Vegan Sloppy Joes Recipe

Are you craving a taste of summer? Nutritionist and food photographer Hayley MacLean has a vegan take on Sloppy Joes that you'll love. Packed with protein and flavor, this recipe is perfect for a quick meal with a side of fries. Now, vegans might tell you an animal product-free diet is healthy and humane; however, we simply like our menus versatile, and this dish delivers. 

Veganism is a lifestyle discipline that omits all animal products. Though there are many diet "categories" to choose from, we just want you to enjoy this sandwich for its robust flavors and healthy profile. As a nutritionist, our recipe developer MacLean told Mashed, "I consider myself a flexitarian, heavy on the plant-based side. While I do enjoy meat every so often, I have always been more drawn to the flavors and textures in a plant-based diet." 

Lentils top the list of quality, meat-free proteins. Medical News Today mentions decreased heart disease risk as a leading reason to love this low-carb legume. "I am always looking for fun new ways to use high-protein ingredients like lentils in my cooking, so when thinking of this recipe, I figured they would be the best substitute for the usual ground beef in Sloppy Joes — and I was right," MacLean told our team. Here, we'll give you the tips you need to make this delicious dinner.

Gather your ingredients for vegan Sloppy Joes

When you're ready to whip up this recipe, here's what you need to have on-hand: 1 cup uncooked red lentils, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 3 cloves garlic. Dice up ½ medium yellow onion and 1 red bell pepper. Collect 2 tablespoons of yellow mustard, a 15-ounce can of tomato sauce, 1-2 tablespoons sugar, and 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (vegan is optional). The seasonings consist of 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. To top it off, you'll need hamburger buns and a ½ red onion, sliced.

Boil the lentils

Commence this recipe by adding the red lentils and 4 cups water to a medium saucepan. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the water to a simmer. Let the lentils cook for 15-18 minutes. They should become tender with just a bit of a "bite." 

Once the desired textured is achieved, drain the lentils and set them aside. MacLean chose red lentils due to their consistency, "I like using red lentils because they cook down very tender and give, what I think is, the most meat-like texture to this dish. Other lentils, like brown or green, can also be used but they are slightly firmer, so the end result will reflect this." 

Lentils have a subtle, earthy flavor that remains unmatched. They're also surprisingly a great source of iron. MacLean told Mashed, "Lentils are such a great staple for protein because they are made up of more than 25% of it. They are also a great source of iron, a mineral that tends to lack in many vegetarian diets. They come in a bunch of varieties, [and] are so versatile to fit into a bunch of recipes."

Sauteé the garlic and onion

For this step, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Toss in the chopped onion and let it cook for up to 3 minutes. The onions should be softened when you add the garlic. Mix these over the heat for about 30 seconds, until the fragrance fills your kitchen. Then, toss in the red bell pepper. Allow another 2-3 minutes for this to cook.

"I would suggest these [Sloppy Joes] to any reader who either [does] not eat meat or [is] looking to incorporate more plant-based meals in their routine. They are such a hearty, wholesome sandwich to try, being filling and comforting, and perfectly reminiscent of the childhood classic," MacLean says. 

Add the sauces and spices

Add the mustard, tomato sauce, and 1 tablespoon sugar to the skillet, bringing the sauce to a simmer. Add more sugar to taste, as needed, up to an additional 1 tablespoon. Drizzle in the Worcestershire sauce, drop in the chili powder, and sprinkle the cumin and paprika in along with the salt and pepper. Cook this to combine it for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

These sauces and spices will deliver a unique flavor fusion. MacLean told Mashed, "The taste of this sandwich is sweet, savory, and smoky, with just a hint of heat! The tomato makes a great base to the bright and flavorful sauce, and the red lentils are quite tender, easily mimicking the texture of ground meat."

Mix in the lentils

Once the sauce is finished, remove it from the heat and add in the cooked lentils. Stir them in until everything is thoroughly mixed. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste, then serve. 

"I love serving these with some fries — regular or sweet potato — and a big helping of creamy coleslaw, the perfect vegetarian summer BBQ combo. This sandwich could also be served with a fresh, green salad to keep things on the lighter side," MacLean suggests. 

This could be the hit of the summer bash, or a way to spice up your spring. A vegan Sloppy Joe is best served on a lightly toasted hamburger bun, garnished with slices of red onion, or your favorite topping. For low-carb options, MacLean suggests serving this over lettuce (no bun), or alongside steamed veggies. The filling will stay fresh for up to five days in an airtight container. "When ready to enjoy, just reheat the filling and assemble your sandwich," our developer says.  From our kitchen to yours, enjoy!

Vegan Sloppy Joes Recipe
4.9 from 27 ratings
Makeover your Meatless Monday with this recipe for vegan Sloppy Joes. It's the perfect summer option, and the lentil base tastes surprisingly like ground beef.
Prep Time
Cook Time
vegan sloppy joes sandwiches
Total time: 40 minutes
  • 1 cup uncooked red lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (more, to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 hamburger buns, for serving
Optional Ingredients
  • ½ red onion, sliced
  1. Add the red lentils and 4 cups of water to a medium saucepan. Bring the water to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15-18 minutes, or until tender with a bit of a bite. Drain and set them aside.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the bell pepper and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the mustard, tomato sauce, and 1 tablespoon of sugar and bring the mixture to a simmer. Taste, and add more sugar as needed, up to an additional 1 tablespoon. Add the Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper, and cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove the sauce from the heat and add the cooked lentils. Stir until well-combined. Adjust salt and pepper, to taste.
  5. Serve on lightly toasted hamburger buns, with slices of red onion, if desired.
Calories per Serving 319
Total Fat 7.1 g
Saturated Fat 1.1 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 0.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 52.1 g
Dietary Fiber 6.7 g
Total Sugars 9.9 g
Sodium 688.9 mg
Protein 13.7 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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