This week, I’m showing you how to make a delicious meat-free ragu that will impress family, friends, and neighbours!
It’s a really easy dish to make, with just a handful of ingredients, it tastes great, and it packs a fantastic wallop of nutrients into every bite.
Preparation time: ~15 minutes
Cooking time: ~60 minutes
Calories per serving: 258 (ragu alone); 536 (with spelt fusilli)
Protein per serving: 10,4g (ragu alone); 15,6g (with spelt fusilli)
2 medium yellow or brown onions, chopped/diced
2 tins of whole peeled tomatoes, 400g each
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 bell-peppers, mixed or colours of your choosing, diced
30g basil leaves, fresh
15g cilantro leaves, fresh, coarsely chopped
15g arugula, fresh (may substitute italian parsley)
100g spring/green onions, fresh, chopped
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried italian herbs
1 tsp sugar (brown or white)
salt & black pepper, to taste
30g crushed garlic
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed
optional: 3 whole chilis, thinly sliced (adjust quantity/type to your tastes)
40g organic spelt fusilli/serving (you can substitute any pasta of your choice)
Let’s get cooking!
Once your ingredients are all prepared, you’ll want to heat up the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Once the oil is warm, add in the onions, spring onions, and diced up peppers. I used these lovely multicolored peppers, because they add a wonderful richness to the sauce. The almost-bitter green peppers are offset nicely by the sweetness of the yellow and red peppers.
Grab your spatula and give everything a good stir every-so-often so that it cooks evenly, and nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. You really want to give these veggies a chance to soften up a little. Once the onions are just starting to turn golden, and you’ve cooked off most of the moisture that the mixture released, you can add in the crushed garlic; just set it atop the pile so that it doesn’t burn, and then slowly start to stir it in.
Once the garlic is cooked (you’ll notice it change color), open the tomatoes and pour all the contents in, including the all-important juice! Add in a little bit of sugar (a teaspoon usually does it, depending on how acidic the tomatoes are), a sprinkle of salt, the dried herbs (I usually use oregano and a pre-packaged mix of Italian herbs), and liberal amounts of freshly ground black pepper.
Cover your pan for a few minutes and turn the heat up to bring the mixture to a boil, then dial back down to medium-low heat and let the tomatoes soften as everything simmers away for the next few minutes. Take the lid off, and begin to gently crush the tomatoes with your spatula (careful not to send anything flying!), releasing even more juice into the pan. Now add in the lentils and quinoa. They should be uncooked, but rinse the lentils off beforehand, and the quinoa too (unless its packaging tells you this step isn’t necessary!)
Stir it all in evenly. If there isn’t enough liquid in your pan to cover everything, you can add in about 1/2 cup of boiling water, or vegetable stock if you have some on hand. Cover and simmer away, stirring occasionally.
The secret ingredients in this dish are the cilantro and the arugula. Cilantro is such a versatile herb, though it’s a little unexpected in an Italian-inspired dish. Combined with the peppery-nutty flavor of the arugula, it really gives many sauces a very pleasant lift and adds some complexity to the dish’s profile. And, of course, basil is a mainstay ingredient in almost any tomato-based pasta sauce. I like to keep the leaves whole, but I tear the stems off. Once the dish has been simmering for 10 or so minutes, add in the herbs, give it all a good stir, and set the lid back on.
You’ve earned a few minutes off your feet by now. Kick back a little while waiting for the lentils to soften and the quinoa to cook through. Depending on the brands you bought, this will usually take around 45 minutes.
At the 30 minute or so mark, stir in the chilis if you’ve chosen to add them, and bring a separate pot of water to the boil for the pasta. Add about 2 tsps of salt to the water, and throw in the pasta once it’s boiling. You can use any pasta you like (or substitute zucchini noodles, if you want a low-carb option!); I’ve chosen to go with an organic spelt fusilli, because it’s a wholegrain pasta that’s packed with fibre, and adds a little more protein to the whole dish.
Stir the pasta regularly, and check on your sauce. You can tell when the quinoa is cooked because you’ll see the “tails” – small white rings that are actually the grain’s germ (okay, yes, I know it isn’t really a grain!) – emerge. Check the lentils by tasting, and season with additional sugar, salt or pepper if necessary. If the sauce needs additional liquid, you can use some of the water that the pasta is cooking in; not only is it already hot, but it will give the sauce a lovely thick consistency because of all the starch in it that’s come off of the pasta.
There is nothing in this world worse than overcooked pasta, so keep an eye on it, and drain it once it’s almost al dente. I usually take my pasta off when it’s still a little underdone, knowing that it will cook a little bit more when I toss it with the warm sauce. Once your sauce has reduced to be thick and delicious instead of watery, you’re ready to serve up and dig in.
And there you have it, a vegan ragu that should satisfy even the fussiest of palates, and a healthy, nutritious meal to boot.