Red Lentil Sloppy Joes

I love lentils.  I use them in soups, stews, and even as a side with rice like I grew up enjoying.  Sometimes I like to forgo meat and see what I can conjure up and if I can pull off a healthy hack.  I really think I nailed it with these Red Lentil Sloppy Joes.

The key to pulling this hack off is to keep the integrity of the lentils, yet make them just soft enough that they take on the soft “meatlike” consistency that sloppy joes are known for.  I make these the same way I would if I were using ground beef so they are flavourful, hearty, and healthy, yet give the illusion of a nice heaping helping of ground beef.

This is the prefect for vegetarians, and meat lovers alike who are looking to find healthier alternatives to their favorite food.

What is Umami and why do I need it?

Umami is a “savory taste, coming from the Japanese term meaning “pleasant savory taste”.  It is known to be another of our taste receptors the five most commonly known such as sweet, sour, salty, etc.  Umami flavors, have been used for centuries in many cultures of cooking as the ancient Romans used fermented barley sauces for just this purpose as well as the Chinese who used fish and soy sauce to introduce this savory flavor to dishes.   I have heard chefs talk about using Umami flavors to enrich and deepen dishes, when the addition of meat is not present, and I find it interesting that in Vegetarian cooking where meat is not used, how using mushrooms, fish or soy sauce, and spices that mimic meat can be used to replicate, the richness and flavor of meat in a dish.

What is all the hype about lentils?

From a health perspective, lentils are a powerhouse food source, that if you aren’t using on a regular basis, you certainly should.  A cup of lentils has about 225 calories, 39 g of carbs, 17 g of protein and a whooping 15 g of fiber.  Not to mention it is high in phytonutrients, B6, Folate, iron.  For more on the importance of phytonutrients read my past blog post.

You can use the French lentils in this, but I am a big fan of the red lentils.  Using spices to mimic the Umami flavors of ground beef are key in this.  Think Worcestershire sauce, mushrooms, smokey paprika, cumin, a mix of spicy and mild chili powders, to aid in the characteristic flavors of the traditional retro fare.

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Toasting the spices with the veg is the way to introduce and deepen the flavors of the dish and is my prefered method for cooking personally.

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You want to cook the tomato sauce to deepen the flavor and let the spices infuse the sauce, this is going to be the base that gives the lentils flavor and cooking the paste allows the sweetness to come through and permeate the lentils with pure, Umami flavor!

This will simmer about 30-35 minutes, to allow the lentils to soften but not lose their texture.  Simmer with a lid on, in a Dutch oven.  Flavors and color will deepen as it cooks.

Now I am not saying that you are by any means going to fool anyone into thinking this is meat, but I will say you will be hard pressed to dispute that these Red Lentil Sloppy Joes are not as flavorful and delicious as its ground beef cousin.

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Serve these using your favorite rolls, I use good ol’ hamburger buns like my Mom use to use, toasted of course, and this just makes me infinitely happy to know I can still enjoy my favorite food but in a healthier way, and that feeds my soul!

I hope you give these a try for your next party or Meatless Monday!  Kiddos are going to love these!


Susan xoxo


Red Lentil Sloppy Joe's

  • Servings: 5-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A healthy hack on a childhood favorite that is just as filling, just as flavorful, and way more healthier!

  * You can use French lentils if you prefer, but I love the red lentils for their sweetness and taste. Credit: Mangieri-Maurath


  • 1 1/2 cups of red lentils
  • 1  small white or yellow onion diced
  • 1 clove of garlic finely minced
  • 1 cubanelle pepper diced
  • 2 Serrano peppers ( 1 seeded and 1 unseeded for heat) diced
  • 1 6 oz. can of tomato paste
  • 1 can of crushed tomatoes
  • 3 tsp. of brown sugar dark or light is fine
  • 1 tsp. of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. of Montreal Steak seasoning
  • 1 tbsp. of your favorite BBQ sauce, homemade or commercial, I use Sweet Baby Ray’s
  • 1 1/2 tsp. of the following: Cumin, chili powder, chipotle chili powder, and smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp. of yellow mustard
  • Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
  • water or vegetable broth as needed a splash or two if lentils get to thick
  • Hamburger buns or Kaiser rolls


  1. In a large colander or strainer, rinse and check the lentils thoroughly for small pebbles etc. that sometimes are among dry legumes.  Drain well.
  2. In a large Dutch oven, heat a tablespoon of Avocado oil over medium heat.  Add in onion, garlic, peppers, along with the spices.  Saute for about 3-4 minutes.  Add in tomato paste, salt and cracked black pepper, along with the brown sugar.  Let tomato paste cook, about 3 minutes to infuse flavor and get rich in color.  Stir so as not to let paste burn.  Add in lentils, stir well to combine.  Add in Worcestershire sauce, BBQ sauce, yellow mustard, crushed tomatoes along with their juice.  Let simmer 25-30 minutes, stirring frequently so as not to let the lentils burn.  Add water or vegetable broth as needed, if it is too thick.
  3.  Meanwhile preheat a grill pan over medium heat.  Take your buns and lightly spread a thin layer of softened butter on the insides of them, split and toast lightly face down for about 3 or 4 minutes.  Remove and keep warm.
  4. After about 25 minutes check for seasonings, and to ensure lentils are not mushy.  They should be soft but not overly mushy.  You want texture to them.  Add in a bit more brown sugar if needed, adjust seasoning, Kosher salt and more cracked black pepper as needed.
  5. When lentils are cooked to desired consistency, spoon generously onto toasted buns.  Serve immediately.  Devour!

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Author: Susan Mangieri-Maurath

I am the wife of a sexy firefighter, co-owner of a small automotive repair shop with said sexy firefighter, mother of three amazing teens, Culinary Arts student, aspiring Chef and Writer. 

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