Many people have fond memories of eating sloppy joe’s for dinner as a kid. I am not one of those people. Yes, my mom occasionally made sloppy joe’s. And yes, I generally enjoyed eating them – until my family went to Knott’s Berry Farm. During that trip, my sister Kate ate a ton of barbecue beans. And then we went on some swirly rides. Eventually, we were driven home and got into bed. Totally uneventful. Several hours into the middle of the night, I woke up to the kind of surprise that ruins barbecue anything for a very long time: projectile barbecue beans. Kate had sat straight up in bed and spewed all over the room, spattering my bed in the process.
That memory scarred me so deeply that, to this day, I still can’t stomach barbecue beans. But lentils are a different story altogether.
Lentils I love in any form, especially with Indian spices but also flavored only with a spoonful of sambal oelek Asian chili paste and a dollop of Greek yogurt. They’re healthy, easy to make, cook fairly quickly, pair nicely with a variety of vegetables and herbs (which is especially convenient when I have ones that need to be used quite badly), and hold up well enough in the refrigerator to provide an entire week’s worth of lunches. So I always keep some in my pantry.
When I found myself with some extra bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes laying around, not to mention a craving for meat on a vegan weeknight, I turned to lentils. They hold their shape and have just enough substance to make you forget these sloppy joe’s are meatless. And besides, the veggie-laden barbecue sauce is delicious, even if you choose to use ground meat instead.
You can puree the sauce to make it, well, more sauce-like, but I left it chunky because I enjoyed the texture. Likewise, you can slap this sloppy, barbecue-flavored mixture onto a bun to make it more reminiscent of childhood dinners. But like I’ve said before, I rarely purchase bread because I always fail to use it up, and I’ve still got plenty of breadcrumbs in the freezer from my last batch of forgotten buns, slices, and crumbs. Besides, I had some chard to use up, and seeing as the chard softened nicely once I spooned the steaming hot and saucy lentils over a leaf, I’d call chard the new lettuce wrap. Except I’d recommend using a fork for this one, as the lentils do an excellent job of retaining the sloppy texture characteristic of more traditional sloppy joe’s.
Vegan Lentil Sloppy Joe’s
To convert this to a meat eater’s dish, either substitute 1 1/4 lb. ground beef for lentils, or lighten it up by halving that amount of beef and halving the lentils. The Swiss chard wrap can also be replaced by good ol’ burger buns.
1 c. dry green lentils
1 c. bell peppers, finely chopped
1 c. red onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 c. fresh tomato, finely chopped
1 c. canned diced tomato
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. red wine or port vinegar
2 dashes vegan Worcestershire sauce
1/4 c. ketchup
4 leaves of Swiss chard, butter lettuce, or other wrapable greens of choice, tough stems removed (or 4 hamburger buns)
In medium pot, combine 3 c. water with lentils, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover partially, and stirring periodically, simmer until tender, about 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, wash and chop veggies. In large saucepan over medium heat, saute onion, bell pepper, and jalapeno in 1/2 c. water (or 2 Tbsp. oil) until onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, fresh tomato, and canned tomato, and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Add chili powder, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup, and simmer on medium-low heat until thickened, about 10 minutes.
Once lentils are done, drain them, reserving the cooking water. Stir lentils into sauce. If needed, add reserved water bit by bit to bring mixture to desired sloppy joe consistency.
Spoon lentils onto middle of Swiss chard leaf, and wrap leaf over itself to create a roll. Let cool for a few minutes, and eat like a wet burrito (i.e. use a knife and fork).