Not Baked Beans

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Technically it was Bonfire Night last night, but tonight was our local event, a large bonfire, some loud fireworks and late to bed for the small ones.  This is our yearly commemoration of the failure of the 1605 gunpowder plot.  Led by Guy Fawkes, a gang of Roman Catholic activists intended to assassinate the protestant King James I, by blowing up the palace of Westminster during the state opening of Parliament.  With 36 barrels of gunpowder smuggled into the cellar of the House of Lords, they would definitely have been successful, had they not been discovered (with the help of a tip off) at the last minute.  It was a whole religion, power, politics, thing… anyway, mostly now we just burn a Guy effigy on a large fire and enjoy fireworks and hot food and drinks.  What’s not to like?

20151105-203557.jpgI made these beans for our dinner before we wrapped up warm and went out.  Easy peasy, served with baked potato, cooking while I was at work and thrown together to make one of the simplest (but best loved!) meals.

In the UK baked beans are part of our culture, part of our national identity, and part of many childhood meals.  But the sugary, salty, translucent ‘tomato’ sauce that surrounds the classic tinned variety could do with a ‘real food’ makeover.

This version is a staple in our house and I make it regularly so that there is always a portion on hand to brighten up a quick or bland meal.  Beans are a fab source of protein and fibre, and when cooked like this with a tomato sauce and molasses they should also be rich in iron.  The sugar and salt in the recipe is dramatically reduced in comparison with tinned versions, and can be adapted further to included other natural sweeteners if you prefer.

Baked beans are called that because traditionally they were slow baked in large pots in the oven in the rich tomato sauce.  Many recipes call for chopped bacon to add a salty smokey savoury flavour, so I turned to the classic vegetarian food writer Rose Elliot to see what she had to say about truly vegetarian baked beans.  My recipe is adapted from her classic Boston Baked Beans, taken from one of my favourite recipe books: Rose Elliot’s Bean Book.  I’m lucky that I managed to find an old copy in decent condition at a car boot sale, as the newer versions have some of the classic recipes heavily edited or omitted.  I like to research and work with old recipes and bring them up to date or simply change a few things to my preferences.

My beans are not baked, but are cooked in a slow cooker for convenience.  I can leave these on all day when I’m at work, or out with the children, and then spoon them onto toast or jacket potatoes for a quick evening meal and portion up the rest of the batch for the freezer.  This recipe makes about 6 tins worth of beans.  When compared to organic brands of tinned beans they are super economical, and far more tasty and nutritious without any of the unnecessary nasties.  They can also be adapted to your particular tastes with additions of other flavourings and spices.

500g of dried haricot beans and soaking water (£1.10)

500ml water

1 large onion (15p)

A low salt stock cube (20p)

1 tbsp of black treacle (6p)

1 tbsp of blackstrap molasses – optional (15p)

1 tbsp of brown sugar (or 1tbsp of maple syrup) (3p)

2 tsp of mustard powder (22p)

1 tbsp of curry powder – optional (41p)

1 tin of chopped tomatoes or 400g of passata (89p)

2 tbsp of tomato puree (14p)

You need to get a little organised to pre soak the dried beans overnight.  Put them in a bowl and cover them with about 2 inches of cold water.  Keep them somewhere safe (I usually shut them in the cold oven overnight) or cover them with a tea towel – mainly to prevent the cats from thinking it’s a new water bowl.

20151105-203716.jpgIn the morning, drain the beans and put into the slow cooker with the rest of the ingredients except the tinned tomatoes / passata and puree.  The acidity of the tomato ingredients will prevent the skins of the beans from softening if added at the beginning of cooking.

20151105-203659.jpgThese will need cooking on high for about 5 hours or low for about 8 hours. (The timings are not precise at all, the beans won’t mind being left on low all day, and then cranked up to high for the last couple of hours)  About an hour or so before the end of cooking, add the tomato ingredients and add any salt and pepper to taste.

20151105-203643.jpgSpoon them over jacket potatoes and top with sour cashew cream or avocado… or if you eat dairy, grated cheddar is a classic addition.  Then pop the rest in portions in the freezer to use as conveniently as their tinned counterparts.

20151105-203629.jpgThis recipe works out at just 56p per ‘tin’ of beans.  And at organic whole sale prices probably a lot less than than.  Still, a vast improvement on £1 for a tin of the slick sugary sort.  These are the real deal.


Bon(fire) appetit!





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