Lentil Sloppy Joes

Lentils stand in for ground beef in these vegan sloppy joes. Served with caramelized red onions and plenty of pickles! 

If you subscribe to 1,001 food blogs like I do, then your inbox has been flooded with everything to do with Thanksgiving day food - recipe roundups...healthified versions of classic side dishes...unique spins on the traditional Turkey...creative uses for leftovers.  My inbox is going to gain a few lbs over the holidays too.

Thanksgiving centers around food, sometimes to the point of gluttony.  I think that's okay...to a point.  With all the time spent planning the menu, grocery shopping and debating the best way to cook a turkey, it's easy to forget what the holiday is really about.  Remember, it's Thanksgiving.

My job is a daily reminder of my many blessings.  My patients are in poor health, battling crippling chronic diseases that steal quality years from their life.  Most grew up in poverty.  Many were hit hard by the 2008 economic crisis, going from comfortably middle class to struggling to make mortgage payments.  They go without so their children can have opportunities they never dreamed of.  Growing up in suburbia, it's easy to forget how rare it is to always have enough money for food, let alone the funds to travel the world, pay for 6 years of school and a new car at sixteen.  Those things felt like the norm, but really, they were the exception.

After being exposed to the struggles of a different socioeconomic group, I started to feel incredibly childish when I caught myself in moments of envy.  Being jealous of a friends bigger house seems awfully silly when other people are losing theirs.  I knew I should be grateful for all that I have, but it's easier said than done.  Keeping up with the Jones' is a hard habit to break.  I decided to brush off that old psychology degree and do a little research on how to foster gratitude.  Afterall, practicing gratitude is both a skill and a habit, something that requires practice in order to master.

Now, I'm certainly no expert on the art of being thankful.  I'll be the first to admit to being shallow, jealous and petty more often than I'd like.  Despite my faults, this exploration into thankfulness has been life changing, and I know you would be incredibly thankful if I shared the tools that I've learned.

1. Be present in each moment.  If you are future projecting or dwelling in the past, it's impossible to recognize what you have right this moment.

2. Write it down.  It's easy to let one negative event ruin your day.  One study found we are three times more likely to remember a negative versus a positive event.  Throughout the day, keep a tally of what you feel grateful for.  If you have a written reminder of the positive events, you're less likely to focus on the negative.  Another way to practice this is the three blessings exercise in which you write down three blessings at the end of each day.

3. Say thank you.  Expressing gratitude helps you feel gratitude.  I challenged myself to say thank you at least 5 times every day.  Some days it was easy - a stranger would hold a door for me, I'd receive a nice comment on the blog, a neighbor would bring treats out to our dogs.  Other days, it was a struggle.  Finding reasons to say thank you made me appreciate the little acts of kindness that often go unnoticed.

4. Use your senses.  Open your eyes, take a deep inhale and listen to the noises that surround you.  Notice the simple things like the smell of dinner cooking on the stove, the bright reds, oranges and yellows of the tree in your front yard changing colors, the cozy feel of your thick, fuzzy socks.  This can be incredibly gratifying, especially when you realize these little things that often go unnoticed would be a huge excitement for so many others.

5. Say a blessing, or give thanks every time you eat.  The statistics on food insecurity are shocking.  In a nation of excess, it's heartbreaking to know 7 million people experience very low food security, or hunger.  Worldwide, the statistics are even more sobering - one in eight are chronically undernourished.  Even if dinner is just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or (gasp) fast food, it's still something to be thankful for.

6. Make a gratitude inventory.  Make a list of 50-100 truly awesome things you've seen, done and experienced in life.  It can range from awe-inspiring sights, laughter filled moments with friends or accomplishments you feel proud of.  I pull out my list whenever I'm feeling down (in true millennial fashion I keep mine on my iphone).  When I remember gasping in awe after seeing my first moai on Easter Island, how my stomach hurt for days from laughing so hard while creating a Whitney Houston cassette with my best friend, and the butterflies in my stomach as I said my vows, it's impossible not to feel the fullness in my heart that comes with complete gratitude.

Today's recipe is a simple, but delicious.  It has nothing to do with gratitude, except that I'm grateful it turned out as amazing as I hoped.

Lentil Sloppy Joes


Serves 6

Adapted from Edible Perspective. Don't even attempt to eat this with your hands. Fork and knife are required for this bad boy.


  • 1 cup uncooked lentils
  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 medium-large carrot, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons mild chili powder (I used 1 tablespoon smoked chili powder and 2 tablespoons regular)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 15-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup low sodium vegetable broth
  • Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 large red onion, sliced into 1/2 inch rings
  • 6 100% whole grain hamburger buns, toasted
  • Pickles


  1. Pick over lentils for any stones or debris. Place in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Partially cover lid and simmer about 20 minutes, until al dente - tender, but with a bite. Drain.
  2. While lentils are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, a sprinkle of salt and cook until translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add carrot and cook 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, and smoked paprika. Stir and cook 1 minute until fragrant. Pour in tomatoes and tomato paste, stir to combine. Stir in apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, and 3/4 cup broth. Bring to a simmer and stir in lentils. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne (if using).
  3. While cooking the lentil mixture, caramelize the onions. Heat 1 tablespoon oil on medium heat in a medium skillet. Add onions when hot. Cook 6-8 minutes until translucent, then sprinkle with salt. Reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until golden brown and caramelized.
  4. Place pickles on the bottom of a hamburger bun. Top with sloppy joe mixture and caramelized onions. Serve with microwaved baked potato chips.