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. 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 represents a culinary journey—from Peru to Italy and back. For a hearty combinado, serve with papa a la huancaína.
- In an 8-quart pot, heat oil over medium heat. Sauté carrots, stirring until they brown slightly, about 5 minutes. Add red onion and garlic. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano. Sauté until onion becomes translucent, about 5 minutes. Add bell pepper and celery; stir until the pepper softens, about 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and pour in 1 cup vegetable stock plus canned tomatoes. Use an immersion blender to puree the ingredients in the pot. If needed, tip pot to submerge blender in the sauce. Add remaining stock, lentils, cinnamon, and bay leaf.
- Return to heat, cover partially to prevent splattering, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, until sauce thickens and lentils are cooked. Stir occasionally to prevent sauce from sticking to the bottom of pot. Remove from heat and stir in agave.
- In a tall pot, boil the pasta according to package instructions, then strain.
- For each serving of pasta, toss with 1/2 cup sauce. Serve on plates or bowls and grate Parmesan over pasta.
Nico Vera is a freelance writer, photographer, and vegan chef from Peru. He has contributed stories about Peru’s food and drink culture to Taste, Fare, Whetstone, Eaten, and New Worlder. A former mathematician, he’s also an accomplished percussionist and long-distance trail runner. On a mission to veganize Peru’s traditional cuisine, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, with his fiancée Alec and their daughter Rio.