Vegan Sloppy Joes

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Buns filled with onion slices and Simple Vegan Sloppy Joes for a hearty plant-based meal

Did your parents ever make you sloppy joes growing up?

If so, welcome to the club.

If not, I’m sorry, you poor neglected soul. (Just kidding, but also kind of not kidding).

Sloppy joes are so delicious! And I haven’t had them since my mom made them for me back in high school. My sister and I would return home from sports practice absolutely famished and we’d eat two open-faced sloppy joes with a side of mac ‘n’ cheese.

Oh, how my diet has changed since then! But my craving for this sweet, savory, smoky sandwich has not. Let’s do this!

Making simple gluten-free vegan sloppy joes in a cast-iron skillet

Origins of Sloppy Joes

You may think of Sloppy Joes as an American classic (and that may be true), but the origin story isn’t crystal clear! One theory is that the dish was created in the 1930s by a Sioux City, Iowa chef named Joe.

But another popular story is that it may have actually originated in Havana, Cuba. It’s thought that a bar owner named José García created it as a handheld modification of a Cuban dish called ropa vieja. The concept may have then been introduced by Ernest Hemmingway to a bar in Florida.

We’re not sure who deserves the credit for Sloppy Joes, but we do know we love them! The following is our plant-based take on the concept.

Vegan Sloppy Joes

This recipe comes together in roughly 30 minutes, including cooking your lentils! It’s so simple and quick that it’s sure to become a weeknight staple in your home.

The ingredients are also simple. In fact, the only thing not already in my pantry was Worcestershire sauce (I include a vegan-friendly brand recommendation below, as well as a recipe idea if you can’t find any at the store).

Easy recipes that you can make with everyday pantry items – that’s SO my thing.

Cast-iron skillet filled with Vegan Sloppy Joe "meat" for a hearty plant-based meal

I think you guys are going to LOVE these sandwiches. They’re:

Smoky
Savory
Slightly spicy
Super hearty
Naturally sweetened
Fiber- + protein-rich
Quick
& Delicious

These would make the perfect meal to throw together when you need something quick and hearty to feed a crowd. One batch should generously serve four. And if you’re a solo diner, this recipe is great to have around during the week to reheat for lunches or easy, healthy dinners.

If you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, be sure to rate it, and don’t forget to tag a picture #minimalistbaker on Instagram! Your photos always make our day. Cheers, friends!

Buns filled with Vegan Lentil Sloppy Joes for an easy gluten-free plant-based dinner

Vegan Sloppy Joes

Hearty, flavorful Vegan Sloppy Joes made with fresh, simple ingredients, naturally sweetened, and they require just 30 minutes! Savory, smoky, perfectly sweet — a delicious plant-based meal!
Author Minimalist Baker
Print
Wood board with three buns filled with sliced onions and our Vegan Sloppy Joe recipe
4.89 from 320 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4
Course Entree
Cuisine Gluten-Free, Vegan
Freezer Friendly Up to 1 month.
Does it keep? 4-5 Days

Ingredients

LENTILS

  • 2 cups water (I used half water, half vegetable broth)
  • 1 cup green or red lentils, well rinsed (red lentils for quicker/more tender result or green lentils for more bite/texture)

SLOPPY JOES

  • 2 Tbsp olive or grape seed oil
  • 1/2 medium white or yellow onion, minced (plus more for serving)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (2 cloves yield ~1 Tbsp)
  • 1/2 medium red or green bell pepper, diced
  • Sea salt and black pepper (to taste)
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce*
  • 1-2 Tbsp coconut sugar (plus more to taste)
  • 1-2 Tbsp vegan-friendly Worcestershire sauce* (like this brand // ensure gluten-free for GF eaters)
  • 1-2 tsp chili powder (plus more to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin (plus more to taste)
  • 1 pinch smoked or regular paprika (optional)

FOR SERVING optional

  • Gluten-free or whole-wheat hamburger buns*

Instructions

  • If using green lentils: To a small saucepan, add liquid (I used 1 cup water, 1 cup vegetable broth for added flavor // amount as original recipe is written // adjust if altering batch size) and rinsed green lentils and heat over medium-high heat. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook covered for about 18-22 minutes, or until tender. The water should have a constant simmer (not boil). Drain off any excess liquid and set aside.
  • If using red lentils: To a small saucepan, add liquid (water and/or vegetable broth) and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add rinsed red lentils and bring back to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 7-10 minutes, or until just tender. You want them to be cooked through but not mushy. Drain well and set aside.
  • In the meantime, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add oil, onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Season with a pinch each salt and pepper and stir to combine.
  • Sautè for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the peppers and onions are tender and slightly browned.
  • Next add tomato sauce, coconut sugar, vegan worcestershire sauce, chili powder, cumin, and paprika (optional). Stir to combine.
  • Once the lentils are cooked, add them to the skillet as well, and stir to combine.
  • Continue cooking the mixture over medium-low heat until completely warmed through and thick, stirring occasionally – about 5-10 minutes.
  • Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more chili powder and/or cumin for smokiness, salt for saltiness, coconut sugar for sweetness, or worcestershire for depth of flavor.
  • Serve the mixture on toasted buns with sliced onion. Best when fresh, though leftover sloppy joe mixture will keep in the refrigerator up to 4-5 days, or in the freezer for 1 month. Reheat in the microwave, or on the stovetop, adding water or vegetable broth if the mixture has dried out.

Video

Notes

*The tomato sauce I use is from Trader Joe’s and is essentially tomato puree seasoned with sea salt, pepper, garlic powder, and herbs.
*If you can’t locate vegan Worcestershire sauce at the store, try this recipe from Forks Over Knives.
*My go-to whole-wheat vegan hamburger buns are from Trader Joe’s. The best gluten-free vegan hamburger buns I’ve tried are from the brand Happy Camper (which I found at a grocery store in Portland, OR). However, if you do/can eat eggs, I think Udi’s Gluten Free Hamburger Buns are a great option.
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated without a bun.

Nutrition (1 of 4 servings)

Serving: 1 serving Calories: 298 Carbohydrates: 44.6 g Protein: 14.4 g Fat: 8 g Saturated Fat: 1.1 g Trans Fat: 0 g Cholesterol: 0 mg Sodium: 614 mg Fiber: 17.1 g Sugar: 13.5 g

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  1. Donna Kohn says

    I made this recipe tonight. I used precooked lentils from Trader Joe’s. So good! Great for days I don’t feel like cooking.

  2. Cathy Smihula says

    Thank you for all the wonderful recipes you share! With so many different conditions we humans have now, it is getting pretty complicated to prepare food!
    Quick question – Do you have recipes (or suggested ingredient substitutions) for those who have heart and/or diabetes needs? I could use some information for those categories in addition to the ones you already are doing.
    Thank you for the great things you are doing. :-)

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Cathy, we’re so glad you enjoy our recipes! Since there can be different approaches for how to address those conditions, we don’t have specific filters by condition. However, you can use the “special diet” filter on our recipe index to sort by which dietary approach has been recommended for you. Hope that helps!

  3. Michelle says

    I don’t suppose this could be made with tofu instead lentils? Lentils have high rates of cross contamination for those who are allergic to wheat.

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Hi Michelle! We haven’t tried this recipe with tofu and are not sure how it would hold up. If you do try it, we suggest using an extra firm tofu and crumbling it into the pan. Let us know if you try it!

    • Teresa says

      I’m very sensitive to gluten and I have never had a reaction to lentils, even though I’ve eaten many different types of lentils from different brands and different stores. I had never heard they could be cross-contaminated.
      I think it’s worth trying unless you know you’ve had a reaction to lentils.
      Or do you mean cross-reactive (like people who react to gluten may also react to lentils because of a similar protein)? I can identify with that as even certified gluten-free oats give me a similar, though less severe, reaction as gluten.

  4. Amy says

    This was a great recipe. So satisfying and tasty. I did not have vegan Worcestershire, so I substituted 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, and 1Tbsp soy sauce, and it was perfect. I also added some cayenne pepper too, I need everything spicy haha. Definitely a keeper!!

  5. Melissa says

    I just made this tonight, it was delicious! I used Braggs aminos(didn’t have Worcestershire), liquid smoke, ketchup and brown sugar since I didn’t have coconut sugar. Green lentils were perfect after 20 mins with some bite still. I added some riced cauliflower as well, I like its meaty texture. Family and I enjoyed this on brioche buns. My meat loving husband loved it! Thanks!

  6. Melissa says

    I just made this tonight, it was delicious! I used Braggs aminos(didn’t have Worcestershire), liquid smoke, and brown sugar since I didn’t have coconut sugar. Green lentils were perfect after 20 mins with some bite still. Family and I enjoyed this on brioche buns. My meat loving husband loved it! Thanks!

  7. Sunny says

    This can be a little messy when eating (sloppy, I get it!) so my trick is lightly pulsing the mixture in a food processor. (I also add a little bit of mustard in the mix too, and instead of Worcestershire sometimes adding a few drops of liquid smoke does the trick!)

  8. Alex says

    I made it with red lentils and also some mayo-maustrad-honey sauce.
    It turned out amazing and much lighter than meat or soy protein sloppy joes.

  9. Diane says

    I have made this many times and it is always amazing, i love to top with extra sweet raw onion and sliced jalapeños and super delicious on the Dave’s killer wheat hamburger buns. It checks a lot of boxes, protein + veggies + fiber + low salt + no sugar + low oil. I recently made without the olive oil instead sautéed the veggies in a small of veggie stock and literally could not tell a difference but saved lots of oil.

  10. Jennifer Horsman says

    Delicious!! I made this recipe last night and it turned out excellent! I used 1 teaspoon of chili powder, 2 teaspoons of cumin, and 2 pinches of paprika. I also added about 1.5 packed cup of shredded zucchini at the end and cooked for a bit longer. It was awesome!

    I shredded half a large zucchini in my food processor and then pressed the water out of the zucchini using a clean kitchen towel.

  11. Yui says

    Delicious recipe. I am thankful you included how to add different types of tastes so I am able to adjust accordingly. I like mine smokier so I put more cumin. My family is a big fan of this recipe, thank you for sharing

  12. MsRaeDiva says

    Just beginning my vegan journey. I found this recipe to be easy and I love beans. I toasted my bread and added some vegan cheese. It was very good and the beans were cooked to the right consistency with a little crunch. However, since I’m cooking for only me, the recipe was too much. So instead of freezing the leftovers, I made a (kitchen sink – cleaning out the frig) lentil pasta dish with a few added spices, added some wilted some spinach near the end of and melted vegan cheese…Delicious
    P.S.: Though I enjoyed the recipe, I like lentils for other dishes and not particular use as a sandwich.
    Thank you for the great recipe for my vegan journey
    @minimalistbaker #minimalistbaker

  13. Crystal C. says

    Love this recipe! If you’re looking to add even more iron to your vegan sloppy joes I used 3 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses instead of the 1-2 Tbs coconut sugar as a sweetener and it tastes delicious.

  14. Tatiana says

    This is easily one of my favorite go-to recipes. I have made it countless times and it is always phenomenal. Love it!

  15. Diane M says

    I’m trying to do more plant based meals and this recipe looked intriguing. I tried it and loved it. I substituted Maple syrup for the coconut sugar. The batch was large for just one person so I froze a portion. After 2 or 3 meals of the ‘sloppy joes’ it was gone. Instead of thawing the other portions I just had to make a second batch a couple days later! I’ve had this on open face bread, pasta, alone warm or cold and heated in a large precooked portobello mushroom. I will try it on spaghetti squash in the fall and maybe in a zucchini ‘boat’. Great recipe. Thank You!

  16. Loren says

    This is another family favorite at our house and we always double the batch so we have plenty of leftovers. I had to write to tell you I have been craving these for a week and decided tonight was going to be the night. My husband started the lentils while I was on my way home from work. I got home only to realize we were out of bell peppers (which I swear we had one lone pepper left) and a quarter of an onion (what kind of vegetarians run out of onion?). I begrudgingly improvised and added zucchini at my husbands suggestion. Then I absent mindedly threw in a jar of marinara instead of the puree we usually use. I was sure dinner was ruined. It was not. It was still delicious! This recipe is really failproof! I still prefer the recipe as written, but it was great to satisfy the craving with a couple substitutions!

  17. Christine Poll says

    Made this fir dinner tonight and it was amazing! My husband and I were vegetarian for 4 years before our return to meat eating. This reminded me of why I loved our old way of eating. Because we aren’t vegan, I was able to use regular Worcestershire sauce and I did top it with smoked cheddar.

    IT. WAS. FANTASTIC! The sauce is the closest I have come to the flavour I remember from my mom’s homemade recipe.
    My husband even said he prefers this over the meat version!
    Win win!

    This will definitely become part of our usual meal rotation!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Woohoo! Thanks so much for the lovely review and for sharing your modifications, Christine. So glad you both enjoyed!

  18. Jazzmine says

    I’m not vegan , more “plant forward” but this recipe does not disappoint, the flavor just jumps out at you and the texture of the lentils is perfect !! I added some df cheddar cheese (violife) onion, tomato, and classic potato chips. ALL the nostalgia!

  19. Trina says

    We had this for dinner tonight. I did use some lefter lentils I steamed in my pressure cooker. I also doubled the seasoning. Used a 20 ounce jar of tomato puree. Used jarred red bell pepper, what I had. This recipe is delicious. I put out sliced pickles, chopped onion, and mustard, since some in reviewers enjoyed theirs this way, let family build their own. Big hit!
    Thank you,
    Trina

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Yum! Thanks so much for the great review and for sharing your modifications, Trina. So glad you all enjoyed!

  20. Kathy Dainat says

    My husband loved this dish. I liked it too and I liked that it only took 1/2 hour to make. Next time I make it though I am going to cut down on the amount of lentils. I prefer a more tomato-type sauce for Sloppy Joes. For me, the recipe was a bit too heavy on the lentil side. I didn’t have smoked paprika but I did have some liquid smoke and this gave it a nice BBQ flavor.

  21. Celia says

    I absolutely loved this recipe. We put the filling on brioche burger buns from the local bakery and perhaps we reached heaven. It was flavorful, filling, and fun. What more I could ask for?

  22. Tami says

    This recipe is in our regular rotation now! We put it in whole grain pitas and top with sautéed onions. Delicious!

  23. Barb says

    I made the Sloppy Joe using extra garlic, roasted red peppers, tomato sauce canned from the garden, and a couple of tablespoons of cider vinegar. It was DELICIOUS. I had mine on brown rice and my husband had it on sourdough bread. A quick meal to make!

  24. Lisa says

    I made this with Beyond Burger and liked it a lot, served on toast with shredded cheese. Next time I’ll make it with lentils.

  25. Melissa says

    All the adults in the family enjoyed this recipe and it was very easy to make. The kids thought it was too spicy, so next time I will forgo the chili powder totally and reduce the cumin. Thanks for creating a healthy recipe that is fast for weeknights!!

  26. Julia says

    Wow was this soo good!! I have tried multiple veggie sloppy joes recipes in the past and always been disappointed. This was a great hit. Did a double batch half French lentils half red lentils. I added some celery seeds because my moms sloppy joes always had a little celery. Served open faced with red onions tomatoes and spicy pickled peppers – yum!!!

  27. Susan Jordan says

    We love this recipe, I made it again tonight! I have a half vegetarian, half meat eater family (super fun) and EVERYONE loves these sloppy joes! I constantly go to your website for inspiration so thank you for sharing so many awesome ideas!

    • Avatar for Dana @ Minimalist BakerSupport @ Minimalist Baker says

      Aw, yay! We’re so glad to hear everyone enjoyed it, Susan! Thank you for your kind words and lovely review! xo

  28. Ruth Register says

    I compared three different Lentil Sloppy Joe recipes and this was the easiest, using ingredients I already had on hand. I have been trying to get more lentils in my diet and thought I wasn’t a fan but this recipe changed my mind! Both my husband and I loved it. I used red lentils, added 2 Tbsp tomato paste for richness and regular paprika and a tiny dash of liquid smoke as a substitute for smoked paprika. As per another comment I topped with dill pickle and mustard. Thanks you so much for the delicious recipes!

  29. Emily Q says

    So yummy! I didn’t change a thing — used red lentils, and the upper end of the recommended spices. Loved it.

  30. Sabrina says

    My family and friends are obsessed with these sloppy joes and ask me to make it all the time. I always follow the recipe exactly and season to taste. I have surprised so many meat-eaters who end up loving this recipe and going back for seconds. We particularly love to eat it with dill pickles as a topping. Thanks for the great recipe!

  31. Melissa says

    I didn’t have high expectations for this recipe but it was incredible! It also made a lot, perfect for freezing the extra and having later!

  32. Kary says

    I cannot tell you how much I love this recipe! It tastes even better than how I remember the Sloppy Joe’s of my childhood. I substitute tvp for the lentils, and add a quarter tsp of liquid smoke.