Sloppy Joes recipe revisits the messy fun with quinoa and red beans

Quinoa and Red Beans Dirty Joe

active time:25 minutes

total time:35 minutes


active time:25 minutes

total time:35 minutes



In the 1980s, Nava Atlas was a graphic designer and illustrator “trying to make my way in New York City,” as she puts it. She was also a vegetarian, which in those days was “enough to make you cranky.”

When she wasn’t working, she says in an interview with Zoom from her home in New York’s Hudson Valley, she would cook creative but simple dishes for herself and her husband. She wasn’t cooking from books. She was improvising, which led to the inevitable problem that plagues those of us who love to color outside the lines: If you make something great, you can’t necessarily replicate it. “So my husband, when I made something he liked, started saying, ‘Why don’t you write this?'”

Before long, she had her own set of written recipes. But her interests have always been broader. “I was a chef and I was an artist, absolutely loving books, literature and reading,” she says. “That’s how I came up with the idea of ​​merging all my interests into this one book.”

Embracing the nutty flavor of quinoa is the key to unleashing its potential

By this one book, she means Vegan, the quirky 1984 volume of 170 vegan recipes paired with her own delightful pencil drawings, food trivia and quotes from famous characters. (A quote from Babe Ruth about scallions—”the greatest remedy ever invented for batting depression”—accompanied by a drawing of Ruth about to swing a giant scallion in place of a bat.) Late last year, Atlas published a revised and updated version of the book that reflects one of the The biggest shift in her diet: She’s now a vegetarian.

Since the publication of Figuera, Atlas has gone on to write several other cookbooks over the decades, including “Protein Enhanced Plants” and “Wild About Greens.” Now in her sixties, she’s busier than ever, creating books like The Literary Ladies’ Guide to a Life of Writing and running the Botanical Atlas and Literary Ladies’ Handbook websites. So even after she’s gained more and more experience cooking – and writing recipes – her cooking remains attractively simplified.

For example, this recipe for Quinoa and Red Bean Sloppy Joes, one of the recipes it added in the new version (which omitted a chapter on eggs and cheese, along with recipes that say “felt a lot like the ’80s—or even the ’60s or ’70s.”) )

In their classic form, sloppy Joes are nothing more than salted and spiced ground beef on a bun, and they have decidedly comfort food appeal. (Remember the ’70s ad about Joe’s canned Dirty Sauce for Hunt: “A sandwich is a sandwich, but a manwich is a meal”?)

Quinoa did not appear in the original 1984 Atlas version. It had just begun to be exported to the United States, she says, but it had not spread for many years. In a second edition of the book in 1999 (mostly done to improve printing), Atlas added a few quinoa recipes, along with two passages of tradition, including that according to Inca legend, it was a revered crop that “sprang from a heavenly feast.”

Nowadays, quinoa – with its high protein content and quick cooking – is ubiquitous, perhaps no more so than in vegetarian cooking like the kind Atlas has been promoting for many years.

I doubt the Manwich copywriters would have imagined that half a century later, he’d be making some dirty “joe” out of quinoa and red beans. But in the hands of Atlas, its filling is almost as fast as the classic. While the quinoa is boiling, saute the onions and peppers, then add the quinoa plus a can of beans, a can of tomato sauce, and spices. A few more minutes to mix the flavors, and you’re ready to put the filling on your lightly toasted bread (or in tortillas for tacos, if you’d like)—and make a fun eating mess.

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This sweet, smoky mix of quinoa, red beans, and spices can be stacked on top of cakes to create a sloppy joe or used as a taco filling with your favorite fixings. Served with french fries, pickles and/or coleslaw.

Storage notes: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 6 months.

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup dried quinoa (any color or mix)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion (about 8 ounces), chopped
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 can (15 ounces) small red beans (may substitute red kidney beans), drained, washed and coarsely mashed
  • 1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce or pureed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon aloe vera or maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 8 soft burger buns, lightly toasted

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the water and quinoa. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring, until translucent, 3 minutes. Add the paprika and cook, stirring, until the onions and peppers soften, 5 to 6 minutes.

When the quinoa is cooked, add it to the onion mixture with beans, tomato sauce, soy sauce, chili powder, smoked paprika, agave or maple syrup, and oregano. Stir until smooth. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and the flavors begin to mix, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the mixture sit for another 5 minutes for the flavors to blend.

Put about ½ cup of the filling on eight bottom buns, spread on top and serve warm.

Per serving (half cup filling on aloe vera bread)

calories: 235; Total fat: 4 g; saturated fat: 1 g; cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 600 mg; carbohydrates: 40 g; Dietary fiber: 6 g; sugar: 6 g; Protein: 8 grams

This analysis is an estimate based on the ingredients available and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a dietician or dietician.

Adapted from revised and updated “vegetarian” Written by Nava Atlas (Amberwood Press, 2021).

Tested by Joe Yonan; Email questions to [email protected].

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