Ahhhh. Sloppy Joes. The official sandwich of Jamaica. OK, so not really, but I bet if they tried my jerk sloppy joe they might consider making it the official sandwich. Why jerk sloppy joes? Why not regular sloppy joes? Funny you should ask…
I belong to a book club. It’s the kind of book club no one reads the book. We started out reading, but after a few months we realized that we spent way more time talking about the food we all brought rather than talking about the book we were supposed to read. Now we don’t even pretend to read books, we just cook and eat. I guess we could just call it a cooking club, but saying I belong to a book club makes me seem more sophisticated. Each time we get together we have a different theme for our food. We’ve done Irish food on St. Patrick’s Day, a meatball cook-off, Greek food, a meal made with all local ingredients, Cinco de Mayo and a chili cook-off, just to name a few. This time our theme was The Olympics. The idea was simple – each person picked a country and made food from that country. I chose Jamaica. All together we had 11 countries represented! I was originally going to do jerk tofu, but decided to try something a little more unique, hence the sloppy joes.
These bad boys are the perfect mix of spicy and sweet. I topped mine with pineapple which added a totally different layer of flavor. For the “meat” of the sloppy joes, I used tempeh. Tempeh is fermented soy beans. I’ve had good tempeh and I’ve had bad tempeh. The key to cooking tempeh is to steam it before you cook with it. Steaming it helps get rid of the bitter flavor. Tempeh is normally sold near the tofu and other vegan meat products. It’s high in fiber and protein, and it comes in a few flavor varieties.
If you’re not a fan of spicy food, you can easily adjust the spice level in this dish. Feel free to use whatever peppers you like, and certainly add more or less to suit your taste.
Vegan Jerk Sloppy Joes
3 packages of tempeh
1 bunch green onions, chopped into large sections
1/2 small onion quartered
6 jalapeno peppers, stems removed
1 hot pepper, stem removed (Habanero, basket of fire, etc)
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 tsp fresh thyme
2 1/2 tsp ground allspice
3 tbsp oil
4 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp salt
1 can tomatoes (crushed is ideal, diced will work, too)
In a steamer or a large pot with a steamer insert, steam the tempeh for 20 minutes. After the tempeh is done steaming, let it cool until you can handle it with your bare hands. While it’s steaming you can make the jerk sauce.
In a food processor (or blender if you don’t have a food processor) add the rest of the ingredients except the tomatoes. Pulse the food processor until the ingredients are broken down and no large chunks remain. Add the tomatoes and pulse again until you have a relatively smooth mixture. You want to make sure no large chunks remain. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times.
Once your tempeh is cool enough to work with, break the tempeh down by hand. The tempeh will be easy to crumble. You will need to crumble it in to pieces about the size of peas.
From here you have two options, add the tempeh and sauce to a sauce pan and simmer on the stove until heated through, or throw everything in a crock pot and let it warm up that way. I went the route of the crock pot, and I’m glad I did. I set it on low for 2-3 hours and basically forgot about it until it was time to eat.
To serve these, I threw the buns on the grill to brown them a bit, then served the tempeh mix on the toasted buns topped with a slice of pineapple. The only thing I regret is not throwing the pineapple on the grill, too.
This recipe makes a TON, so if you’re only feeding a few people, feel free to halve it. Or just make the entire batch and freeze some of the jerk sloppy joe mix for a night later on when you don’t feel like cooking. It freezes wonderfully and reheats great in the microwave.