If I were to offer the majority of the people in these United States a lentil sloppy joe, I suspect I might get, at best, a polite “no thank you.” Somewhere along the way, a line was drawn on American dinner plates. Plants things—especially anything with a suspicious lima bean hue—were deemed a form of punishment.
History shows consuming plant pods meant you were poor. Which might be where things initially went wrong. But there is an odd self-righteous quality that some align with vegetables these days too. It should not be considered ethical territory to consume something that has benefits for both you and the world.
It is just good sense.
I am not going to belabor these perks today. They are commonly known.
It really comes down to this. When I get home on a Tuesday night, I typically do not want to handle something slippery that has the potential of giving me hemorrhagic colitis. Perhaps eating a dead animal after an exhausting workday just cuts too close these days.
And I now think about the probability of death more than I should, thanks to our White House Clown. I do not know how much of a warning one gets when a looney tune from North Korea decides to hurl something atomic. But in the off chance that humans have the potential to outrun a nuclear bomb, Brett and I do not own a car. We are probably goners.
Anyway, after work I do not want to go grocery shopping just to pick up a somewhat freshly killed creature. Entering a crowded store at 5 PM on a weekday would have surely been described in a circle from Dante’s Inferno if they had supermarkets in the 14th century.
Lentils, on the other hand, are quietly waiting at home. They do not easily decay, if left to their own devices, nor do they require much advanced planning to prepare. There are no videos circulating of sinister legume slaughterhouses. Plus they are cheap.
This recipe is a take on sloppy joes, which is really all about the seasoning anyway. No one eats the sandwich for its association with high quality cattle.
So can we stop pretending a plant substitution is such a grave departure? In almost every way it is better.
Using orange lentils is helpful, because they mash together and will look the part, but if you want the disheveled effect of a sloppy joe, you could try a more loosely formed version with a brown or French lentil. You will need some cumin and chili powder, plus another smoky spice like smoked paprika. I found some chili powder that smells as if it was previously left in a grill for about twelve hours, which kills two birds with one stone.
A hot pepper of some sort is important too. I like serranos because I was once told their level of heat is predictable. I do not know if this is true, but to this day I still defer to them, as humans occasionally do even when supporting facts are slim. You will also add more ketchup than you are probably comfortable with—it will seem like an awful lot, but it is crucial so dig deep and do it.
My favorite toppings are pickled onions and some blue cheese dressing, because I am not a monster. But if you forgo animal products entirely, dairy can certainly be left off without judgment. The recipe you see below is entirely vegan, pending your choice of bun, which is mainly a coincidence. Personally, I believe the enclosure of a good brioche bun is best, but any soft and squishy bread product will do.
This is what I make when ancillary kitchen supplies are low. Sometimes I am not organized for dinner. I bet some days you are not organized for dinner, as well. The lentils can help with this.
There are serious matters that divide us. Sloppy joes should not be one of them.
Lentil Sloppy Joes
- 1 cup orange lentils
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 shallot, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 serrano pepper, minced
- ¾ tsp kosher salt
- 1½ tsp cumin
- ½ tsp smoked chili powder
- ½ cup ketchup
- handful of cilantro, chopped (for garnish)
- 4 sandwich buns
In a medium saucepan, add the lentils and 3 to 4 cups of water (there should be about an inch of water above the lentils). Cook uncovered on medium high heat for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
Heat a medium sauté pan and add the olive oil. Add the shallot, garlic, and pepper and sauté until they soften. Season with salt, cumin, and chili powder. Set aside.
Once the lentils are done add them to the pan, along with the ketchup, and stir to combine. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens enough to hold its shape when tossed on a bun (which should take about 10 to 15 minutes).
Makes enough for four sandwiches
- Sometimes I also add a dash of Worcestershire, though be advised some versions have anchovies. (It will also add a bit more salt.)
- Sandwich buns of any type can easily be frozen. I find ones with higher fat content, like brioche, tend to defrost faster and make for a very quick supper.
- If you are using smoked paprika and chili powder I would start with a ¼ teaspoon of each, but I suspect you may need to add a bit more chili powder to get the spice right.