Savory Barbecue-Flavor Baked Beans, Comfort Food for a Late Summer Picnic



It seems to me that beans get a bad rap. So many people avoid them–you’ve all heard the reasons they give! Can I be frank? In my opinion, the problem is not with beans, but with people’s weakened digestive tracts. Really people, if you can’t digest well, work with your health care provider to fix that!  Beans figure prominently in cultures as varied as Mexico, India and Japan and are too delicious and healthy a food to pass-up. There’s little doubt that our planet would be healthier if people in high meat-eating countries like the U.S. ate more beans and less meat. A cup of pinto beans, for example, provides an adult with 28 % of her daily protein, and also fiber, phosphorous, iron, magnesium, thiamin, and a half dozen other nutrients. As for digestion, people in Japan believe that cooking beans with the sea vegetable kombu improves their digestibility, while Mexicans feel the same about the herb epazote. Both are easy to find in Bay Area markets. And eating beans is hardly a sacrifice, they can be a great-tasting comfort food. My mother is known for her wonderful baked beans, and I’ve always been a fan of that all-American dish. Her recipe is very similar to this one for Boston baked beans, the classic barbecue and picnic favorite. My vegan recipe leaves out the pork fat and brown sugar, but delivers lots of complex flavor (sweet, salty, spicy) in an earth-friendly format. The 80 or so people who joined us for our weekly dinner in Palo Alto this past Monday more or less licked the pot clean–I think they liked it!



3 cups cooked pinto beans, drained (but save the juice or cooking liquid)

3/4 cup cooking juice from the beans, or as needed

1 small onion, peeled, diced and sautéed until tender along with 2-3 cloves minced garlic

1 tablespoon Annie’s Smoky Maple Barbecue Sauce

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon barley malt syrup or molasses or maple syrup

1 tablespoon natural catsup, or to taste

2 teaspoons ume boshi vinegar, or to taste

2 teaspoons soy sauce, or to taste

1 teaspoon prepared mustard

1 teaspoon chipotle in adobo, minced (optional, but lends a wonderful, subtle smoky spiciness)

a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (optional)

Canned beans work well for this dish, but  beans freshly cooked are likely to be even more flavorful (see note below). I suggest pinto beans in this recipe, but pink beans, kidney beans, navy beans or even black-eyed peas would also be good. However, adjust baking times to allow for the bean’s differing size and firmness.

Preheat oven to 400˚ F / Serves 4-6

1. Put the drained beans in a lightly-oiled oven-proof casserole dish.

2. Combine all the other ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Stir everything together, and taste.  Adjust seasonings, add more of whatever you think it needs–it may not need salt and pepper at all.

3. Mix this sauce mixture into the beans, stirring well. The liquid added should come almost to the top of the beans, but not cover the beans. Add more cooking liquid or water as needed. Cover with foil and bake on the center shelf of a preheated 400˚F  oven.

4. After about 25 minutes, remove the foil.  Check to see that there is plenty of moisture still in the beans. If they seem to be going dry, add a little water. Bake an additional 20-30 minutes, or until the beans appear nicely caramelized on the top. Good hot or at room temperature. Reheats well.

To cook dried beans:

Pick over and wash the beans. Soak in an abundance of water for about 8 hours. Drain, discarding the water. Put the beans in a good sized pot, just barely cover with water, add a 3-inch piece of kombu or a couple of sprigs of dried or fresh epazote if you like. Seasonings such as onion, garlic, ginger or herbs can be added now too, but wait to season with salt until the end of the cooking time. Bring the pot to a boil. Once the pot boils, immediately reduce the heat and simmer gently until the beans are tender. For true digestibility, beans need to be quite tender–al dente is for pasta. Cooking times are hard to predict, depending on the bean, it could be 45 minutes, it could be two hours.  You just have to keep an eye on them to make sure they’re not going dry. Taste to be sure they’re cooked thoroughly, then drain and use in recipes.  Save the cooking liquid, it’s tasty and highly useful.

Alternatively, if you haven’t thought to soak the beans, just skip that step.  Cook the beans in a little more water and for a longer time. I’ve done beans this way countless times and they come out well. Still, if you can, presoak.  It saves time and energy.

Quantities: a pound of dried beans will yield 5-6 cups of cooked beans.  For the above recipe, 10-12 ounces of dried pinto beans should be good.


6 responses

  1. Gary,

    I’ve been hoping you would post this recipe! As one of the 80-or-so Monday night guests, I gobbled them all up, as did my husband who kept asking if I could make these, please. So thanks, you answered my prayers. I’m already on my way to the store.


    • Thanks Ann, And don’t be afraid to be a bit improvisational with how you balance the various flavor elements to get it just the way it tastes best to you. Credit must go to Annie’s Smoky Maple Barbecue Sauce, a great product, for which you’ll find many uses!

      • SO Yummy. We just finished dinner; these beans tasted so darn good, with fresh corn on the cob. Wish I’d also made tempeh but started cooking at 5PM, so that was that. The night before last we had ‘Oodles of Noodles’. I’m thinking next week I’d like to try one of your recipes every night of the week…. You, and your website, are really inspirational, and more importantly, helpful.

    • Agreed, everyone needs to consider what to eat, and not to eat, according their own likes and dislikes, and according to their own condition. But, for most healthy people, I think that eating tomatoes occasionally is probably a good thing. I remember when I apprenticed in a macrobiotic restaurant in Japan that in the heat of summer, we served tomatoes and people enjoyed them a lot, even though tomatoes are neither traditionally macrobiotic, nor Japanese. And yes, some people may need to avoid them.

  2. Coming from the midwest as Chef Gary does, I can testify to the authenticity of these vegan baked beans! They have that baked bean texture and taste without the pork fat, allowing our pig friends to remain friends! Thank you for this offering! It says summer through and through!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: