Did you have sloppy joes as a kid? You know, the ground meat and spicy tomato sauce on a bun business. I didn’t; we were more of a Spaghetti O’s household. The only sloppy joes I ever encountered were in the school cafeteria and those were a sad sight to see. So I really have no idea what inspired this recipe. Maybe it’s just my love of lentils and all the ways in which they are a perfect meat substitute. Lentils are earthy, meaty, filling, and have tons of protein. Add a super easy homemade tomato sauce, cheese, and grill it all up in a panini and you’re golden.
Domestocrat’s Vegetarian Sloppy Joe Paninis (makes 6 servings)
2 cups green lentils
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
2 tsp. EVOO
15 oz. can of tomato sauce
14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1.5 tbsp. crushed garlic
1/4 tsp. aleppo pepper (if you don’t have aleppo, you can used red pepper flakes)
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. King Arthur Pizza Seasoning (you can swap this for any italian seasoning)
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Salt to taste
First, cook up the lentils. Give them a good rinse and once over to make sure there aren’t any stones or junky pieces. Put the lentils in a pot, cover with water, and let them boil over medium-high heat until they are al dente. The firmness is totally up to you. I found al dente to be good especially since they will soften more while they cook in the tomato sauce.
While the lentils are cooking, start on the sauce. Dice up the onion and bell pepper. Saute over medium-high heat until both are tender and just start to brown.
When the veggies have browned, add in the garlic and all the spices. Give the mixture a good stir, lower the heat to medium-low, and let that cook for another few minutes.
Next, add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste to the pot. Cook together for 10 minutes.
Quick Tip – I know tomato paste in a can seems like such a pain but here’s what I do with it: use the portion I need and then spoon the rest into a freezer bag, divide with my fingers into different sizes, and toss in the freezer for another day. Super easy!
Next, add the lentils, give the pot a big stir, and then simmer uncovered over low heat for 2 hours (checking in/stirring every 10-15 minutes or so).
When the 2 hours is almost up and you are getting ready to eat, prep the panini makings! (i.e. bread and cheese, is there nothing better?)
Since we don’t have a panini press (I just can’t justify spending money on such a big appliance that I wouldn’t use all that often), I used our grill pan to make these paninis. I grilled up the bread a little bit first that that it would be a sturdy base.
I then added two slices of cheese on the bottom slice of bread then two big scoops of the lentils. I topped with the other piece of bread and flipped a few times to melt the cheese and get these pretty grill marks on the bread.
What a delicious panini! I couldn’t resist adding another little scoop of lentils to my plate (not to mention a few chips and guac). The whole thing was super hearty, filling, and tasted magnificent. A totally grown up spin on a childhood classic.