When I was in elementary school I ate in the cafeteria. It was the “cool” thing to do after all, since homemade brown bag lunches were sooo kindergarten. At the time, I thought that the highly processed offerings behind the sneeze guard were a dream come true: pizza, burgers, chicken fingers, fish sticks, mac n’ cheese. But the very best thing of all in my first-grader opinion? Sloppy Joes.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about (ahem, mostly everyone outside North America), a Sloppy Joe is like a stew-y, wet hamburger. I’ve also heard it been called a “loose meat sandwich”. Stay with me, people – I realize how riduclously unappetizing this sounds. As a kid, eating a Sloppy Joe was like getting permission to make a mess – a rare, sanctioned moment to smear sauce all over your face, drip on your plate, and have your whole meal basically deteriorate into a pile of savoury, saucy, deliciousness that you were allowed to eat with your hands?! Isn’t this every kid’s dream? Because eating a Sloppy Joe is just that: it’s sloppy. And that is why it’s awesome.
Sloppy Joes are definitely not on top of the “sophisticated food” list, but that does not mean that they should be discriminated against. When made with plant-based, whole food ingredients, they are in fact quite the respectable meal. Perfect for chilly autumn and winter nights when all you want to do is tuck into something super cozy and comforting, Sloppy Joes are a one-way ticket to the land of savoury satisfaction. Since the temperatures have dropped here in Copenhagen, I’ve been craving this kind of meal like crazy, so I’m more than happy to have a healthy solution at hand, and of course to share it with you.
The classic Sloppy Joe recipe includes ground beef cooked with onions and garlic, crushed tomatoes, ketchup, sugar and some spices. Sometimes there are some token carrots and celery tossed in, sometimes vinegar, mustard, or chilies, but the basic idea is a moist mixture that you pile on top of a bun. But! In my vegan Plant-Powered version, I’ve replace the ground beef with black lentils and mushrooms. I suggest using this type of lentil for this recipe since they are very small, and they maintain their shape and texture while cooking. And if you care about appearances, or perhaps “fooling” someone, they look the most like ground beef. Just sayin’.
The flavouring elements of the Plant-Powered Sloppy Joe mix are diverse and potentially strange-sounding, but trust me, altogether just right. Balsamic for a sweet hit of acidity, Sriracha for a little heat, and cumin and paprika add smoky complexity. I also tossed in some walnuts because I am a firm believer in texture, and all that mushiness needed buffering! I toasted them lightly before giving them a rough chop and a stir through the thick lentil mixture. I love how their nuttiness comes through the rich sauce and adds even more deliciousness. I also made a simple slaw from red cabbage to add more crunch and freshness, plus some token sprouts. These items are optional, but I really love the bright contrast they provide against the rich lentil filling.
Fill up on Folate
Lentils are one of the yummiest sources of folate. Just one cup of cooked lentils provides you with almost 90% of your daily recommended intake! And why is folate so important? You’ve probably heard about this vital B-vitamin in regards to pregnancy, as it is critical in the prevention of birth defects, but folate also functions to support red blood cell production and help prevent anemia, allows nerves to function properly, helps prevent osteoporosis-related bone fractures, and helps prevent dementias including Alzheimer’s disease.
Folate received its name from the Latin word folium, meaning “foliage”, so it’s not wonder that other excellent sources of folate are dark leafy greens (yum, your favorite!) – kale, romaine lettuce, spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, beet greens, mustard greens, parsley, and collards to name a few. This may explain why North American diets seem to be on the deficient end of things when it comes to this B-vitamin, as folate is available from fresh, unprocessed food. The good news is it is easily absorbed, used, and stored by the body. Folate is also manufactured by intestinal bacteria (remember those probiotics?), so if colon flora is healthy, we have another good source of this important vitamin.
Find the most high-vibe buns or bread you can get your hands on for this recipe. I used wholegrain sourdough buns from my local organic bakery, then toasted them lightly before drowning them in vegan sloppy goodness. You can also eat these open-faced if you’d like to cut back on the bread. Or pull an alt-bread move and wrap it in socca, a cabbage leaf, or use it to top a crispbread (although, let’s be honest: the bun rules).
I should also mention that the sloppy joe filling was totally delicious on its own as a stew, and thinned with a little water to make soup! Bonus.
Plant-Powered Sloppy Joes
Makes 6-8 sandwiches
6-8 wholegrain sourdough buns
1 batch Simple Cabbage Slaw (recipe follows)
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
sprouts for topping, if desired
1 cup / 230g black lentils
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
135g brown button mushrooms, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. smoked paprika (hot or sweet, your choice)
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. Sriracha
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 14oz. / 400ml can crushed organic tomatoes
½ cup / 60g walnuts, roughly chopped
Simple Cabbage Slaw
2 cups shredded red cabbage
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
½ Tbsp. pure maple syrup
a couple pinches sea salt
1. Soak lentils overnight if possible. Drain, rinse, and place in a medium saucepan. Cover with about 3 cups / 750ml water, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer until tender, about 15-20 minutes (cook time will depend on whether or not you’ve soaked them).
2. While the lentils are cooking, melt the coconut oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and salt, stir to coat, and cook for about 15 minutes until starting to caramelize. Add the garlic, mushrooms and red pepper and cook for about 5 minutes or so until fragrant. Next add the cumin, paprika, black pepper and stir to coat. Stir in the Sriracha, balsamic, and can of tomatoes.
3. Drain and rinse the lentils, add them to the pan with the veggies and spices. Give it all a stir and let simmer for a few minutes for the flavours to meld.
4. In a separate skillet over medium heat, lightly toast the walnuts until golden in places and fragrant. Give them a rough chop and add them to the lentil mixture.
5. Have a taste and adjust the seasoning to suit you. Add more salt if necessary, more balsamic for sweet-tartness, or Sriracha for heat.
6. Make the Simple Cabbage Slaw by combining all the ingredients in a large bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning to suit you.
7. Toast your buns and ladle and a generous amount of the sloppy joe filling over the top of one half. Top with the Simple Cabbage Slaw, red onion and some sprouts, if desired. Top with the other half of the bun, and tuck in!
Show me your Sloppy Joes on Instagram: #MNRsloppyjoes