IMADE VEGETARIAN BAKED BEANS WITH MARTHA STEWART, my ex-boss, on her television show in 2011, one of the more out-of-body experiences of the relatively quiet current life I began when I dropped out of the corporate world in 2007. After that show, a lot of people wrote in to ask for the recipe, and the source of the heirloom beans I use. Their wish was my command (although it had to wait till I made another batch so I could take some photos first); my answers became this blog post.
The way I cook is all about big potsful of things, and freezing or canning for later: cook once, eat multiple times. For the price of 1 pound of dry beans and a few simple ingredients, the yield is enough for six or eight portions, most of which are frozen in small containers for later use.
This easy recipe takes very little active prep, but lots of waiting on each end for soaking and then baking. We gardeners are patient types, no?
vegetarian baked beans
1 pound dry beans (I like a Cranberry type, but a creamier-textured Navy-style small white bean is the traditional choice and cooks faster; in this batch I used ‘Yellow Eye’)
- 2 quartered medium onions
- 1/4 cup+ molasses (I use Wholesome Sweeteners organic style, very rich)
- 1/4 cup+ maple syrup — I like Dark Amber for robust flavor
- 4 Tbsp. grainy mustard
- 4-6 Italian-style paste tomatoes, roughly cut up—alternatively use other tomatoes, canned tomatoes, or even some red sauce
- boiling water, enough to cover an inch or so above solids in pot
- small amount of olive oil
Soak the beans overnight; discard the water. Add fresh water and simmer beans briefly (maybe 30 minutes) to just barely tender while preheating oven to 350ish. The “right” temperature really varies with the size of pot you are using; you want the beans to bubble in the oven.
Put water on to boil.
Coat an oven-proof covered pot, such as a Dutch oven or large Pyrex casserole or ceramic bean pot, with a splash of olive oil. Lay the quartered onions in the bottom. (Note on selecting a pot: There must be enough headroom to put in all ingredients above, plus at least 1 inch of boiling water, plus clearance to prevent overflows.)
Drain beans; dress them with the other ingredients above (sweeteners and mustard and tomatoes). Pour over the onions.
Pour boiling water over the mixture until it’s an inch or so above the solids.
Cover and bake until done, between two hours and forever. Many recipes say to leave baked beans uncovered while cooking; doing so, with certain large beans, I have had it take six hours or more. I cover the casserole, and periodically check to see if water is receding. If so, I taste a bean; if not nearly ready, I add more boiling water, often a couple of times.
Once the beans reach an almost-ready tenderness, uncover and turn up heat to 375F the last hour (give or take) to reduce the liquid to a thick, dark brown syrup, turning the ingredients a couple of times to mix everything up.
If the flavor isn’t sweet enough, or tomato-ey enough, or wants salt, add it during this last phase. Or balance the maple-to-molasses ratio to suit your taste. This is a flexible process, not delicate chemistry. You can even make the beans soupier, with more sauce than I like, by not cooking down so long.
Again: The freshness of the beans you start with, how well you soak/cook them first, and the vessel you cook in really make the timing and temperature combination vary. Experiment.
baked-bean tips and tricks
- Don’t want to pre-cook the beans? Soak them for 24 hours, changing water several times, and plan to bake them longer, perhaps all day.
- No good tomatoes in winter? I avoid needing to use canned by freezing a few bags of whole paste types at harvest time (above) for just this kind of recipe.
- Like them spicy? Add a few dashes of hot sauce to the dressing.
- Like them with meat? Instead of some or all of the onion, place chunks of thick-cut bacon in the bottom of the pan.
- Want more? Double the recipe, and use a larger pot.
- Like leftovers? I portion the baked beans out, then freeze for later meals.
what beans to use
- I often use an heirloom Cranberry-style bean like this one.
- For the batch in these photos, I used another heirloom, ‘Yellow Eye.’
want to grow your own?
GROW A variety of bean adapted to shelling, and let the pods dry on the plant. If rain is forecast late in the growing cycle, pull whole plants, roots and all, and dry them indoors, such as hanging on a line in the garage.
- Growing dry beans, with organic bean farmer Theresa Podoll
- Rancho Gordo heirloom beans (sold by the pound, dried, for culinary use)