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Vegan Sloppy Joe’s (Healthy, Hearty Recipe)

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Traditional sloppy joes are certainly not known to be vegan or plant-based. In fact, they have always been a very meat-focused dish, and often one that was served up in cafeterias or around the dinner table when the family was craving some serious comfort food.

Vegan sloppy Joes

These easy vegan sloppy joes are a great way to enjoy the American classic as a lightened-up and meat free recipe. Of course, you can make any “meat” dish with a plant-based meat substitute. But I decided to take it one step further and use lentils for the vegan meat in this recipe. They’re truly so delicious, flavorful and satisfying. And, the leftovers taste just as good (if not better) the next day.

Recipe highlights

  • A veganized version of the meaty classic, perfect for anyone following a plant-based diet or looking to eat lighter while also satisfying the meat-eaters of the household.
  • Hearty lentils make these sloppy joe’s incredibly satisfying.
  • No vegan ground beef alternatives to be found in this recipe. The sloppy joe mixture is all plant-based and healthy made with lentils.
  • Serve with dill pickles, French fries, potato chips, or a side salad for a complete meal.
  • The tangy sauce is truly addictive and nobody will pay mind that this hearty sandwich is the vegan version.

How to make vegan sloppy joes

Cook lentils according to package instructions until they are just about tender. Be careful not to overcook them, as they will continue to cook with the sauce! You can also use split lentils, but note they will cook much faster.

Lentils cooked

Blend diced tomatoes in a blender or food processor till smooth.

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, cook onion and pepper in a splash of olive oil over medium heat until onion becomes tender and translucent. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Onion and pepper added to pan

Add blended tomatoes along with soy sauce and spices to the garlic/pepper/onion mixture. Stir. Add lentils and simmer on low for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Vegan sloppy Joe sauce

Remove from heat and stir in 3/4 tsp of apple cider vinegar.

Serve on buns with an optional slice of vegan cheese

Recipe Tip

If you like a “sloppier” filling that more resembles traditional sloppy Joe’s, you can blend up half of the lentils in a food processor or use an immersion bender to process them.

Recipe tips and FAQs

  • Do not overcook the lentils, as this will result in a mushy texture rather than a meat-like texture.
  • Instead of serving these sloppy joes on buns, you can also serve them inside of a baked potato or inside a lettuce wrap. This lightens up the recipe even more and its still so tasty.
  • Add a splash of hot sauce or a pinch cayenne pepper if you prefer a bit of spice in your vegetarian sloppy joes.
  • Smoked paprika is preferred in this recipe because it adds a layer of smoky flavor. If you don’t have it on hand, you can substitute and use regular paprika.
  • I love the way that blackstrap molasses adds the necessary sweetness to this recipe. If you do not have this ingredient, see the substitution in the recipe card using ketchup and maple syrup. Alternatively, you can use coconut sugar or brown sugar.
  • Don’t skip the addition of the apple cider vinegar at the end of the cooking. It adds a nice zing and really enhances all the flavors.

What color lentils work best? You can use green, red or brown lentils, but the cook times will vary. Split lentils will cook the fastest.

Can I substitute the molasses? You can use ketchup instead of the molasses and maple syrup mixture.

How else can I serve the sloppy joe filling? I like using the filling to fill baked potatoes (regular or sweet potatoes work well). Lettuce wraps are a bit messy with this recipe, but it is doable. Alternatively, you can use gluten-free hamburger rolls or your choice of brioche bun.

Vegan sloppy Joes

​Storage and reheating

Store the sloppy joe leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. You can also freeze the sauce for a quick meal right from the freezer.

I hope you enjoy this sloppy joe recipe. It’s a great recipe for the whole family, especially for those who prefer a meatier dish. This is a comfort food recipe I love to throw together for easy weeknight dinners. It’s healthy and guilt-free, making it a great addition to your regular rotation. Let me know how you like it and if you make any substitutions.

More hearty vegan recipes

Vegan Sloppy Joe’s

Vegan sloppy Joe's
These vegan sloppy Joe's are a healthier version of the meaty classic. And, they are SO flavorful.
Cook Time 30 minutes
Serving Size 4


  • 1 cup dry lentils (any color, cooked to package instructions)
  • 1 cup chopped yellow or white onion
  • 1 cup finely chopped bell pepper
  • 2-4 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 14.5 oz fire roasted diced tomatoes (1 can)
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. low sodium soy sauce (or liquid aminos)
  • 1 Tbsp. blackstrap molasses (see substitution below)
  • 1 Tbsp. maple syrup (see substitution below)
  • ¼ tsp salt (to taste- If using low sodium tomatoes and low sodium soy sauce, I use 1/2 tsp.)
  • ¾ tsp apple cider vinegar (added last, off heat)


  • Cook lentils according to package instructions until just tender – being careful not to overcook.
  • Blend diced tomatoes in a food processor or blender till smooth. You can also use an immersion blender.
  • In a large skillet or Dutch oven, cook onion and pepper in a splash of oil over medium heat until onion becomes tender and translucent. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  • Add blended tomatoes, cooked lentils, smoked paprika, dijon mustard, chili powder, soy sauce, molasses, maple syrup and salt to the garlic/pepper/onion mixture. Simmer on low for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Remove from heat and stir in 3/4 tsp of apple cider vinegar.
  • Serve on buns or baked potatoes with an optional slice of vegan cheese.


NOTE: Instead of the blackstrap molasses and maple syrup, you can substitute 2 Tbsp. of regular ketchup instead of these two ingredients.
Calories: 250kcal | Carbohydrates: 46g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 0.2g | Sodium: 356mg | Fiber: 18g | Sugar: 12g | Calcium: 91mg | Iron: 5mg

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    1. For pre-cooked lentils, use about 2 1/2 cups. But to note, if I am using a package of pre-cooked lentils and it has exactly 2 cups, I just use the whole thing and I don’t open another package to add extra. I may add a little extra chopped pepper. The filling is still really flavorful and hearty.

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