Hidden Veggie Sloppy Joe’s

Man is this recipe good. I almost cringed writing the title because I really hate the idea of “hidden veggie” anything, but I felt like the world needed to know just how versatile and nutrient-packed these SJ’s are. Whether you’re cooking for picky kiddos or just trying to add a bit more vegetables into your dinner, I’ve got you covered with this one-pan wonder of a meal.

Ingredients needed to make Hidden Veggie Sloppy Joe’s

This recipe makes a large amount of SJ filling. It calls for two pounds of ground beef, plus a large portion of food-processed veggies that leaves you with enough for 6-8 servings. I created this recipe on the larger side on purpose, firstly because Jeff eats the equivalent of two adult portions in one sitting and secondly because this recipe works wonderfully for meal prep. The leftovers keep for a solid 5 days in the fridge and it’s incredibly versatile. I serve it over buns, cauliflower rice, mashed potatoes, scooped up with chips, or even eaten with a spoon as-is. If you don’t need this much sloppy joe action in your life, just half the recipe! Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Grass-fed ground beef
  • Zucchini
  • Red bell pepper
  • Mushrooms, any variety
  • Yellow onion
  • Garlic
  • Canned crushed tomatoes
  • Canned tomato paste
  • Maple syrup
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Hamburger buns, for serving

You may be wondering, can you:

  1. use ground chicken or turkey, instead? Yes! Since ground poultry is leaner than ground beef, I would add two Tbsp cooking oil per pound of meat
  2. substitute other veggies in your kitchen for the ones listed in this recipe? Yes! I have made these using cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, different varieties of mushrooms, hot peppers instead of bell peppers for extra heat, and fresh tomatoes instead of canned. Use what you have and what you like, just keep the amounts the same.
  3. omit the sweetener? Yes, but I would be aware that traditional sloppy joe’s are on the sweeter side. Omitting the sweetener will leave you with more of a chunky Italian meat sauce rather than a sweet sloppy joe flavor. You can, on the other hand, sub out the maple syrup for whatever you’ve got on hand- honey, agave nectar, or other forms of sweetener.
  4. use beef that isn’t grass-fed? Absolutely! Grass-fed is my preference for a multitude of reasons, but regular beef is just fine.

Tools used to make Hidden-Veggie Sloppy Joes

I love this meal for easy, weeknight-friendly meal prep. It comes together in one large skillet or pot, making for easy clean up. You’ll need just five pieces of equipment for this recipe, which are as follows:

How to make Hidden-Veggie Sloppy Joes

As mentioned above, this recipe can happen rather quickly, making it perfect for weeknights. It’s also very kid friendly, if that’s something you’re looking for in the kitchen. I don’t yet have kids, but I can imagine the joy on their faces while helping food process all the veggies in this recipe. Every kid loves to push the button, ya know?

You’ll start by processing all the vegetables in the food processor. You may need to work in batches, because an over-crowded food processor can lead to some veggies being pureed and some being too large. We’re looking for everything to be a nice, uniform mince that is similar in size to pieces of cooked ground beef. Once everything is processed, set it aside.

Brown the ground beef in your large skillet or pot. While the beef cooks, you can measure out the remaining ingredients.

Once the beef has browned, add the minced veggies and let everything cook together for 10-15 minutes, until all the water from the veggies has cooked out. Then, add the remaining ingredients to create the sauce. At this point, the sauce can be done after just 10 minutes. However, if you want even more developed flavor, you can let it go over very low for a few hours, stirring every 20 minutes or so. If I’m making this on a lazy Sunday, I’ll often opt for the longer route, but both options taste delicious!

Serve the sloppy joe’s over whatever your heart desires. Traditionally, they’re served on hamburger buns. I’ve also been known to eat it over rice or cauliflower rice, mashed potatoes, or even as-is with a spoon. Jeff loves to dip tortilla chips into the filling, like a sweeter version of chili on chips. Go for it!

Looking for other veggie-packed recipes?

Try these ideas from The Ardent Cook!

Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Cauliflower Risotto with Chicken Meatballs

Chicken and Dumplings

Instant Pot Lemongrass Pork Bowls

Recipe Ingredients

2lbs grass-fed ground beef

1 large zucchini, minced

2 medium carrots, minced

1 red bell pepper, minced

4oz baby bella mushrooms, minced

½ yellow onion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

28oz can crushed tomatoes

6oz can tomato paste

¼ cup maple syrup

3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

3 Tbsp worcestershire sauce 

Salt and pepper, to taste

Hamburger buns, for serving (optional)

Recipe Instructions

  1. Process or very finely mince the zucchini, carrots, bell pepper, mushrooms, onion, and garlic. Set aside. 
  2. In a very large skillet, brown the ground beef. Season with salt and pepper,
  3. Add the minced veggies and stir everything together thoroughly. Season again with salt and pepper. Let the mixture cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, or until most of the water from the vegetables has cooked out.
  4. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce. Let the mixture come to a boil, then simmer an additional 10 minutes to let the flavors meld together. 
  5. Adjust salt and pepper as needed, and serve over hamburger buns for a traditional sloppy joe. Alternatively, serve over rice, cauliflower rice, or mashed potatoes for a fun twist. Leftovers keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. Enjoy!

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Crispy Cast-Iron Chicken Thighs with Black Pepper Gravy

Happy Sunday everyone! If you live in the PA/NJ area, you’ve had rain this entire weekend like I have. Major bummer. Especially during a shelter-in-place. Luckily, this has given me all the time to perfect this comfort-food staple: Crispy Cast-Iron Chicken Thighs with Black Pepper Gravy!

Guys, I’m going to preach for a second right now, so I apologize. If you haven’t bought bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, you are literally not living your life to the fullest extent. I get it, some people are afraid of bones in their meat, or maybe you think that eating chicken skin is going to break your diet. Listen- it’s not. The flavor imparted when you cook chicken with its bones is comparable to NOTHING. It’s seriously so good.

Besides just the flavor, you’re doing a disservice to the animal when you buy boneless, skinless anything. In the era of climate change, meat consumption must be done responsibly, and one of the ways you can do that is by consuming ALL parts of the animals you buy. Save the bones from your chicken, freeze them, and use them to make bone broth (instead of paying $10 for a small container pre-made, you can literally make your own for pennies). I’ll do another blog post on bone-broth at a later date, but there are tons of recipes for that online. You really only need some spare bones, vegetable scraps, water, and a crock pot. It’s that simple. Anyways, thanks for listening to my rant. If I haven’t sold you already, also keep in mind that bone-in meat is always cheaper. So that’s another selling point.

Now back to the recipe. The crispy skin on these bad boys is the perfect compliment to the creamy gravy. A little crunch, a little saltiness, and smooth gravy…. Wow. If you want to make this gravy dairy-free, you could sub a non-dairy milk of your choice or just omit the milk and use double the chicken stock. It’s really flexible. The only important part is the flour to butter ratio, which allows the sauce to thicken. If you’re doubling this recipe, or want more/less gravy, just remember that you need 1 tablespoon fat (chicken drippings, butter, or oil) to 1 tablespoon of flour to 1 cup of liquid. That ratio can be altered up or down depending on your needs.

A little note on the infamous meat thermometer: you need one. Go on Amazon right now, order a basic instant read meat thermometer, and thank me later. It takes all of the guess work out of cooking meat, and ensures perfectly moist chicken every time. Plus, I use them in almost all of my recipes involving meat, so you’ll want to have it on hand if you plan on making anything else from me in the future. A general rule of thumb for poultry is to cook until the bird reaches 165 degrees at the deepest part, however you can often get away with cooking to about 155-160 and letting the meat rest for 10 minutes or so, covered. In the case of this recipe, we don’t want to cover our chicken thighs because the skin will lose its crispiness, so I’m recommending you cook them to the full 165 (because we won’t let them rest covered, which would normally allow them to come to the full temperature). If you ever have questions about this, or about anything at all, feel free to DM me on instagram or leave a comment here.

This chicken is delicious served on its own, or paired with roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, or my Sour Cream and Cheddar Biscuits. Whatever you decide to serve them with, make sure you take photos and tag me on instagram @theardentcook. I hope you enjoy this classic, comforting recipe! Thanks for stopping by!

For the Chicken Thighs

4 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs

1 TBSP high-temperature cooking fat 

½ tsp smoked paprika

½ tsp garlic powder

¼ tsp (a few good turns) fresh cracked black pepper

¼ tsp salt 

For the Gravy

2 TBSP reserved pan drippings

2 TBSP whole wheat flour

1 cup chicken broth 

1 cup milk (can be made dairy free)

Salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a paper towel, pat chicken thighs dry and season all over with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and garlic powder.
  2. Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat to get hot and add cooking oil of your choice. Once hot, place chicken thighs, skin side down, in the skillet with some room in between them.
  3. Cook chicken thighs on the stove for approximately 10 minutes, rotating your pan every few minutes to ensure even cooking. Transfer skillet to the oven, and cook for another 10 minutes.
  4. After 10 minutes, remove skillet from the oven and flip chicken thighs over so the skin side is up. Check to ensure the skin is evenly browned (if the skin needs a few more minutes to achieve browning, you may cook them skin side down for a few additional minutes in the oven). Return skillet to the oven and continue cooking, skin side up, until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit at the deepest part, near the bone.
  5. Place chicken thighs on a plate to rest. DO NOT cover chicken, as this will cause the chicken to steam and ruin the crispiness of the skin.
  6. Carefully discard all pan drippings except for 2 tablespoons. Place skillet back on the stove over medium-low heat, keeping in mind that the handles will still be hot. To the pan drippings, add flour and whisk to combine, creating a roux. Allow roux to brown for a minute or so, watching carefully not to burn it.
  7. Add milk and whisk to combine. There may be some clumping of the roux, but this will dissipate once the milk reaches the same temperature as the skillet. Continue whisking until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  8. Repeat this process with the chicken stock, adding little by little until all of the liquid is incorporated and the gravy is thick and glossy.
  9. Add fresh-cracked black pepper and salt to taste.
  10. Plate gravy and chicken thighs, and serve alongside roasted vegetables for a complete meal. For an extra win, make a batch of my Sour Cream & Cheddar Biscuits to scoop up that extra gravy. Enjoy!