Lentil Sloppy Joes (Stove or Slow Cooker)


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Lentil sloppy joes let you enjoy a low-budget, plant-based version of a childhood classic – With hearty, protein-dense lentils in a sweet, savory, smoky tomato-based sauce piled onto a fluffy bun for a comforting, satisfying, meat-free meal!

completed Lentil Sloppy Joes (Stove or Slow Cooker) in a hamburger bun

Super Hearty and Filling Vegan Sloppy Joes with Lentils

Sloppy joes, a sandwich traditionally made with a saucy ground beef mixture, are a popular American family meal (and a nostalgic childhood favorite). However, did you know it’s really easy to make super hearty vegan sloppy joes with lentils loaded with fiber, plant-based protein, and enough flavor to keep the entire family happy?

 In fact, this recipe for vegan sloppy joes has nearly all the same flavor notes as regular sloppy joes since the sweet and savory, slightly smoky, tomato-based sauce is made with almost identical ingredients. The difference? These vegetarian lentil sloppy joes rely on protein and nutrient-dense red lentils to replace the meat.

Served on a fluffy bun, these red lentil sloppy joes are a cozy, filling, satisfying meal. Plus, using lentils makes these a super inexpensive meal you can pull together with pantry staples on the stovetop or in a slow cooker with minimal effort – whichever suits your needs best.

Looking for more hearty, crowd-pleasing sandwiches? Check out our recipes for Jackfruit ‘pulled pork’ sandwiches, BBQ tempeh sandwiches, and crispy buffalo tofu sandwiches.

The Ingredients

ingredients for Lentil Sloppy Joes (Stove or Slow Cooker) on a white surface
  • Lentils: We used red lentils, which break down into a tender mixture. However, you may also be able to use green lentils (refer to the FAQs).
  • Vegetables: We use a classic, flavorful mirepoix base of yellow onion, carrot, and celery, as well as a green bell pepper (though a red pepper will be fine too).
  • Vegetable broth: Use vegetable broth or a combination of veg bouillon and water.
  • Garlic: Fresh garlic cloves are best, but powdered garlic works in a pinch.
  • Seasonings: You need a simple combination of pantry spices to create a deep, flavor-packed recipe for lentil sloppy joes.
    • Paprika (Regular + optionally smoked paprika)
  • Tomato sauce: You’ll need a 15-oz can of tomato sauce. If you don’t have enough, you may be able to use a can of fire-roasted tomatoes.
  • Vegan Worcestershire sauce: Check the ingredients to ensure it’s vegan. This adds a tangy, umami-rich depth to the lentil sloppy joes recipe.
  • Ketchup & Mustard: A little of both helps add sweet and tangy depth.
  • Fresh parsley: (or green onions) To garnish the red lentil sloppy joes for color/freshness.
  • Burger buns: Use your favorite dinner rolls, burger buns, or even hotdog buns — regular, whole wheat, gluten-free, etc.

What Else Could I Add?

  • Other veggies: Boost the nutrients with zucchini, mushrooms, kale or spinach, etc.
  • Canned green chiles: For extra flavor and just a little heat.
  • For spice: Add cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes to taste.
  • Sweetener: If the tomato sauce is particularly acidic, you may want to add a small amount of brown sugar, coconut sugar, or maple syrup (start with a teaspoon) to balance the flavors in the vegan sloppy joes recipe.
  • Toppings: Add to the vegan sloppy joes in several delicious ways, including:
    • Sliced onion (regular or red onion for an acidic bite)
    • Pickles (regular cucumber pickles or other veg)
    • Avocado (for creaminess and heart-healthy fats)
    • Shredded lettuce (or cabbage – for fresh, crisp crunch)
    • Vegan cheese (Serve them open-faced with cheese and broil until melted)
    • Slaw mix (with or without the sauce)

How to Make Vegan Lentil Sloppy Joes

  • 1) First, sort through (to remove debris) and rinse the lentils. Then, add them to a small pot with the vegetable broth chili powder, paprika, smoked paprika, cumin, Italian seasoning, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • 2) Mix well, bring to a boil over high heat, then lower to a simmer, cover with a lid, and leave to cook, covered, for 30-35 minutes.
process shot of lentils cooking in pot

Using a pot with a clear lid is best to monitor the lentils. We simmer extra long for more flavor, but you can technically cut this to about 20 minutes – just enough to cook the lentils.

  • 3) Meanwhile, either finely dice the onion, carrot, celery, and bell pepper, and mince the garlic OR process them in a mini food processor to your desired texture.
  • 4) Then, heat a large saucepan/deep skillet over medium-high heat with the oil. Once hot, add the veggie mixture and sauté until fragrant.
  • 5) Stir in the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and mustard, then bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat and add the cooked lentils (including any excess liquid from the pan).
  • 6) Mix well, cover, and continue to simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to avoid scorching/burning.

If the mixture is still too runny, continue to simmer uncovered in 10-minute increments until ready. To test for readiness, use a spoon to push the mixture to the sides of the pot. If the empty gap left behind the spoon starts to close, it’s not ready. If it remains open, it’s ready.

  • 7) Finally, transfer the mixture to dinner buns (optionally toasted), top with chopped parsley, and enjoy!
completed Lentil Sloppy Joes (Stove or Slow Cooker) in a bowl and on a bun on a white surface

FAQs

How to thicken lentil sloppy joe ‘meat’?

In this vegan sloppy joes recipe, the lentil mixture naturally thickens by simmering it. However, if you reach the end of step 6 and it still seems very loose, you could add cornstarch (in a slurry) to thicken the sauce rather than continue to simmer. Add about a tablespoon and increase the heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Repeat with more if necessary.

Can I use green lentils?

That should work fine. Just note that while red lentils break down for a more tender sloppy joe mixture, green lentils will provide more bite and overall texture. The simmer time may also need to be increased slightly.  

Can I use canned lentils?

Though it may work, we haven’t tried this lentil sloppy joe recipe with canned lentils. Just make sure to only use enough broth to cover the veggies, and simmer for only long enough for them to become tender.

Pro Recipe Tips

  • For quick prep: Some grocery stores sell pre-prepared mirepoix mixture. Alternatively, use a food processor to blitz the veggies.
  • Season to taste: Taste the mixture when it’s almost ready and adjust any of the spices/seasonings to your liking.
  • To avoid soggy lentil sloppy joes: Toast the dinner rolls.
  • For a quicker version: Though the flavors won’t be as ‘deep,’ make a quicker lentil sloppy joe mix by simmering the lentils just enough to cook (15-20 minutes), then discarding excess liquid before simmering with the veggies for 10-15 minutes until it thickens.
completed Lentil Sloppy Joes (Stove or Slow Cooker) in a hamburger bun

Slow Cooker Lentil Sloppy Joes

Saute the aromatics in a skillet as usual, then transfer everything (except the parsley and buns) to the slow cooker, stir, and cook on LOW for 5-6 hours or HIGH for 2-3 hours.

Check on the lentil sloppy joes filling occasionally to see if there’s enough liquid in the mixture. Don’t open the lid unless necessary, though, as it adds cooking time.

What to Serve with Vegan Sloppy Joes?

How to Store?

Allow the lentil sloppy joe mix to cool, and then store the leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.

It will also freeze well in a freezer-safe Ziplock/Stasher or container (spread flat with air squeezed out) for 2-3 months.

Leave it to thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating it in the microwave or on the stovetop. Add a little more water/vegetable broth if it’s too thick.

More Vegan Lentil Recipes

Photos by Alfonso Revilla

  • 1 cup green lentils, rinsed
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 vegetable bouillon cubes
  • 3 teaspoons of chili powder, divided
  • 3 teaspoons of paprika, divided
  • 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika (optional)
  • 3 teaspoons of cumin, divided
  • 2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning, divided
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons of neutral oil
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of vegan-friendly Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon of mustard
  • ½ cup of chopped parsley
  • Burger buns
  • Over medium high heat, add the lentils to a small pot. Add the water, boullion cubes, 1 teaspoon of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of paprika, ½ teaspoon of smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning, a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, bring to boil, cover, and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook covered for 30 to 35 minutes.
  • While the lentils cook, add the onion, celery, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic to a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped but not mushed. If you don’t have a food processor, you can finely chop everything by hand.

  • Heat the oil in a large pot with a lid over medium high heat. Add the onion mixture and cook until fragrant. Add the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and mustard. Mix well and bring to boil, lower the heat and add the cooked lentils together with any excess liquid.

  • Mix well, cover, and cook on a low simmer for 30 minutes. Stir every 10 minutes to prevent burning. During this time, the mixture will thicken up and the lentils will continue to cook and break down.

  • Uncover and cook for another 30 minutes if the mixture is still too runny. To test if the mixture is ready, push the mixture to the sides of the pot, make a well in the middle. If the mixture quickly starts to close the well, it is not ready. If the mixture does not move and the well stays the same size, the mixture is ready.

  • Add the chopped parsley and serve on the burger buns.

  • For quick prep: Some grocery stores sell pre-prepared mirepoix mixture. Alternatively, use a food processor to blitz the veggies.
  • Season to taste: Taste the mixture when it’s almost ready and adjust any of the spices/seasonings to your liking.
  • To avoid soggy lentil sloppy joes: Toast the dinner rolls.
  • For a quicker version: Though the flavors won’t be as ‘deep,’ make a quicker lentil sloppy joe mix by simmering the lentils just enough to cook (15-20 minutes), then discarding excess liquid before simmering with the veggies for 10-15 minutes until it thickens.

Calories: 474kcalCarbohydrates: 69gProtein: 20gFat: 15gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 5gMonounsaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0.04gSodium: 1244mgPotassium: 1168mgFiber: 21gSugar: 13gVitamin A: 5281IUVitamin C: 49mgCalcium: 184mgIron: 9mg

Disclaimer: Although plantbasedonabudget.com attempts to provide accurate nutritional information, kindly note that these are only estimates. Nutritional information may be affected based on the product type, the brand that was purchased, and in other unforeseeable ways. Plantbasedonabudget.com will not be held liable for any loss or damage resulting for your reliance on nutritional information. If you need to follow a specific caloric regimen, please consult your doctor first.

Course: Dinner

Cuisine: American

Method: Stovetop

Diet: Vegan


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