If you grew up in the 90's, you probably remember Adam Sandler's ode to lunch ladies around the world. I've been unable to eat or make sloppy joes ever since without singing that refrain, and my kids actually think I'm pretty funny for once!
Traditional sloppy joes aren't hard to make, but it turns out it's even easier to make a good vegan sloppy joe than it is to make one with beef! And it's all thanks to one secret ingredient...
The Secret to Vegan Sloppy Joes
Besides being super healthy, green lentils (also known as French lentils, or Puy lentils) are a great substitute for beef in sloppy joes. They cook up beautifully and have just the right texture and structure to be piled high on a bun. They also won't turn mushy like the red lentils used for dal.
If you don't have green lentils, you can use brown lentils as well.
A Few Tips for Making Vegan Sloppy Joes
Here are a few tips for successful vegan sloppy joes:
- Don't cook the lentils in the skillet with the sauce. If you do, they'll soak up too much liquid. Cook the lentils separately, and then stir them into the simmering base sauce.
- Dice everything small. Be sure to dice the onions, peppers, and carrots fairly small so they almost dissolve in the sauce. Then cook those for a few minutes in olive oil before adding the standard yet delicious spices for the "sloppy" sauce—ketchup, tomato sauce, vinegar, and sugar. How can you go wrong with those flavors?
- Add water until the consistency is right. After you stir the cooked lentils into the mix, add some water to combine the flavors. If at any point the mixture seems too dry, add more water to thin it out.
How to Serve Vegan Sloppy Joes
I’m not going to lie—I could just eat a bowl of the lentil sloppy joe filling like it was soup. It’s that good! But that aside, serving these in traditional sloppy joe fashion is the way to go. Toast some buns, and add sliced red onion to the bottom bun, so it doesn’t get too soggy. Then pile on the sloppy joe mixture, pickles, and top bun. Bring napkins!
How to Store Leftovers
Sloppy joe leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a few days. Reheat in a skillet over low heat. Add a splash of water as they reheat to make the mix nice and saucy again.
You can also freeze leftovers for up to three months.
The Dad Add: Sloppy Sweet Potato
Instead of adding something to this sandwich, I decided to think about lunch. The next day I microwaved a sweet potato, split it open, and spooned in some of the sloppy joe mixture for a delicious Dad lunch.
The Kid Report Card
I was skeptical that my kids would eat vegan sloppy joes (it has lentils in it, a definite "weird" food for them), but sometimes the ignorance of youth is your friend at the dinner table. My kids haven’t had much exposure to sloppy joes, so they had no expectations as to what is in them normally. Beef? Veggies? It all seems like a slightly sweet and tangy mix in a sauce.
Once I got them to try a tiny bite, they were all in on it.
The one issue, which I should've predicted, wasn't with the ingredients so much as the sloppiness of the sloppy joes. Neither of my kids are big on messy meals. They want their food to be very separated. This was kind of tough, but I ended up spooning some sloppy joe filling beside the buns and that did the trick: bite of bun, bite of filling, same deal.
Vegan slop, sloppy joes for the win!
More Vegan Dinner Recipes to Enjoy
- Vegan Chickpea Minestrone
- Smoky Vegan Lentil Stew
- Vegan Stuffed Squash with Brown Rice and Mushrooms
- Vegan Mushroom Barley Soup
- Creamy Polenta with White Beans and Roasted Broccoli
Vegan Sloppy Joes
- 1 cup green lentils
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
- 1 green pepper, diced small
- 2 small carrots, diced small
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon mild chili powder
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Buns, for serving
- Sliced red onion, for serving
- Pickles, for serving
Cook the lentils:
Rinse the lentils well and add them to a pot along with 4 cups of water and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer, cover, and continue simmering over low heat until lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain lentils and set aside.
Make the sloppy joe filling:
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, green pepper, carrots, and garlic. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables soften, 5-6 minutes. Stir in spices, ketchup, tomato sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, 1/2 cup of water, and the reserved lentils. Stir well.
Simmer the sloppy joe mixture:
Simmer the mixture for a few minutes to combine flavors. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. It will probably need a pinch of salt and pepper. Add an extra tablespoon of brown sugar to make it sweeter or a dash of apple cider vinegar to make it a bit more tart.
Make the sandwiches:
Toast your buns and add thinly sliced red onions to the bottom half of the bun. Top with 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the vegan sloppy joe filling. Add pickles and eat immediately.
LEFTOVERS: Leftover sloppy joe mixture will store well in the fridge for a few days or it can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Reheat sloppy joe mixture gently over the stove with a splash of water. Spoon it atop a baked sweet potato for lunch the next day if desired!