Smoked Paprika Is The Key For Giving Lentil Sloppy Joes A Bold, Meaty Flavor

There's nothing sloppy about these Joes. Kick your go-to busy weeknight meal into overdrive with a smoky plant-based version starring smoked paprika. Lentils are a popular choice for a meat substitute thanks to their naturally high protein and adaptability. They're a great way to get extra legumes into your diet, and when used in this Instant Pot Lentil Sloppy Joes recipe, they're delicious even for omnivores. To really drive the savory smoky flavor home, add some liquid smoke into the mix. But, if you can't find any in your local grocery store, smoked paprika is the next best tool for the job.

Compared to regular paprika — a ground spice blend of dried capsaicin peppers — smoked paprika (aka pimenton) is made from peppers that have been slow-roasted over an oak fire before being dried and ground. This extra step makes a world of difference, imparting strong fire-roasted flavor and smoky depth on your humble lentils. Plus, smoked paprika lends a bright red-orange pigment for a pleasing, deceptive "meaty" visual appearance in your meat-free Joes (we won't tell). 

To make it work for your sloppy Joes, simply add a few shakes of smoked paprika into your batch as it cooks. Whether you use a crock pot, an Instant Pot, or cook 'em on the stovetop, the paprika gets added into the mix all the same. 

More smoky than sloppy

These smoky lentil sloppy Joes pack impressive heavy flavor and darkness, especially with the complement of other flavorful ingredients like apple cider vinegar, umami soy sauce, sweet-rich molasses, and tangy acidic tomato paste. Plus, for maximum customization, you can adjust the proportions of each ingredient to suit your taste. This dimensional sloppy Joe can lean sweeter, more savory, or ultra-smoky depending on your preference — and save a bundle while you're at it. At a Walmart in New York, ground beef costs $4.44 per pound compared to $1.34 per pound for lentils.

Feel free to bulk it up with any extra diced veggies of your choice, too. Just be sure to opt for a sturdier lentil variety like green or brown, which will hold shape and maintain their structural integrity during their tenure under heat. 

Pair this smoky lentil sloppy Joe with your classic cornucopia of sloppy Joe sides. Crisp coleslaw, homemade dill pickle spears, potato salad, or vegan mac and cheese would all fit the bill beautifully. You could even serve these sammies with sweet maple baked beans for a legume double-whammy. To that point, serving sloppy Joes on hamburger buns is traditional, but by no means definitive. This smoky lentil sloppy Joe would also be delicious scooped over rice or cubed roasted veggies like eggplant, squash, and zucchini.