Thursday, January 9, 2014

Lentil Sloppy Joes

Some favorite childhood foods will always have a special place in your heart (and belly). Taco night is best, I will always be excited for breakfast for dinner, and sloppy joes will always bring me a little child-like glee when they appear on my plate. Whether it was sauce from scratch or a can of Manwich, sloppy joes were a dinner that would make my kid-self linger in the kitchen and pester my parents asking when it was time to eat.

But as an adult, the HCFS-driven saccharinity of Manwich is a little much for me, and I keep to a primarily vegetarian diet so I can really splurge on the carnivorous delights I love. Enter lentil sloppy joes, with the deep flavor of a the traditional homemade sauce and all the affordable vegetarian nutrition lentils have to offer. This sauce is sweet, but not in a cloying way, and although the texture certainly different than the ground beef variety, the lentils hold their own against the hearty sauce. The complex mélange of smoky, sweet, and acidic elements all blend nicely together but I can see myself adding a kick of mustard next time.

Leftovers certainly shouldn't be subjected to a merely a sandwich fate. Serve these lentils over rice, as a taco filling, or next to eggs and definitely don't be afraid to melt some cheese over the top, no matter what you do. This recipe makes a generous batch and you can freeze leftovers, though the texture will change a bit on thawing.

Lentil Sloppy Joes
adapted from Whole Foods
serves 8

1 1/2 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 yellow or white onion, diced (about 2 cups)
1 cup diced sweet bell pepper, from one medium to large pepper, or a combination of
1 1/2 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste (more recommended; optional)
1 (6-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added crushed tomatoes
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 whole wheat hamburger buns, pitas, tortillas, or sliced bread, for serving

1. Place lentils in a small pot. Cover with 2 inches of water. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes, or according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring frequently until onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add chili powder, paprika, cumin, cayenne and tomato paste. Cook, stirring constantly until spices and tomato paste are fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add vinegar and then use a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Add 2 cups water, garlic, and crushed tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium-low and let sauce simmer until it thickens, at least 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. When lentils are cooked, drain off any excess cooking liquid. Add lentils to the pan with sauce; stir well to combine. Mash some or all of the lentils using a wooden spoon. Taste and season again with salt and pepper. Toast hamburger buns in the oven, if desired. Ladle approx. 1 cup of the lentil mixture on each toasted bun and serve.

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