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For a meatless meal that doesn’t skimp on flavor, make a batch of vegan sloppy joes! Lentils, sautéed vegetables, and seasonings combine for a tasty, family-friendly dish.
While we aren’t vegetarians at my house, we do try to eat meat-free meals at least a few days out of the week. It’s not always easy with kids though, as they are now in their very opinionated ages. We’ve gotta keep things not too complicated around here!
Sometimes that means throwing together simple pasta dishes like creamy pesto pasta, and sometimes it means making a batch of these lentil vegan sloppy joes.
I’ve actually been making these for more than 10 years, whenever we get back on our lentil kick. I really like how easy they are to make — they don’t take that much longer than the classic beef sloppy joes!
Ingredients for vegan sloppy joes
Full list of ingredients with quantities is located in the recipe card.
Lentils – I use red lentils in this recipe as they cook very quickly. You can use any other kind of lentil in place of them, but keep in mind the cooking time will be longer. Be sure to follow the package instructions for cooking your chosen lentils.
Water – For cooking the lentils and thinning out the sloppy joes as needed.
Olive oil – A little oil is needed to sauté the vegetables. You can use avocado oil or another basic cooking oil if you prefer.
Onion – White or yellow onion is preferred. If you like a snappier onion flavor, you can use red onion.
Bell pepper – I love the flavor of bell peppers, especially red bell peppers. Use your favorite color; red are sweeter in flavor than green peppers.
Garlic – I like a lot of garlic, so I use 3 cloves. You can use more or less based on the size of your cloves and your taste preferences. One clove equals about 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic.
Chili powder – You can use your favorite chili powder. Note that if you use a straight ground chile powder, like ground ancho chile, it will be a bit spicier than if you use a chili powder blend.
Smoked paprika – I love adding smoked paprika to dishes, especially vegetarian meals! It adds a lovely depth of flavor.
Oregano – Use dried oregano, or swap in fresh minced oregano if you have it on hand. Remember that 1 teaspoon dried oregano equals about 1 tablespoon fresh.
Salt – Don’t forget the salt!
Tomato sauce – You’ll need 1 cup of tomato sauce. If you like, you can use flavored tomato sauce or even swap in pasta sauce in a pinch.
Tomato paste – Tomato paste will add an even deeper tomato flavor and thicken the sauce a bit. You’ll only use 2 tablespoons, so freeze the rest or use tomato paste in a tube.
Maple syrup – Optional, for balancing the spice.
Yellow mustard – Mustard adds a bit of tangy flavor to the sloppy joes.
Buns – For serving. Or use tortillas, wraps, or even lettuce cups!
How to make this recipe
First, we’ll cook the split red lentils. If you’ve never made lentils before, it’s incredibly easy!
Rinse the lentils and pick out any stones or errant bits that made their way into the bag. Add the lentils to a saucepan and pour in the water.
Set on a burner and bring to a boil. Make sure it doesn’t boil over! Once boiling, reduce the heat and let simmer for about 8 minutes. Taste the lentils to make sure they are fully cooked; if they are still hard keep simmering until cooked through.
Once cooked, drain and set aside.
Set a large skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. Swirl the pan to coat the bottom. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped onion and bell pepper.
Sauté for 5-8 minutes, until softened. Add the chopped garlic and continue to cook for just 30 seconds to 1 minute, until the garlic is fragrant.
Now, add in the cooked lentils, chili powder, paprika, salt, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Stir well to mix everything together.
If the mixture looks too dry, stir in 1/2 to 1 cup of water. Cook the sloppy joe filling for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. It should be saucy but not runny.
Stir in the maple syrup, if using, and the mustard, and heat through. Serve on your favorite sandwich bun!
Use different lentil varieties: Green lentils and brown lentils are a bit meatier in texture, so if you want your sloppy joe mixture to be less soft, use those.
The lentils can also be cooked in advance so you can mix this recipe together even more quickly.
For heat, add chopped jalapeño along with the onion and bell pepper. You can also stir in some of your favorite hot sauce.
If you want to add a bit of umami flavor, use a dash or two of vegan Worcestershire sauce. Regular Worcestershire contains anchovies, so read the label!
Another option is to add some chopped mushrooms to the mixture. Cook them along with the onions and peppers.
The yellow mustard can be swapped with your favorite mustard for a different flavor. Dijon and stone ground mustard all give different finishes to these vegan sloppy joes.
Can I use canned lentils?
While I have not made this recipe using canned lentils, they should swap in just fine for this recipe! Simply drain and set aside while you sauté the vegetables.
Can I freeze vegan sloppy joes?
Lentil sloppy joe filling stores well in an airtight container in the fridge, lasting for about 4 days in an airtight container. You can also freeze it.
I recommend freezing the filling in single-serve portions for easy reheating. You can do this in smaller freezer-safe containers or use a portioned container such as SouperCubes.
To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight, or pop out into a small saucepan and heat slowly over medium-low until warmed through.
How to serve vegan sloppy joes
We love to eat these on toasted buns topped with sliced avocado.
Don’t forget a fork to scoop up all the bits that fall back to your plate!
Make these vegan sloppy joes in place of traditional sloppy joes for your next Meatless Monday!
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It means so much when you enjoy my recipes, so let me know how it goes and leave a comment if you have any questions.
Vegan Sloppy Joes
- 1 cup red lentils, uncooked
- 3 cups water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons chile powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup, optional
- 2 teaspoons yellow mustard
- 6 hamburger buns
- Rinse lentils and add to a saucepan. Add the water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower to a simmer, cover, and cook about 10 minutes. Taste and make sure they are cooked through. Drain and set aside.
- Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook for 5-8 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds to 1 minute, just until fragrant.
- Pour in the drained lentils along with the chile powder, paprika, oregano, salt, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Cook for 10 minutes to meld flavors, stirring occasionally. If mixture looks too dry, add ½ to 1 cup water. It should be saucy but not runny.
- Stir in the maple syrup (if using) and mustard and heat through. Serve on toasted hamburger buns or wrap of choice.
- If using green or brown lentils, increase cooking time to 20-25 minutes.
- Minimally adapted from Veganomicon.
Nutrition information is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate based on online calculators. Any nutritional information found on Stetted should be used as a general guideline only.
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