We've entered that time of year when all I want is dinner in a bowl. Soup, stew, one-pot wonder, crockpot delight, it doesn't matter. I want it warm and hearty, and preferably with a big hunk of bread on the side. For some reason, I've also been feeling particularly nostalgic when it comes to food. I've been looking for comfort foods, new takes on old favorites, and classic Americana.
Enter Sloppy Joes.
When you think of sloppy joes, you might think of Manwich or something akin to canned chili. And if you do, I'm sorry, because that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about a tangy, slightly sweet and smokey, thick and hearty tomato-based creation that slowly stews on your stovetop for hours. It's the look and smell of homemade deliciousness.
However, you must also not forget who you are talking to. A dish of just meat and sauce is not going to cut it for me. In addition to the tomato-rich sauce, all of these veggies are hanging out in my sloppy joes recipe.
Not all of you reading love vegetables as much as I do. Or, your kids freak out over anything that resembles a vegetable being put on their plate. I get it. But I have two rebuttals. One, the wonderful sauce in this recipe covers a multitude of "sins" in this area. Two, notice the small dice of the vegetables. This is key to them blending in, both in appearance and in taste. You get added nutrition and depth of flavor without feeling like "wow, I'm eating a big bowlful of vegetables."
It takes more time, but I think it's well worth it. If this is a deal breaker for you, consider paying someone else to do the dicing. Look in the produce department, frozen aisle, or salad bar for some of these recipe starters.
Also, the vegetables that I used (onion, jalapeno, garlic, mushroom, carrot) were all things that I had in my house. Bell pepper, zucchini, squash, pumpkin, cauliflower or eggplant would all work, too. Again, the key is to finely dice everything.
The first step is to brown the beef. I also like to add the onions and garlic to this step. It allows some of the flavor and fat from the meat to really get into the onions. I still drain the mixture once the beef is cooked. But when you're using lean beef, as I like to do, you don't want to get rid of all the juice!
Also, once the meat is browned, you can easily through the rest of the ingredients into a slow cooker instead of working on the stove top. For a day of watching football, this will do great on the stove. To make it a weeknight meal, do this first part the night before. Then, in the morning, just turn on the crockpot as you leave for work. Voila!
To change things up, I also added black beans to my mixture. You can substitute lentils, small red beans or cranberry beans. Again, what's already in your pantry? Use that! But I like the addition of the beans to stretch the meal out a little - financially - and to get that added fiber and plant-based protein.
I used Ellie Krieger's Sloppy Joes recipe as a source of inspiration, and then modified from there. Basically, I needed more sauce for my recipe due to the additional vegetables, I wanted a richer tomato flavor, and I wanted to give it a little more of a spicy kick. Play around with the recipe, though, and see what works for you household.
The great thing about this recipe is that it doesn't need much to make it a "complete" meal. We served ours on whole wheat bread with some extra sharp cheddar and a side of green beans. They were frozen and microwaved - nothing fancy there! I feel like all meals need something green to make them complete. Not everyone shares my burden. Honestly, with the plethora of veggies in the dish, there is no need for a side. A little sprinkle of chopped parsley would also add a different color to your plate! Whole wheat hamburger buns or kaiser rolls would also be a great bread base for this recipe.
This was a real winner in our house, and made great leftovers, as well. I love how much nutrition is packed in here, too. You've got lots of protein (both plant-based and from the beef), a good dose of fiber, lots of potassium and iron, and a great source of the phytonutrients lycopene and beta-carotene.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did :)
What's your favorite comfort food? Looking for a healthier version of a family favorite? Let me know in the comments!