Remember when your mom would make sloppy joes when you were a kid? It was such a simple meal to make. Brown ground beef, add can of sloppy joe mix and plop onto a bun. An easy and tasty dish to throw together quickly on a weeknight.
I can't explain my craving for a sloppy Joe this weekend, except unless it's coming from a bout of homesickness I've been experiencing lately. Of course, I can't find a can of Sloppy Joe mix here in Swaziland, so (without really knowing the ingredients that go into Sloppy Joes), I improvised this and ended up with something that went way beyond my expectations in terms of taste. It was so good! And while it didn't taste exactly like the Sloppy Joes of my youth, it wasn't too far off, and - if I do say so myself - was better. The sweetness mingled beautifully with the spicy and salty in the recipe. I didn't have any gluten-free buns, but I ate some on toasted bread, and also tried it with rice, and enjoyed it both ways. So I hope you enjoy this dish, which will send you back to a simpler time, yet will keep you rooted where you are with the complexity of its flavors.
Grown-up Sloppy Joes
2 tsp. olive oil
1 small or ½ large onion, chopped very finely
¾ pound lean ground beef
6 – 8 peppadews, chopped into small pieces
1 medium-large tomato, diced
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 chili pepper, stem cut off and stabbed with a knife (optional)
For the sauce:
¾ cup ketchup
4 tbsp. brown sugar
1 -2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
½ tsp. lemon juice
¼ - ½ tsp. chili powder (to taste)
Dash of cayenne pepper
3 tbsp. jam
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pan, heat the oil and when it is hot, add the chopped onions and ground beef. Cook for 5 – 10 minutes, chopping into smaller pieces and stirring frequently. If desired, drain the excess oil and return to the pan. Add the garlic, peppadews, whole chili, and diced tomato and stir to mix. Reduce heat and cover to simmer the meat with the tomatoes until the sauce is ready.
To make the sauce, combine the ketchup, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and chili powder into a small pan and bring to a boil and then simmer for a few more minutes until you are happy with the taste. Add 3 tablespoons of your favorite jam (I used cranberry/blueberry, but I think any would work fine – try another dark berry or apricot if you don’t have cranberry) and stir to mix. Return to a simmer for about 2 – 3 more minutes, or until you are happy with the taste.
Add the sauce to the beef mixture and stir well. Simmer them together for about another 5 – 10 more minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste. Spoon onto toasted bread or a gluten-free bun, or over rice or quinoa, and serve.