by Valentina


(4 people)


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Half a medium onion, minced
  • a finger-long piece of carrot, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 200g red lentils, rinsed
  • 400g tomato passata
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce
  • Pinch ground chilli, to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 scant teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock


  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, sliced thin
  • Salt and pepper
  • Hamburger buns, preferably whole wheat, toasted

Add the olive oil, onion, carrot and garlic to a pan, and sauté for a few minutes, until the onion turns translucent.
Add the lentils and stir well for a minute. Add the passata, sugar, soy or Worcestershire sauce, chilli, bay leaf, a good pinch of salt and pepper, paprika and cumin. Add the vegetable stock, half-cover, and simmer on a low flame until the sauce is thick and the lentils are soft. For best results, turn the flame to medium-high and let the sauce thicken, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Once ready, remove the bay leaf, and adjust salt and pepper.
In the meantime, heat the olive oil for the onions in a separate pan. Sauté the onions on a low flame until soft and golden, about 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper and stir well. Add a tiny bit of water if the onions stick.
When everything is ready, toast the buns and stuff each with the sloppy lentils and the onions. Enjoy immediately.

When I was little, I saw this burger in a movie. I was in Italy and had never seen anything like it. It looked so delicious that I was immediately craved one, and asked my mom to try and recreate it at home. Of course, we had no idea what it could be exactly made of, so she came up with her own version, using ground meat and tomato purée. I immediately fell in love with it and asked her to make it for me about once a week.
It became my favorite Thursday night dinner, and I kept eating it this makeshift 'Sloppy' for years, until my first years at high school.

When I went to the US and started learning more about American culture, I also learned what this burger I loved for years really was: the original Sloppy Joe used a plethora of spices which were unfamiliar to me.

I have to say I did not fall in love with it. My tastebuds, raised with Italian flavors, were not familiar with spices such as paprika and cumin.
Furthermore, I had started to eat less and less meat, so I never ate an entire Sloppy Joe.

But when blogs of vegetarian cooking started to come up with vegetarian versions of this sandwich, using lentils instead of ground beef, my interest in this recipe was awakened again.

Red lentils are perfect for this: they turn creamy and blend perfectly with the sauce, creating a pleasant texture that does not differ that much from the original.

My version does not include peppers, but feel free to add a large red bell pepper, minced, to get closer to the original. If you like it, add a little jalapeño as well.
Sometimes, I omit paprika and cumin as well to get even closer to the sandwich I had when I was little. After all, isn't food a matter of feelings - and, sometimes, memories?

I think it is.

I am Valentina, a photographer. A transition from the countryside between Marche and Romagna to the USA made me passionate about green, natural cooking. Hortus Cuisine, my blog, was born three years ago from this passion, which now focuses on mediterranean diet and recipes and photography. When I am not taking photos, I love to work on my writing and on honing my knowledge about food and wine. Legumes are the throbbing heart of a blog like mine, which focuses on Italian food. Legumes are the very soul of mediterranean cooking; they are a poor yet beautiful maid, able to make a feast out of naught.