EACH MORNING, just after breakfast, I ask my wife what she wants for dinner. It’s a mostly pointless exercise because nine times out of 10, her answer is the same: Vegetables. She says it with a smirk as she walks out the door on her way to the farm where she grows organic vegetables for a living.
I also love vegetables, and I love meat, and I would still be eating a lot more of the latter than I do now if I hadn’t started cutting it with vegetables from the farm.
It can be different than—but needs to taste as good as—a classic sloppy Joe.
These days, vegetables are on-trend. Manhattan’s three-Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park has become a vegan restaurant, and the culinary website Epicurious has dropped beef recipes entirely going forward—which is, in a lot of ways, too bad. My wife will tell you organic vegetable farming is not possible without animal inputs. It is important that those animals are well stewarded and properly treated, and there are many small farms that are doing things correctly.
Raising meat animals the right way does cost more. Those costs are passed along to the consumer; using less meat per serving is a way to continue to support small farms and a way to stretch more expensive meat. In our house, that’s a win-win.
Most days I keep meat down to an ounce or less per serving and fill the recipes out with vegetables. Our Sloppy Joes are mostly carrots and beets with a little meat to keep the flavor and the protein levels high enough to satisfy my meat cravings.
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Often the recipes need tweaking so they don’t feel like a feeble attempt at meat replacement. I consult my cookbook collection for jumping-off points. Joshua McFadden and Deborah Madison are constant inspirations, and recently I came across chef Tyler Kord’s “Shortstack Editions: Broccoli.” In a particularly clever pork burger recipe he adds an entire pound of cooked, chopped broccoli to ground pork and uses an egg to hold the mixture together. I immediately made a version with kale and ground bison and called Mr. Kord.
I asked him about his inspiration for the brocco-burgers. “Back in the day, when I worked for Jean Georges [Vongerichten], I always liked making ‘family meal,’ ” he began, referring to the dinner provided for a restaurant’s employees. “Food cost is so important when it comes to feeding staff, so I’d add a bunch of veg scraps to a meatloaf or something. Everyone always loved those meals, and no one knew I was doing it.”
That’s key to a successful mostly-vegetable sloppy Joe. It can be different than—but needs to still taste as good as—a classic sloppy Joe.
He went on, “And you know, we’ve talked about killing things and eating things and I feel that the less of that there is, the better.”
He wrapped up this way: “I spend a lot of time making and selling vegetable sandwiches, so I guess I like vegetables, and I like meat, and I like them together, so, any and all.”
I could not have said that better.
This Joe recipe cuts the serving of meat to 1 ounce per person—down from the typical 6. You could cut the meat out entirely, but by leaving some beef in the mix you still get a meaty flavor base and some protein. As with any sloppy Joe, it’s much easier to eat out of a pita than on a bun.
- ¾ pound red beets, peeled
- ¾ pound carrots, peeled
- 1 (28-ounce can) crushed tomatoes
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon chile powder
- 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
- ½ pound ground beef, turkey, pork or chicken
- 1 celery rib, chopped
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- ½ cup mascarpone cheese, crème fraîche or sour cream
- 8 pita pockets, trimmed at one side and opened
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Cut beets and carrots into chunks, then pulse in the food processor until finely chopped.
- Melt butter in a medium heavy pot over medium heat. Add onions, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chile powder and cumin, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add beets, carrots, beef and celery, stirring to break up beef. Stir in tomatoes, Worcestershire, brown sugar, ketchup and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and much of the liquid has evaporated, 8-10 minutes.
- Stir in mascarpone and divide among pita pockets. Top with some sprouts. Serve.
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