It’s tough to find a vegetarian version of baked beans — traditionally made with pork — that captures the dish’s creamy texture and delicate balance of sweet and smoky flavors. Enter kelp, also known as kombu (see page 244), the sea green used to make dashi. Kelp contains a natural acid that tenderizes the beans as the seaweed itself melts away, leaving behind a luxurious sauce with complex flavor. If you’re looking for extra texture and flavor, try the hearty variation with dulse stirred in at the last minute.
Once you cook the onions and put everything in the pot — which takes about 10 minutes, tops — you can walk away for 2 hours. If you don’t have time to soak the beans first (or forgot), the beans will probably take another hour in the oven.
Serve bowls of baked beans with Buttermilk Biscuits (page 587) and Marinated Garden Vegetables (page 91) on the side.
Other beans you can use: dried pinto, pink, great Northern, black, kidney
- Yield: 4 to 6 Servings
- Total Time: 3 Hours
- ¼ cup good-quality vegetable oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 1 5-inch piece kombu
- 1 pound dried navy, pea, or other white beans, rinsed and picked over
- ½ cup molasses (or more to taste)
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard or 2 tablespoons prepared mustard (or more to taste)
- Salt and pepper
- Heat the oven to 300°F. Put the oil in a large ovenproof pot or casserole with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and golden, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir until deeply colored, another minute or so. Stir in 6 cups water, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
- Add the kombu, beans, molasses, and mustard. Cover and bake for 2 hours. Stir, add water if needed to keep the beans covered, cover again, and bake until the beans are completely tender, another 30 minutes or more.
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper, stir well to help break up the kombu, then taste and add more molasses or mustard if you like; also a bit more water if the pot is getting dry. Turn the oven up to 400°F. Return the pot to the oven, uncovered, and bake until the beans are creamy and the liquid has thickened, another 30 minutes or so. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve. Or cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 days; reheat gently.
- BUTTERY BAKED BEANS Not vegan or even traditional, but rich and luxurious: Instead of using vegetable oil in Step 1, cook the onions in 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter.
- MAPLE–APPLE BUTTER BAKED BEANS Lighter in color and flavor: Replace the tomato paste with ½ cup apple butter and replace the molasses with maple syrup.
- HEARTIER BAKED BEANS Closer to bacon-baked beans: Add ½ cup shredded dried dulse (see page 244) after uncovering the pot in Step 3. Make sure there is enough water to cover.
- BAKED BEANS WITH A CRACKER CRUMB CRUST After uncovering the beans and raising the oven temperature in Step 3, sprinkle the top of the beans with about 1½ cups crumbled soda or saltine crackers. Return the pot to the oven and cook until the crust is golden, 20 to 30 minutes, then serve.
- CURRIED BAKED BEANS Coconut milk adds incredible creaminess: Omit the tomato paste and molasses. After you cook the onions in Step 1, stir in 2 tablespoons curry powder. Reduce the amount of water to 4 cups in Step 1 and add 2 cups coconut milk.
- CHIPOTLE BAKED BEANS In Step 2, stir in 2 minced canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, or to taste along with the kombu.