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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.

Megan holding a plate with two lentil sloppy joes near a campfire

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.

A plate of sloppy joes and grilled corn

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.

Red lentil sloppy joes ingredients spread out on a camping table

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.

Megan sauteeing onions and peppers

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.

Red lentil sloppy joes filling cooking in a pot on a camping stove

Ingredient Notes

‣ 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)

Megan holding up a red lentil sloppy joe

Red Lentil Sloppy Joes

A plant-based approach to a classic camping recipe, these easy one-pot Red Lentil Sloppy Joes are a nutritious, protein-packed addition to your camp menu.
Author: Fresh Off the Grid
4.72 from 28 votes
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
2 sandwiches

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 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

To Serve

  • 2 buns

Instructions

  • 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!

Notes

MAKE IT AHEAD

This recipe can be made at home ahead of your trip. Pack the cooked lentils in Tupperware and reheat in a pot over your camp stove. Toast the buns and you're ready to go!

NUTRITION INFO

Calories are based on the lentil filling - the nutritional values of buns vary greatly so you'll need to take that into account with whatever buns you choose. 

Nutrition (Per Serving)

Calories: 283kcal
*Nutrition is an estimate based on information provided by a third-party nutrition calculator
Main Course
Camping
camping food, lentils, one pot meal
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  1. 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.5 stars

    1. 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!

      Cheers,
      Megan

  2. 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

    1. 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”.5 stars

  3. 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!5 stars

    1. 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.

  4. 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!5 stars

  5. 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!5 stars

  6. 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!5 stars

  7. 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.

  8. 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!!!!!5 stars

  9. 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.4 stars

  10. 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.2 stars

    1. 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.

  11. 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.5 stars

  12. 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!

  13. I made this tonight for my family. My omnivore son went for seconds! It was very delicious. This one’s a keeper!5 stars

  14. This has become a regular recipe in our house. It’s fast, simple, inexpensive and delicious. Even the toddler likes it. Thank you!!5 stars

  15. 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.5 stars

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

    1. 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.