One Pot Red Lentil Sloppy Joes
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A plant-based twist on a summer classic, these red lentil sloppy joes pack in just as much flavor (and protein) as the original – but without all the funky extras.
For many, Sloppy Joes are a summertime tradition that evokes fond memories of their youth. The first time I had one was at summer camp, but at the time I didn’t know they were called “sloppy joes”. It was just the sandwich they served on Mystery Meat Mondays.
In the dining hall, the counselors would keep us guessing about what was actually in the tangy meat slurry sandwich. With smiles on their faces, they offered up a variety of endangered animals as possibilities: pandas, bald eagles, rhinoceroses. But even for a summer camp in Connecticut, we knew it was doubtful they had a budget for black market meat like that. In the end, referencing a Simpson episode, we concluded it was most likely a blend of circus animals. Some real genuine grade F meat.
Looking back, I have a lot of questions. About my childhood, that summer camp, and more to the point, this sandwich: the Sloppy Joe. Yes, it was delicious, but my initial perception of it was framed by suspicion and apprehension – like it was some Sweeny Todd concoction. As an adult, I later learned Sloppy Joe’s are made with regular ground beef – which, in today’s highly processed meat industry, is probably the real mystery meat.
So when Megan suggested we make red lentil sloppy joes, I felt it was a good chance to reshape my perception of the dish. Building a recipe from scratch that you’ve only ever had from a can or were served at some ghoulish summer camp, can be a surprisingly productive experience.
This recipe bypasses a lot of the mystery in exchange for whole foods and readily available spices. Red lentils, yellow onion, Anaheim pepper, and garlic comprise the hearty base of the dish. The flavors are then amplified with tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, chili powder, and vegan Worcestershire sauce. All of which are pretty clear and easy to understand. Except, of course, for the Worcestershire (wooster-shire) sauce. But we’ll leave its mysterious origins for another day.
When simmered down, all of these ingredients blend together to make a hearty mix that tastes absolutely delicious between two hamburger buns. Enjoying it at a campsite was great, but knowing with certainty it didn’t contain a single kangaroo or silverback gorilla was even better.
So whether you want a more transparent and honest connection with your sloppy joes, or just want something easy and delicious to make around the campfire, give this red lentil version a try the next time you go camping.
‣ There are a handful of vegan Worcestershire sauces on the market. Our local store carries this one. They even have a gluten-free version! If you’re not vegan/vegetarian, you can use regular Worcestershire sauce instead.
‣ If your grocery store doesn’t carry Anaheim peppers, you can sub with green bell pepper.
‣ If you’re in the PNW, see if you can find Dave’s Killer Bread “Million Dollar Buns”. They are organic & whole-grain while still being so soft and fluffy, and they’re pretty high in protein, too. (#notsponsored)
Red Lentil Sloppy Joes
- Large Pot
- ½ tablespoon oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 Anaheim pepper, diced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup red lentils
- 1 ½ cup water, or broth
- 1 tablespoon mustard
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 buns
- In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the chopped onions and Anaheim pepper. Saute until soft and the onions just begin to turn golden, 3-4 minutes. Add tomato paste and saute for a minute, then add the garlic and cook 1 minute.
- Add the red lentils and 1 ½ cup water to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are pretty tender but not falling apart.
- Add mustard, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire, chili powder, and salt. Stir to combine. Simmer until the sauce thickens a bit, 3-5 minutes more.
- Serve on toasted buns with whatever toppings and sides you love!
This looks absolutely delicious. Vegan too! Plus letil has so much nutrients. Can’t wait to try it.
I copied this red lentil sloppy joe recipe a few years back, and I really enjoyed it. Then, when my grandson, who is now 3, started eating solid foods, I made again. He absolutely gobbled it down. Now when I ask what he’d like me to make, he says, “red lentil sloppy joes,” and his pronunciation is pretty perfect.
I had tried finding your blog with no success- even searching on the recipe name- but then I found a screenshot in an old photo and found my way back. I’m thrilled and look forward to trying other recipes.
This was awesome! I made it ahead of a camping trip, because I wanted to try it before being out with something new. I really like how it tastes. It was easy to make. I used low sodium vegetable broth, half the chili powder and left out the Anaheim pepper. I am going to have to add this to my regular meals at home. Thanks for you recipe.
We’re so happy you enjoyed this, Tracy! Good call on trying it out before your trip, and your changes sound perfect for those that might like a little less heat. Thanks for your input!
Excited about this one too. Already had red lentils ready to go camping but this makes for a fun alternative to curred lentils + rice, my usual. Yes! Thank you. Betsy- Durham NC
We made this and it was fabulous. Brought whole grain buns in our stash. Even was able to offer it to some people that arrived in the dark to set up camp near us and were hungry. I would not make this ahead unless you want to. It is super easy and fast to make at the campsite, and to spice up to your preference level. For more traditional sloppy joe types, or in a pinch, these delicious fresh sauce ingredients can be substituted with “barbecue sauce”.
These were amazing! Instead of water I used broth ( made it with Better Than Bouillon No Beef – Base). Even my husband, who typically doesn’t love the meatless meals I concoct , seemed to really enjoy this 🙂 Thanks!
I get all three flavors of Better Than Bouillon bases at Costco. They are low-sodium – about 360 mg per teaspoon, and I usually only add abou 1 tsp. To 4 cups of water. It’s the best and so much more economical than buying broths in boxes or cans.
I am not vegan, vegetarian or super health conscious, I just wanted a different recipe where I could use super cheap bulk lentils. I think my family was getting tired of Indian meals and soups. This is so simple and amazing! Not to mention super quick, finished them 5 min quicker and were already super tender, which was great because my preschooler was already asking for food when I began getting the ingredients out. I have bookmarked and starred this for a regular recipe and big family gatherings in the summer. Big hug to the creator!
Thank you so much! We’re so glad to hear you (and your family) liked it! Red lentils are amazing, but we’ve found that depending on which brand we pick up the cook time can definitely vary.
I’ve made a habit of buying random bags of lentils and beans at the local Indian grocery store, then trying to find a recipe to use them in. So glad I found this one! I used a mix of 5 lentils, and I also added grated carrot and diced tomatoes when I added the garlic, to fit in more veggies. It turned out delicious and I’ll definitely be making it again!
Loved this recipe! Made a few alterations because of food sensitivities and it still turned out great!
So tasty! I used leftover bell pepper and a bit of veggie broth with ours. My toddler devoured an entire bowl of this! This will definitely be on our repeat list. Thank you!
I am really looking forward to making this “sloppy joe” variation. While neither my husband not I are strict vegetarian, we eat very little meat in our diet.
Even if you’re not vegetarian, it’s nice to not have to worry packing meat in a cooler while camping.
It’s Carolyn again!
Wow! I absolutely love this recipe. I doubled it and had plenty to eat as “stew”! I didn’t bother with the bread. It make a great dip as well. It’s good cold as well as hot. Love it!!!!!
I’m not a vegan but I have been trying to limit my meat intake. I’ve never cooked with lentils before, but I made this dish today and it turned out really delicious and easy! And with whole wheat buns it’s far more filling than I imagined. I had two sandwiches and I’m more than stuffed!
Will definitely try more of your recipes.
I really, really wanted to like this! I haven’t eaten a lot of sloppy joes in my life- and if I did-was most likely out of a can. Followed the recipe exactly. Made more than 2 servings; and did not thicken up enough after 8 minutes of simmering to eat without a knife and fork. The taste just wasn’t what I was hoping for.
Hey Susan, we’re really sorry this recipe didn’t turn out for you. We’ve had issues with red lentils in the past, where they just didn’t fluff up and absorb the water properly. We have always chalked it up to them being stale. It’s always a bummer when it happens though. Sorry this one didn’t pan out for you.
Great recipe, I made this at home and substituted a jalapeno pepper for half of the Anaheim and also doubled the batch. This is definitely going in our rotation.
Fantastic Recipe my wife and three girls love it…and we are all about pre making everything for camping, then then you have more time for laughing and playing!
And we did a charred poblano instead of the bell pepper!
I made this tonight for my family. My omnivore son went for seconds! It was very delicious. This one’s a keeper!
Hurray for ‘Sloppy Joes’! I love your recipe and how detailed you were. Will definitely try this on our next trip!
This has become a regular recipe in our house. It’s fast, simple, inexpensive and delicious. Even the toddler likes it. Thank you!!
So so so good. This recipe is spot on. Delicious
This was our favorite recipe during our week long camp outing two weeks ago. We ran out of buns so ate it over fire baked potatoes. So yummy it’s now in our recipe collection for home as well as a great quick meal when backpacking/camping.
That’s so awesome! A sloppy joe stuffed baked potato sounds amazing. We’re definitely going to have to try that!
Really good. We served ours with coleslaw. Great to find vegetarian options for camping.
I’d love to try this recipe. Although, I’m currently in a small town and no place carries red lentils. I did find a package of mixed red, green, and brown lentils. Could that work? Thanks!
We’ve never tried it with a mix of lentils, but it’s definitely worth a shot! So long as they all soften up at the same time, then it should work.
This is the third time I’ve made your recipe. Tripled it this time. It’s so flexible with adding or subtracting to your taste. I’m going to try to dehydrate a batch to take out backpacking.
Thanks! So glad you’ve been enjoying it! If you’re planning on dehydrating it for backpacking, try to use as little oil as possible when sauteeing. Fats/oil can’t be dehydrated and can go rancid over time, so you want to try to reduce the amount you use as more as possible.
I was thinking the same thing about dehydrating to take backpacking. How did it turn out?
Soooo good! Love having a new recipe!! These are a hot. Thank you!
Tried these last night for our first outdoor cookout of the year! The were delicious, even my picky teenagers liked them. I had a question if you don’t mind answering. What recipe plugin to you use. Yours is so clear and easy to read. Thanks!
Glad your kids enjoyed it! We use WP Recipe Maker for our recipe card.
Gah! So good + quick 🙂 Thank you for this!
Omg! This was a hit, although I did alter the recipe a bit. I had made vegan meatballs for camping and had some lentils already made, so when I read the recipe I thought it meant a half a cup of cooked lentils. After I poured the half a cup of cooked lentils and I realized it meant and cooked lentils. So I added a half a cup of uncooked lentils as well LOL. Of course I had to keep adding more broth and a little bit more molasses in a little bit more of everything else. When I actually made them for camping I cut up my vegan meatballs and threw it in the mix to warm it up so it really tasted like sloppy joes with meat! I toasted the bun as well which made it taste that much better.
This is one of my favourite go-to recipes…even at home.
This recipe was easy and delicious. Definitely recommend!
Been doing this recepie for a while now and it’s a staple of our camping menu. I mix the sauce ingredient at home un a small jar.
This is one of my favourite recipes over the fire or at home. Even my meat-loving friends enjoy these tasty Joe’s.
Excellent recipe! I make it for myself frequently, recommended it to a friend who was going camping with a group, and then he was also asked to pass along the recipe to the group. Such a crowd pleaser!
Really good and if the bun is too many calories, we just eat over a slice of bread. All the Sloppy Joe flavor you remember without the meat. We have made it probably 3 times and have shared the recipe with friends and family who have also enjoyed it.
We randomly found this online and made it last week on a camping trip. Many of our friends just brought a sandwich or something canned, but we love finding new recipes for camp cooking and decided on this. Put it on some Hawaiin rolls; it was insanely good! We prepped all of it ahead of time by chopping everything up and measuring out the spices. It was a quick cook once we got the stove going. We had planned for leftovers, but ended up with none as everyone else wanted to try our food! We used multi-colored lentils because that’s what we had; I don’t think it makes a huge difference. I appreciate that it is easy to multiply and we will definitely be making it again. In fact, we just got the ingredients to make it this week at home!
This was absolutely delicious! Put a big dollop off healthy cole slaw on top:)
So glad you enjoyed it! Coleslaw is one of our favorite additions to this, too! That or some fresh cilantro leaves.
This was SO good and I will DEF be making it again.
I didn’t have anaheim pepper but it still turned out great.
Delicious, crowd pleasing recipe, thanks!
Very good recipe! Thank you! ^_^
I made the filling at home and reheated it after it had sat for two days in the cooler. It really does keep well.
My only recommendation is to toast the red lentils on their own a bit before adding the water.
Made this for the first time camping and loved it so much that it’s now a regular meal I make in my kitchen! I’m a meat eater most of the time, but honestly this meal is so delicious I don’t even miss the meat!
Decided to make these for a camping trip to the Badlands. I made it ahead of time and at the campsite just had to heat it up. I used whole wheat buns and just did open face sandwiches and served with bing cherries. Delicious!
Like others, I will also use this recipe at home, not just for camping-so good!
Very good. Excellent contender for gateway vegetarian food for meat lovers. My red lentils were 3 years expired and it still tasted amazing. Thank you for the recipe! ^_^