A few years ago I spent six weeks backpacking around Cuba and another four weeks in south and central Mexico. The pot of beans on the stove was ubiquitous in both places. In Cuba, the beans are cooked in a pressure cooker to reduce cooking time and therefore cooking fuel. Beans are an integral part of the diet in both places for largely economic reasons but the result of this necessity are regionally specific cuisines packed full of flavour. Here in Canada, beans, for the most part have been relegated to occasional side dish. Often it is the overdressed three-bean salad at a buffet table or a bowl of baked beans at a barbeque restaurant. Beans have become a bit of a relic of bygone days unless they are a curiosity at a Mexican restaurant.
I am glad to say that around my place no one has to tell me to eat my beans. We eat them in salads, soups, and hashes. I bake them, boil them and refry them. I thought I should take a picture of some of the beans in my pantry for this blog. I found ten different kinds… I’m out of red lentils. I admit I don’t dwell on the subtle distinctions of growing region and time to maturation between peas and beans. They’re all legumes to me. I grew up on split pea soup and baked beans. I added cassoulet, black bean soup, Jamaican rice and peas, and chana masala later. The recipe list keeps getting longer and the part of my pantry reserved for beans keeps getting larger.
Despite the many recipes that come to mind for beans, I was faced with a challenge for this blog. Months ago Eva said that she would never find a satisfactory baked bean recipe given her aversion to pork. I argued that it was really the fat and the smoke that mattered and that porkless baked beans could be good. Today I test the theory.
The recipe below is my family recipe. I’ve been eating these beans for as long as I can remember and this is the flavour that I measure all other baked beans against. I used the same recipe with one exception. Instead of bacon or a smoked hock I added a smoked turkey drumstick to the pot.
- 1 pound small white beans, soaked all day or overnight
- 1 medium onions, diced
- 1 lb bacon diced *
- 1 tablespoon dry mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 6 cups water *
- 1/3 cup fancy (light) molasses
- 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 ½ lb smoked pork hocks and 9 cups water, or to cover
Rinse, drain and pick over beans. Place beans in large pot covered with at least 2 inches of cold water overnight.
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Drain beans thoroughly and return to pot. Add onion, bacon, mustard and pepper. Cover and bake 3 hours, stirring every hour.
Add molasses and brown sugar and bake for another 2 hours. Uncover beans and bake an additional 30 minutes.
Salt to taste.
To substitute smoked pork hock for bacon:
Put hocks in deep pot or soup kettle covered with water. Heat to boil and reduce to simmer. Cook, covered for about 3 hours until meat begins to fall off bones. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight. Remove fat congealed on top. Remove ham hocks from liquid; discard bones, skin and fat. Shred meat and reserve liquid for beans.
Now, Eva hasn’t tasted the smoked turkey beans yet, but I believe she will be as pleased as I am. The beans were pretty close to the original and that without adding a bunch of fat. My bean makeover is smoky, meaty and I think would get past any critic. I would absolutely use the turkey substitution again!
I know that you are going to read about baked beans again later this month so I have included my favourite Black Bean Soup recipe for good measure.
Slow-Cooker Black Bean Soup
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 medium red onions, diced
- 1 medium red bell peppers, diced
- 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 pound dried black beans
- 1 chopped canned chipotle chilli
- 7 cups water
- juice of one lime
- salt to taste, about 2 teaspoons
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Sauté onions and both bell peppers until slightly browned. Add garlic and cumin and sauté for about a minute more. Transfer mixture to slow cooker.
Add beans and chipotles and water. Cover and cook on high until beans are very tender, about 6 hours.
Puree soup in blender or with immersion blender until smooth.
Season with lime juice, salt, and pepper.