This vegan sloppy joes recipe is packed with flavor and uses lentils for a delicious, nutritious meat alternative. It’s quick to make in one pot and creates a tasty meal that’s great for meal prep.
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Are Sloppy Joes Vegan?
Sloppy joes are typically made with ground meat (beef being most common) that’s cooked in some type of barbecue-like sauce. They are almost never vegan unless specified as such.
It’s simple to prepare vegan sloppy joes by replacing ground meat with a meat alternative; in this recipe we’ll use lentils.
Sauce ingredients are typically vegan and there may be store-bought sloppy joes sauces near you. I prefer to make my own sloppy joes sauce because it’s so quick to make and tastes far better than pre-made options!
Plant Based Sloppy Joe Ingredients
While the ingredient list for this recipe is a bit longer, the ingredients are all very basic and easy to find. Most of the ingredients are spices or sauces to add flavor to this recipe. There’s plenty of ingredient substitutions listed below but I love the recipe as-is!
- Lentils: Lentils are the base of these vegan sloppy joes. To keep the recipe quick, easy and convenient, I use 2 cans of lentils so they’re ready to dump in after draining and rinsing. You can also use fresh cooked lentils if you have them around. Brown lentils work best for this recipe, but any type can do!
- Canned tomato: To create the base of our sloppy joes sauce, I use a large can of diced tomatoes. Strain away any liquid to help speed the cooking process. Fresh tomatoes also work; if you use them, remove the seedy part because excess liquid takes a while to cook out of the sauce.
- Onion and garlic: To build flavor in this recipe, I use fresh onion and garlic. You could use onion and/or garlic powder for an even quicker, easier recipe. About 1 ½ teaspoon onion powder and/or 1 teaspoon of garlic powder should replace the fresh onion and/or garlic. I love the texture of cooked onion in sloppy joes, so highly recommend using fresh if possible.
- Soy sauce: I like to use soy sauce for a delicious depth of flavor and some salt. You could use tamari for a gluten-free option, or another soy sauce alternative like coconut aminos for a soy-free option. I typically buy low sodium soy sauce then add extra salt as needed for flavor.
- Apple cider vinegar: Some vinegar helps to create a great balance of flavor in any recipe! If you don’t have any apple cider vinegar, white vinegar can also work.
- Maple syrup: The sloppy joes sauce I grew up eating was probably very sweet, so to get that flavor I’ve added some maple syrup. Don’t worry though, this sauce is far from being sweet, but some syrup is a nice addition. You could use any type of vegan liquid sweetener you like if you don’t have access to maple syrup.
- Molasses: Along with maple syrup, I add molasses for its delicious flavor and some added sweetness. Molasses is a common ingredient in barbecue sauces, which is essentially what we’re creating with this recipe.
- Dijon mustard: While this ingredient is optional, I love using Dijon mustard for extra flavor in many of my recipes.
- Ground cumin and chili powder: For smoky and slightly spicy flavor, ground cumin and chili powder are delicious additions to this recipe.
- Dry basil and oregano: A couple dry herbs add yet even more flavor to this recipe! You could technically use any dry herbs, but these two are my favorites.
- Salt and pepper: I add salt and black pepper at the start of cooking since I’ve made this recipe many times and know the amount is perfect for my tastes. If you’re unsure, it’s best to add salt and pepper at the end of cooking. Taste the cooked sloppy joes mix and add salt and/or pepper until the flavor suits your preferences.
How to Make Lentil Sloppy Joes
This is a very easy recipe to make. Simply add your ingredients to a large pot and cook until the sauce is nicely thickened. You’ll need to keep an eye on the pot as it cooks, but if you use a high heat, this only takes about 20 minutes!
Step 1: Prep Ingredients
To prep this recipe, measure all ingredients and add them to a large pot.
If using canned lentils, start by draining and rinsing away the liquid. You can use freshly cooked lentils if you have some on hand.
Next, open a can of diced tomato and use a mesh strainer to drain excess liquid. You’ll need some liquid to create a tasty sauce, but excess liquid takes longer to cook out (for a thick and delicious sauce).
You’ll also need to dice an onion and mince some garlic before adding those ingredients to the pot.
All your remaining ingredients are spices and sauces to add flavor to the recipe. Once they’re in your pot, stir to combine.
Step 2: Cook Sloppy Joes
Bring the pot to a boil over high heat. Cook your sloppy joes until the mixture is thickened, which takes about 20 minutes.
Stir regularly while the mixture cooks as it may stick to the bottom of your pot. It’s particularly important to stir a lot towards the end of the cooking process when most liquid has evaporated. It may be helpful to lower your heat to medium for the final 5 minutes.
The sloppy joes are done when you can scrape across the bottom of the pot and no liquid pools behind where you’ve scraped.
Step 3: Serve
Serve your vegan sloppy joes hot on buns along with any toppings you like. Some tasty additions to these sandwiches are:
- Mashed avocado or guacamole
- Vegan mayonnaise
- Tomato, sliced onion, lettuce, sliced radish or other veggies
How to Create a Balanced Vegan Meal
This recipe uses lentils which offer plant-based protein and carbohydrates. There are also some vegetables in the sauce (tomato and onion). You’re also likely to serve these lentil sloppy joes on a bun which provides additional carbohydrates.
While all of this is great, the meal is quite low in fat, so I’d include some fats on the sandwich (avocado or mayonnaise) or serve these sloppy joes with a side dish. Any type of salad with healthy fats in its dressing would be a good choice or make a side of roasted veggies cooked in oil.
The recipe on its own is also lower in vegetables. Serving it with a side of roasted veggies or a salad is a great choice to balance this meal.
How to Refrigerate and Freeze Leftovers
This recipe is great for meal prep since it refrigerates well and can be frozen.
Let the sloppy joes cool to about room temperature before transferring to an airtight container. You can store this container in your fridge for up to a week. When ready to eat, reheat with a microwave or in a pot on your stove until warmed through.
You can also freeze in a freezer-safe container for a few months. To reheat, let the sloppy joes thaw to room temperature in your fridge before transferring to a pot and heat through.
If you make this recipe, please rate and comment below to help others benefit from your experience!
Vegan Sloppy Joes (with Lentil “Meat”)
- 4 cups cooked lentils (2 19 oz/ 540 mL cans, drained and rinsed)
- 2 cups diced tomato (1 28 oz/ 540 mL can, drained)
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 3 cloves garlic , minced or crushed
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce , low sodium*
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon dry oregano
- 1 teaspoon dry basil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
Step 1: Prep Ingredients
- Rinse and drain canned lentils or use fresh cooked lentils. Add to a large pot.4 cups cooked lentils
- Use a mesh strainer to drain excess liquid from a can of diced tomato. Add to the large pot with the lentils.2 cups diced tomato
- Peel and dice the onion. Peel then mince or crush the garlic.1 cup chopped onion, 3 cloves garlic
- Add onions and garlic to the large pot along with all remaining ingredients.4 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 2 tablespoons molasses, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon dry oregano, 1 teaspoon dry basil, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper
Step 2: Cook Sloppy Joes
- Place the pot on your stove over high heat and bring to a boil.
- Cook over high heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture has thickened – about 20 minutes. There shouldn’t be any pooling liquid in the bottom of the pan (when you scrape across the bottom, the mixture should hold its shape and not pool into the area that was just scraped).
- As liquid evaporates, the mixture will thicken. It’s important to keep stirring, especially towards the end of cooking, to keep the mixture from sticking to your pot. You may want to turn the heat down to medium once most liquid is absorbed.
Step 3: Serve
- Serve on fresh buns with additional toppings if desired (see above for serving ideas).
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About Nicole Stevens
Nicole is a vegan Registered Dietitian (RD) and founder of Lettuce Veg Out.
She helps people thrive on a vegan diet with balanced recipes and easy-to-understand nutrition science.