Vegan Tallarines Rojos

Thanks to Italian immigrants who settled in Lima in the 1800s, the city’s working class adopted tallarines rojos (red spaghetti), a dish with a tomato sauce that evolved from Italy’s Bolognese sauce. Over time, Lima’s cooks added creole spices such as cumin, cinnamon, and bay leaves. My grandmother prepared this dish for beach picnic outings during my mom’s youth in 1940s Lima, and my mom prepared this dish for our picnic outings when I was a child. Today, I carry on the tradition and prepare tallarines rojos for my family. In this vegan version, cooking red lentils in the sauce provides protein and a creamy consistency, while agave adds a hint of sweetness. Since tomatoes are native to Peru, this dish also represents a culinary journey. The tomato travels from Peru to Italy and returns as a sauce. For a hearty combinado, serve with vegan papa a la huancaina.

Tallarines Rojos / Italian-Peruvian Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce

Serves 8

  • 4 tablespoons canola oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pot
  • 1 cup peeled and diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ½ cup diced red bell pepper
  • ½ cup diced celery
  • One 28-ounce can crushed red tomatoes
  • 2½ cups vegetable stock
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ cup dry red lentils
  • 4 tablespoons agave
  • 8 servings cooked spaghetti
  • grated vegan parmesan cheese, for garnish

In an 8-quart pot, heat oil over medium heat. Sauté the carrots, stirring until they brown slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the red onion and garlic. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano. Sauté until the onion becomes translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper and celery; stir until the pepper softens, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and pour in 1 cup vegetable stock plus canned tomatoes. Use an immersion blender to purée the ingredients in the pot. If needed, tip the pot to submerge the blender in the sauce. Add the remaining stock, lentils, cinnamon, and bay leaf.

Return to the heat, cover partially to prevent splattering, and bring to a simmer. Cook until the sauce thickens and the lentils are cooked, about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Remove from the heat and stir in agave. Compost the cinnamon sticks and bay leaf.

In a tall pot, boil the pasta according to package instructions, then strain.

Toss each serving of pasta with ½ cup of the sauce. Serve on plates or bowls and garnish with grated Parmesan.