This vegan bolognese with soy curls is a delightful lightened-up vegan version of the classic bolognese sauce. If you are new to soy curls recipes, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the meaty texture they yield to this oil-free vegan bolognese sauce. Make this vegan bolognese pasta gluten-free by using gluten-free pasta.
Long before I went vegan in 2013, I often made a variation of bolognese sauce using ground beef, heavy cream and shredded parmesan cheese. I thought that my diet was quite healthy, but looking back at it, I’m shocked by how much of a fat and cholesterol bomb that dish was.
Recently I set out on a quest to come up with a lighter bolognese sauce recipe that’s also vegan. I also wanted it to be easier and quicker to make. Traditional meat-based bolognese sauce is supposed to simmer on the stove for 3 hours or more, but let’s be honest: few of us have that kind of time.
To make my vegan bolognese sauce lighter, I decided to use soy curls, cashew cream, and nutritional yeast instead of beef, heavy cream, and parmesan. There’s plenty of flavor and texture, but not nearly as much cholesterol – or animal cruelty.
It took me a few tries to get my vegan bolognese pasta just right.
To give the sauce a meat-like texture using soy curls, I first tried to process re-hydrated soy curls into fine crumbs in a food processor. That didn’t work out well because the tender soy curls broke down into almost a paste after just a few pulses.
I still made the sauce using those soy curls, and it came out tasting fine, but it lacked the traditional meat crumb texture.
So for my next attempt, I roughly chopped the re-hydrated soy curls to get them to the size a bit smaller than a chickpea. That worked out great, so that’s the method I’m sharing below.
Another mistake (but not a terrible one) was using the wrong kind of pasta. I tried making my vegan bolognese recipe with spaghetti and penne, and while it tasted fine, something was still missing.
Then I tried tossing the sauce with fettuccine pasta. I rarely buy fettuccine because it’s one of my husband’s least favorite pasta shapes, but after reading that the traditional methods of making bolognese pasta call for a broad type of noodle, I decided to give it a try.
Honestly, it made all the difference! The broad fettuccine holds the sauce, and gives my vegan bolognese a perfect rustic Italian feel. Plus, doesn’t it look so dramatic?
I can anticipate some questions, so here we go:
What are soy curls?
Soy curls are a healthy and lean vegan meat alternative made from shredded non-GMO soybeans. They have a fairly plain, light flavor and a texture that resembles cooked chicken.
Soy curls are sold dry, so you need to re-hydrate them with water or broth to use in recipes (see tips below).
While they don’t look much like the soybeans they are made from, soy curls are considered a whole food because soybeans are the only ingredient they contain.
Whole soybeans are slowly cooked until they become soft, then shredded into strands by a special machine. The strands are then dried and packaged (source).
My recipe for vegan fajita filling with soy curls offers an easy and tasty way to use soy curls as a filling for vegan tacos, burritos, fajitas, etc.
Why do you use soy curls in this vegan bolognese recipe?
I chose to use soy curls in my bolognese sauce for two reasons: to keep things healthy and plant-based, and to get a texture similar to meat.
While there are a lot of meat alternatives on the market today, most of them are heavily processed. That doesn’t mean I never eat them, but if I want to keep things on a healthier side, soy curls are my go-to choice.
I know that there are a lot of vegan bolognese recipes that use lentils, eggplant, etc. in place of meat, but I wanted to keep the texture more authentic than what veggies would allow.
How do you re-hydrate soy curls?
The process of re-hydrating soy curls is easy. Put your soy curls in a bowl, pour boiling hot water over them, and let them sit for 8-10 minutes until each strand is soft. You can also use veggie broth instead of water to add flavor.
They will expand quite a bit during this process, so make sure your bowl is at least twice as big as the amount of soy curls you’re re-hydrating.
How do you make vegan bolognese sauce with soy curls?
To make my vegan bolognese sauce with soy curls, I first re-hydrate dried soy curls (see above), then chop them into pieces about the size of a chickpea or a little smaller.
Then I heat a large saute pan (I use one similar to this), and saute finely chopped carrots, celery and onions in a few spoonfuls of water or broth (oilve oil is OK too if you don’t follow an oil-free diet). See the ingredient proportions in the recipe card below.
Then I add minced garlic, good quality tomato paste, veggie broth or water, a splash of white wine, a bay leaf, and a pinch of nutmeg. The traditional bolognese doesn’t usually call for additional spices, but I often add oregano, thyme and rosemary.
I let everything simmer on medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the liquid reduces by half.
In the meantime, I blend raw cashews with additional veggie broth or water to make cashew cream. This works best when using a high speed blender (I use an older version of this one), but a regular blender will work too if you pre-soak cashews for at least 2 hours.
Then I add the cashew cream and chopped soy curls into the pan with the tomato-veggie mix. I season the sauce with salt and pepper, mix everything gently with a rubber spatula, cover the pan, and let the sauce simmer on low heat for 10 minutes or longer if I have time.
At the end, I check my vegan bolognese sauce for seasoning, and add a sprinkling of nutritional yeast. If I just need the sauce, I take the saute pan off the heat.
To make vegan bolognese pasta, I add cooked pasta to the pan with the sauce 2-3 minutes before the sauce is done to let the pasta heat through. If the mixture gets too thick, I add a few splashes of reserved pasta cooking water (always save about a cup when you cook pasta!).
Can I use this vegan bolognese sauce in other recipes?
Yes! While I haven’t tried this yet, I bet this sauce will work wonderfully in vegan lasagna bolognese (this is going on my to-make recipe list). If and when I make it, I’ll report back.
If you try my vegan soy curl bolognese sauce in other recipes, please let me know how they turned out!
Other popular vegan pasta recipes from the blog:
If you’ve tried this recipe, I’d love to hear how it turned out! Rate this recipe below, pin it to Pinterest, tag @vegan_runner_eats on Instagram, or leave a comment.
For vegan bolognese sauce:
- 1.5 cups dry soy curls
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 5 Tbsp tomato paste
- Splash white wine (more or less to taste)
- 1 bay leaf
- pinch nutmeg
- 1 tsp dried thyme (optional)*
- 1 tsp dried oregano (optional)*
- 1 tsp dried rosemary (optional)*
- 2.5 cups water or vegan broth made with Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base
- 1/2 cup raw cashews, pre-soaked in water**
- 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
- Salt, pepper to taste
- 1 8-oz box fettuccine pasta (or your favorite pasta shape)
- 3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- Pour boiling hot water over the soy curls in a bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes, then squeeze and roughly chop into pieces about the size of a chickpea.
- Cook pasta until al dente following the directions on the box. Just before draining, reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Lightly rinse drained pasta with cold water to prevent sticking into a lump.
- Finely chop onions, celery and carrot. Saute in a large saute pan with 1-2 Tbsp of broth (for oil-free) or olive oil (if you're OK with oil) until soft, 4-5 minutes. Mix in the minced garlic.
- Add tomato paste, 1 cup of broth or water, a bay leaf, thyme, oregano and rosemary (if using), and a splash of white wine. Mix well. Simmer on medium-low for about 5 minutes, until the liquid reduces by half.
- Blend raw cashews with the remaining 1.5 cups of water or broth. Add this mixture to the saute pan along with the chopped soy curls, salt, and pepper. Mix well, cover the pan.
- Simmer the sauce on low for about 10 minutes (or longer if you have time). Stir every few minutes to prevent burning. If the sauce becomes too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water.
- Remove bay leaf, add cooked pasta, sprinkle with nutritional yeast (if using). Mix well, cover the pan and let the pasta heat through, about 2-3 min. Take off the heat, mix in chopped parsley.
*The traditional bolognese sauce recipe doesn't include thyme, oregano and rosemary, but I like to add them for an additional boost of flavor.
**No need to soak the cashews if using a high speed blender.
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Serving Size:1 bowl
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 162 Total Fat: 5g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 3g Cholesterol: 1mg Sodium: 208mg Carbohydrates: 25g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 4g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 7g
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This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.com. If you make a purchase through affiliate links on my blog, I receive a very small commission that helps me run this blog, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!