Weeknight Cooking

Spicy, Just-Saucy-Enough Sloppy Joes, Minus the Meat

June  7, 2017

We partnered with California Walnuts to share a few hearty, no-meat main dishes, like the classic sloppy joe. This one's saucy and spicy, and has a little secret: It gets it's just-right texture from the mighty walnut.

Hey you, internet reader, trying to decide what to make for this weekend's potluck cookout, or weeknight supper, or make-ahead lunches for the week: Consider the walnut-mushroom sloppy joe. Seriously, stay with me and I'll explain—and no Lunch Lady jokes, please!

The humble sandwich, whose normally-meaty filling is usually made up in a big pot and full of shortcuts, tastes spicy, sweet, and tangy all at the same time. It's stewed goodness, but not in a wintry sense, for it's topped with something pickled, served on a chewy roll, and best eaten while basking in the sun's rays. It's got a childhood-spent-outside vibe to it. (I don't mean to get all nostalgic, but it's funny to think about the meals that really meant something to you as a kid. This, and fresh green beans, have stuck with me. And molasses cookies.)

Through fits and starts of not eating meat (I do these days), plus having meals alongside many vegetarians, I've found that I like to eat mostly plant-based—and I'm always looking for ways to up the protein and fats in my meals without adding meat. It means I reach for nuts pretty often when I'm cooking, especially meaty ones like walnuts, which also lend heartiness to a dish. Basically, giving something meatiness without adding meat. It's not exactly a revelation, but for likes of a sloppy joe, this strategy breathes new life into a simple recipe that could easily be cast off as unhealthy or old hat.

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With these Spicy, Saucy Walnut and Mushroom Sloppy Joes, there's no need spend time going to the butcher, or to let meat brown. They're not chock-full of lentils or beans that'll make you feel like you got gut-punched right after dinner. They taste pretty much exactly like the classic and, thanks to the chopped walnuts, they have a similar texture.

A mess of onions, garlic, and peppers lay the base, and mushrooms lend heft and soak up juice from the aromatics. The mix of spices, sugar, and canned tomatoes (crushed is just right, but even pizza or spaghetti sauce would work) give the mixture its signature punch of sweet, spicy, and tangy.

The chopped walnuts bring everything together, which you can toast while the aromatics are sizzling away. Stir them in right before you are ready to serve so they keep their structure—after all, the best part of adding them to your sloppy joes is that they are textural and chewy against all the soft stuff, and also bulk up the mixture. Consider making some 1-minute quick-pickled red onions to top them off, plus a palmful of cilantro.

These joes reheat extraordinarily well, and the flavors get even better a day or two removed. The walnuts don't have that just-toasted crunch, but they retain a pleasant chew. I've eaten the filling as an open-faced sandwich or like chili straight from a bowl, and topped with slaw or other assorted pickles (like ramps or jalapeños). So back to that weekend cookout: While your crew is fiddling with the grill, all you have to do is give the filling a little warm-up—you'll happily be snacking away ahead of everyone else. If you're bringing these for work lunch, all you need are a stock of buns and somewhere to heat it all up, and you'll be the envy of the office (unless you share, of course).

According to a recent survey by the California Walnut Board, more than three-quarters of Americans are open to including meatless dishes in their regular routine. So, we partnered with California Walnuts to share plant-based recipes starring walnuts that'll stand in for meat on your dinner table. To see more recipes, head here.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Bobby Visnosky
    Bobby Visnosky
  • Miachel Breton
    Miachel Breton
I love oysters and unfussy sandwiches.


Bobby V. July 22, 2017
Fantastic recipe! I made it as is and then also made it another time and added 2 extra T sugar and 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar for a sour element. Fantastic! Pickled onions and or pickled Jalapenos complete the sandwich!
Miachel B. July 8, 2017
This sounds delicious.