree and stock and/or oat-based yoghurt/cream/crème Fraiche options.

You’ll need a large saucepan for this recipe, at least 7 pint/3.3 litres.  Remember to keep stirring to the depths of the pan to ensure nothing sticks. There is a fair amount of preliminary chopping to be done so a food processor will speed up the process but do ensure you pulse the mushrooms and walnuts to keep the texture fairly course.

Ingredients for my favourite vegan ragù

2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
6 fat garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp smoked paprika
400g chestnut mushrooms, coarsely chopped
200ml vegan red wine
4 bay leaves
3 tins chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
600ml mushroom stock ( I like Knorr mushroom stock pots)
500g green lentils
6 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp pul biber
150g walnuts, coarsely chopped
4 tsp vegetable bouillon powder (or veggie stock pot)
Small bunch of basil, leaves roughly torn
Flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method for my favourite vegan ragù

  1. Heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the chopped onions and a small pinch of sea salt and cook gently for 5 minutes without browning.
  2. Add carrots and celery and cook for another 5 minutes.
  3. Turn heat down low and add the mushrooms, garlic and smoked paprika. Cook, stirring frequently, for another 20 minutes.
  4. Add the wine and turn up the heat high until the liquid has evaporated.
  5. Add the bay leaves, tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, lentils, oregano, pul biber, and 600ml mushroom stock. Season with salt and pepper, bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes.
  6. Add walnuts, bouillon powder, torn basil leaves, and 500ml boiling water. Cover and simmer gently for another 20 minutes.
  7. Remove the bay leaves and, if not using immediately, leave to cool completely.

Storing my favourite vegan ragù

  1. This mushroom, lentil and walnut ragù will keep covered in the fridge for at least 3 days. (I set my fridge to 3°C to extend the life of food in my fridge and, on that basis, would happily keep this in the fridge for up to 5 days.)
  2. To freeze, divide between suitable sealable containers. Elly recommends 300g portions, and this recipe should make 12 portions that size. Adapt the portion sizes according to household size/personal requirements. Label and date each portion and store for up to 3 months. Either defrost in the fridge overneat or re-heat very gently from frozen.


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