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Author Notes: There are two categories of foods in this world: those that taste best when made from scratch and those that taste best out of a box or a can. Am I serious? Well, sort of, but it doesn’t make me happy. In fact, many of my zaniest and most maddening food odysseys revolve around trying to reinvent scratch and take it back from the world of the packaged. I can now see that this topic, in its entirety, is really a good one to tackle on its own. For now, let me just say that I’ve been on a mission to make some baked beans at home that taste as good as the ones that come in a can. And here we are, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. (This might not seem so traditional, but baked beans are served on just about every plate north of the English Channel with alarming frequency). As for really great not-from-a-can baked beans? I think I just may have done it here. Oh, and here’s the taste de triomphe—no ketchup or barbeque sauce anywhere near my pot, ye haw!
Now, I know, them’s fightin’ words. Good baked beans, from home? Are they southern, sweet and barbeque? Brit-style, glossy thin mild sweet sauce? Boston baked with lots of molassas? Are they just like the ones my grandmother/uncle/father/cousin’s cousin used to make every Sunday? No, no , no and how the heck do I know (you might be surprised to learn that your relatives opened a tin, chopped some onion and added some barbeque sauce or ketchep. Just sayin’.) You might be surprised that these beans are pretty darned close to Bush’s (wondering why? Yeah, that’s the last tin of beans I bought…).
I would absolutely love to hear from more folks about their favorite beans—either in a tin, a recipe or memories from home. Now that I think of it, one of my favorite baked beans stories from childhood involves the movie “Blazing Saddles” and a campfire. ‘Nuff said.
P.S. Somehow I have always preferred vegetarian baked beans, but for those bacon lovers out there, feel free to substitute some good bacon for the oil and sauté that up as the base for the rest of the recipe.
—Slow Cooked Pittsburgh
- 4 cups dried navy beans, soaked overnight
- 2 large onions, small dice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 2 tablespoons mustard powder
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 quart tomato puree (see *note)
- 1 cup sucanat
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- Drain and rinse soaked beans and put into large pot, cover with cold water. Bring beans to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until soft (1-2 hours).
- In a large heavy pot (use one that has a lid) heat oil and add onions, garlic and mustard powder; sweat until onions are translucent. Add cider vinegar, stirring to release any bits from bottom of pan, add tomato puree, sugar, cloves and tamarind. Simmer, allowing flavors to combine, for approximately 20 minutes. Use an immersion blender to blend all ingredients into a smooth sauce (you can also use a blender, but be careful, this is a hot liquid!). If a very smooth consistency is preferred, strain sauce through fine mesh or a fine sieve and return sauce to your heavy pot (add water if the sauce seems too thick). Add maple syrup, stir well, then add cooked beans. Cover the pot and place in 300 F oven for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally to check consistency of sauce.
- *Note: depending on the thickness and texture of the tomato puree you are using, you may need to add additional water to thin the sauce. If your sauce requires additional thickening, after baking, return pot to the stove top (without the lid) and simmer over medium low heat until desired thickness is achieved