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Joe Beef's Lentils Like Baked Beans

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Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: This month, we're teaming up with Kitchen Arts & Letters for a Back to the Kitchen Genius Series. Managing Partner Matt Sartwell is sharing memorable recipes from his 20+ years running the famed cookbook store; we get to revamp our weekday routines.

Next up: All that's good about from-scratch baked beans -- except this version can be ready for dinner tonight, and won't taste like dessert.

This is the perfect recipe for people who love baked beans. It's also the perfect recipe for people who hate them.

Baked beans are polarizing: At least on their home turf in New England, they often taste as much like a jug of molasses as a wholesome pot of stew. (In the U.K. -- where baked beans were considered a luxury import starting in the 1880s and are now eaten for breakfast -- the standard can of Heinz baked beans is half as sweet as it is here.) And, according to some, the best recipes are made from a base of canned pork 'n beans. As key ingredients go, it would be hard to get more anticlimactic than that.

This version, from Montreal's Joe Beef restaurant, dials back the sugar (and the pork 'n beans) so we can taste everything else. It has everything we love -- or could love -- about baked beans, the smoky, tangy, meaty roundness of them, without tasting like dessert. It also doesn't technically use beans, but their smaller relative, the lentil.


"It fell on lentils but it could be any vegetable, any whole grain or legume," chef and co-owner Fred Morin (pictured above, at left, with co-owner David McMillan) told me. "The combination of tomato, brown sugar, mustard, and onion works magic always. Celeriac like baked beans, even baked beans stock as a sauce for duck. It's the coureur des bois 'Doritos' flavor."


Using lentils, importantly, also means that these baked "beans" cook in a fraction of the time. Where from-scratch baked beans can take anywhere from 2 hours (even starting with good old pork 'n beans) to the better part of a day, this recipe calls for the red lentils you'd typically see used in dal, which swiftly break down into mush and drink up nearby seasonings.

These lentils stand on their own -- a bowl of them could be dinner (and tomorrow's very good lunch), or you could add fried eggs, or toast, or a pile of wilted greens.

More: Another way to make lentils a meal -- tacos.


Joe Beef might be famous for the Double Down and horse filet with occasional horse jerky, but they don't overdo these things carelessly. They're surprisingly good at finding restraint and balance, of swelling up savory and sweet and smoky until they're just enough and no more. Here, to perhaps reassert who they are, they recommend a side of pork chop.

It's a very good pairing. But in lieu, Kitchen Arts & Letters co-owner Matt Sartwell told me, "I've learned to drop in leftover roasted pork shoulder: If I canned the stuff, I could put Van Camp's out of business."

Joe Beef's Lentils Like Baked Beans

From The Art of Living According to Joe Beef (Ten Speed Press, 2011)

Serves 4

4 slices bacon, finely diced
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed
4 cups water
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons maple syrup, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons neutral oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons Colman's dry mustard
1 teaspoon pepper, plus more as needed
1 bay leaf

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks this week -- and all month! -- to Matt Sartwell at Kitchen Arts & Letters.

Photos by Alpha Smoot

Tags: Lentil, Breakfast, Brunch, Side, Weeknight Cooking, Long Reads, Editors' Picks, Genius Recipes, DIY Food, Everyday Cooking, How-To & Diy, Genius