Meatless Monday: An American Classic Goes Healthy – Lentil Sloppy Joes

Classic Joes - Healthy Edition.

Classic Joes – Healthy Edition.

For Meatless Monday, I decided to attempt a re-do of an American classic recipe – Sloppy Joes. I tried a version with a variety of beans, but the beans turned out too starchy for this – not at all resembling ground meat. So then I thought of lentils. These little high-protein gems are packed with nutrients and they are so much easier and handier than using dried beans – no pre-soaking required! Turns out they are similar to the texture I was looking for to replace ground meat.

I used the ingredients I would have used 25 years ago to make Sloppy Joes for one of my kid-friendly desperation dinners – onions, peppers, tomato paste, brown sugar, spices and just a touch of mustard. Takes me back to the big-hair and florescent-fashion 80’s.

Sometimes a vegetarian re-do of a recipe is a distant second to the original in taste. Not so here. I was shocked to find out that this is a BETTER dish than if I had used hamburger. Seriously – much better. Bye, bye ground beef – Hello lentils!


1 1/2 cups brown lentils
2 tablespoons flax seeds
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 red onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce (or wheat-free tamari, for gluten-free)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons powdered oregano
1 tablespoon dried mustard
4 cups water

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add lentils, flax seeds and bay leaf. Boil for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit another 10 minutes. Drain off water and remove bay leaves.

In a large skillet over medium heat, saute onion and green pepper in oil until softened, about 3 minutes. Add in lentils and flax seeds. Stir together remaining ingredients and then stir into skillet mixture. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer, stirring frequently, for another 10 to 30 minutes, until lentils are softened and almost all liquid has evaporated.

Serve over buns of your choice, with a slice of cheese, if desired.

Other veggie Sloppy Joes:
Vegetarian Sloppy Joes, Yum Sugar
Vegetarian Sloppy Joes, Go Dairy Free
Lentil Sloppy Joes, Meatless Mama
Tempeh Sloppy Joes, Dinner Cakes

— posted by Donna

Now included in the Hey, What’s For Dinner, Mom? Meatless Monday Blog Hop!


  1. Brenda says

    I think the flavor of this was good, although my lentils were a mushy mess after the first 30 minutes of boiling. Needless to say, another 30 minutes with 4 cups of water was not going to be a good thing! LOL I think we’d have enjoyed the flavor (less tomato-paste-y) texture (yuck) more had I just forgone the initial 30 min. boiling and added the lentils dry to the cooked onions & peppers along with the rest of the ingredients and cooked it all for the last 30 min of this recipe. Not sure if I just used the wrong type of lentils (I had a mixture of red and green on hand) or what?

    • says

      I have made this recipe dozens of times – with BROWN lentils it turns out perfect every time. The brown lentils are larger and need more cooking, so maybe that’s why you had trouble??? The little orange ones would definitely turn to mush in this recipe without reducing cooking times. Lentil cooking times can vary quite a bit depending on how old they are, etc. I apologize for not specifying brown lentils – and THANK YOU so much for taking the time to leave a comment. I clarified the recipe making the changes in your comment. Sometimes I don’t notice that something is less than clear until pointed out. Please give this a try with brown lentils – I am hoping it will work out better for you.

    • Brenda says

      I had the exact same problem!! Gooshy, icky! Going to try the brown lentils instead and see if that helps. It SOUNDS so yummy, but our 1st experience was not a good one.

  2. says

    Thank you , I enjoy reading about other vegetarians as it gives me the strength to continue. I have about a thousand vegetarian feeds in my google reader, but I’m sure another can’t hurt!! I did manage to find a good lentil recipe here, but I’ll be sure to try yours too. Thanks!

    • says

      Jackelyn – I love lentils! And, they are easier to cook with then beans in many ways – no pre-soaking, etc. This is a yummy recipe – do try!

    • says

      Maria and Amy – So glad you like this recipe – come back and let us know if you do wind up making it. Happy Summer to you!

  3. says


    My copy of “Quesadillas”, your latest book arrived today. Thank you so much for sending it. I am excited and grateful. You’ll never quess what we are having for dinner tonight.!!!

    • says

      Bonnie – So happy you like the book. I just did a segment on Studio 5 today on quesadillas. They are fun to try on the barbecue grill, too!

  4. says

    Looks excellent! We have a tofu version in our “101 Things To Do With Tofu” cookbook, but I’ll bet this is at least as good, if not better!

    Hey partner, next time you make this, try it with the smaller red lentils rather than “regular” green ones. I’ll bet anything you like the texture even more!

  5. Linda says

    We love Sloppy Joes at our house. I never thought of making a vegetable version, but this looks great.

  6. says

    I actually like the texture of lentils way better than that of ground beef. This sounds like a worthy substitute for this American classic! I’m definitely going to have to give it a whirl.


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