Meatless "Meat" Sauce

Even though we eat a lot of meatless meals - for both health and budget reasons - the littlest part of me reacts against any meatless recipe that claims to be "as good as the real thing." C'mon, just let meat be its thing - more delicious and therefore better - and enjoy meatless for whatever good reasons you have. Don't get me wrong, I'm not even a big meat-eater. I think a hearty veggie stew with crusty bread and cheese is a perfectly good meal and serve that quite often in my house. I don't crave fat steaks and I don't salivate over the thought of juicy hamburgers. But, I still believe that some meaty meals just need MEAT and couldn't possibly be good without. Like hamburgers. Or maybe chili. Definitely a meat sauce, right? Think again! I saw this recipe in Cook's Illustrated for a Meatless "Meat" Sauce and that same skepticism turned into curiosity and I had to try it. The ingredients list is simple and full of things I always have in my pantry.  Verdict? It's pretty delicious. The mushrooms go a long way in boosting the flavor and the chickpeas do a surprisingly good job of mimicking the texture of a meat sauce. It's a really simple recipe that takes no more than 30 minutes, at the end of which you have a perfectly good red sauce to serve with any kind of pasta. The real judges for recipes like this are children, and I've got three of those to confirm that this recipe is, in fact, a winner.

Meatless "Meat" Sauce


  • 10 ounces cremini mushrooms

  • 1 onion, chopped

  • 3 tbsp olive oil

  • 5 cloves garlic

  • 1 tsp dried oregano

  • 1/2 tsp parsley

  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary

  • 1/2 tsp dried basil

  • 1/4 cup tomato paste

  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth

  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained

  • (one parmesan rind)

  • salt and pepper


  1. Put mushrooms in a food processor and pulse until mushrooms are cut into uniformly small pieces, about 1/8 - 1/4 inch size. Don't bother washing out the processor.

  2. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and cook until the moisture has been cooked off and they've started to brown.

  3. Meanwhile, pulse onion in food process until finely chopped.

  4. Add onion to mushrooms and cook together until soft and beginning to brown.

  5. Add the dried herbs, garlic, and tomato paste with the remaining 1 tbsp oil and cook for another minute until fragrant.

  6. Add broth and crushed tomatoes. If you have a parmesan rind, add this to the pot as well. for some added richness of flavor. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for 15 minutes. At this point add salt and pepper to taste.

  7. Pulse chickpeas in food processor until chopped into uniformly 1/4 inch-or-so pieces.

  8. Add chickpeas to sauce, let simmer for another 5 minutes.

  9. If sauce is too thin for your taste, let simmer uncovered until thickened. If sauce is on the thicker side, reserve some of the pasta's cooking water and use to thin out the sauce.

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated