I love that certain foods are time capsules with the ability to transport you back to a moment in time. Beyond the familiar taste and smell of the food itself, there is the rare, special dish that gives me this warm, comforting feeling of reliving mundane moments from a day-day-to-day life that has all but slipped from memory. Sloppy joes are one of those foods — they bring me back to my childhood.
I associate sloppy joes with chilly nights when my parents went out and we had a babysitter — and the exciting prerogative over dinner. In rare unanimity, my three sisters and I often chose sloppy joes. The local grocery store in our town had delicious pre-made sloppy joe filling — it was smoky, oily and just a little bit spicy. The babysitter or I would heat up the filling over the stove, toast some buns (always these grainy whole wheat buns my mom had on hand) and eat around the kitchen table. Or, if we were really lucky, in front of the TV while watching a movie (a huge treat in our household in which TV was usually off-limits).
A couple weeks ago, on an unusual day in August when there is a slight chill in the air (my fave), I developed an intense craving for a sloppy joe. Maybe it was because I was booking a babysitter that day for Rose, evoking a memory of being the child babysat. Or perhaps I was just thinking about cozy, comforting food due to the slightly cooler weather. Food is funny like that — beyond nourishing our bodies, I absolutely believe it nourishes our souls. There was something so comforting about sharing sloppy joes with my daughter — we came full circle with this meal. I live for food like this. Food with flavors so vivid it is able to stir up memories and transport us back in time.
Ok, wow — that got a little intense! So let’s talk about this sloppy joe recipe. I swapped in black lentils for the traditional ground beef and added mushrooms and miso to the mix to lend meatiness and earthiness. Black lentils are more toothsome and hold their shape better than other lentil varieties, making them ideal for this recipe. You could easily swap meat back into this recipe. I have made this with pasture-raised ground bison with delicious results. To make this recipe weeknight-easy, I used jarred organic marinara sauce. I also had already prepped for the week a big batch of cooked black lentils, speeding up the process even more. A dash of maple syrup makes this recipe just a touch sweet, while the balsamic rounds out the flavors with a little acidity. Ground mustard, chili powder, smoked paprika and cumin combine to give this recipe that distinctive sloppy joe flavor.
I hope you enjoy this recipe! It makes for a deliciously easy and comforting family meal.
Smoky Black Lentil Sloppy Joes
Yield 4-6 servings
- 1 cup black lentils, rinsed
- 4 cups water or broth
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped (portobellos work well, but any mushroom variety will do)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp ground mustard powder
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp miso paste
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 2 cups tomato sauce
- Whole grain hamburger buns, lettuce cups, atop brown rice, stuffed in roasted sweet potatoes
- Condiments: pickled cucumbers, pickled onions, cabbage slaw, mayo
- Cook the lentils. Combine lentils and water in a small pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for 20 minutes. Lentils should be tender, but slightly al dente. Drain through a fine mesh strainer and lightly rinse with cold water.
- While the lentils cook, heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add mushroom, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper and sauté for a few more minutes, until mushrooms are tender and starting to brown. Add spices and salt, stirring to coat the vegetables. Add miso, balsamic vinegar and maple syrup, scraping up any brown bits from the pan. Stir in tomato sauce and cook until mixture is bubbling. Reduce heat to medium-low.
- Once the lentils are cooked and drained, add the lentils to the pan. Stir to combine, taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if necessary. Reduce heat, cover pan and cook for about 10 minutes to allow mixture to thicken slightly and flavors to meld together.
- Serve with toasted buns, tucked into lettuce cups, served atop brown rice or stuffed into sweet potatoes. It’s versatile! Top with condiments of choice — pickled onions, mayo and cabbage slaw are particularly delicious.