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!
SAVORY BARBECUE-FLAVORED BAKED BEANS
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.