Lentil Barbacoa

Are you ever craving a good BBQ sandwich with the texture of pulled-meat and topped with coleslaw and dill pickle slices? I found this recipe one day while browsing through one of my favorite recipe blogs, Minimalist Baker. Barbacoa is typically made of a slow-cooked, seasoned meat.

This recipe uses lentils and shredded carrots to recreate the “meaty” and “shredded” textures typically found in a slow-cooked, pulled-meat sandwich. The addition of brown sugar provides a little bit of sweetness typically found in BBQ, while the chipotle chilis and smoked paprika add some spice and smokiness. There is umami from soy sauce and subtle acidity from the lime juice and apple cider vinegar.

This flavorful combination is balanced out nicely with a slightly creamy, vinegar-based red cabbage slaw which contributes a contrasting coolness and crunch.

Best of all, this vegan version of barbacoa is loaded with plant protein and fiber from lentils and beta carotene from carrots. The powerful health benefits of red cabbage can be reviewed on my “Nutritional Tidbits” page.



  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (or substitute water)
  • 1/2 white or yellow onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked brown lentils (you can use canned, rinsed and drained lentils or cook dried lentils per package instructions)
  • 1 1/2 cups packed finely shredded (you can do this manually or with the grater attachment of a food processor)
  • 2-3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp each salt and black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground smoked paprika (can add 1/2-1 tsp additional for a more smoky flavor)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2-3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped + 1-3 tsp adobo sauce (more or less to preferred spice level). These can usually be found in the ethnic aisle of the grocery store. If you prefer things spicier, you can use additional peppers and/or sauce. These add both smoke and spice.
  •  1 Tbsp soy sauce (can add additional 1/2-1 Tbsp for flavor, salt)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water (more as needed)


  • 1/2 head red cabbage shredded or thinly sliced (or small package of shredded cabbage)
  • 1/4 cup vegan mayo (I like Just Mayo brand)
  • 2 Tbsp almond milk
  • 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1-2 tsp sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: 2-3 shredded scallions, 1/4-1/2 cup shredded carrots


  • Hamburger-style buns (I used pretzel buns) or substitute corn tortillas. Can also be enjoyed in non-sandwich/taco form
  • Cabbage slaw
  • Sweet potato fries



Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add oil (or water), onion, and garlic. Sauté for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until tender and slightly browned.

Next, add cooked lentils, carrots, coconut sugar, salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, oregano, chipotle peppers + adobo sauce, soy sauce, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, and water. Stir to combine.

Cover and cook over medium-low heat for at least 15 minutes (or up to 30-40 minutes on low heat) or until the carrots are tender and the color has deepened. Stir occasionally and add more water as needed if it dries up.

Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more paprika or cumin for smokiness, salt for saltiness, brown sugar for sweetness, lime for acidity, soy sauce for “umami” flavor, or chipotle peppers for spice.

Optional: Scoop half of the mixture into a food processor and (using the “s”-shaped blade) mix/pulse to mash some of the lentils and carrots together. This creates a more cohesive texture. You can also use a hand blender or mash with a potato masher.


Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and ideally let sit in refrigerator for 30 minutes prior to serving.

Serve the Barbacoa plain, on top of a bed of greens, or make into a sandwich or tacos. Top with cabbage slaw and dill pickle slices if desired.

This was adapted from the original recipe by Minimalist Baker