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    Melissa Clark's Fake Baked Beans


    It's no secret that I have a penchant for canned baked beans. On certain days, those squidgy beans oozing all over my dinner plate are the only thing that will do. Paired with steamed broccoli, they're a soothing time machine to my youth and something like soul medicine. I've done baked beans from scratch the James Beard way, and while the challenge was fun, I realized that that fancy version would never be able to live up to my beloved stuff in a can.

    That might have been liberating knowledge, but something else nagged at me. After all, reading the ingredient label on those cans was never a good time. The amount of sugar sort of alarmed me. Besides, somewhere out there people were doctoring their cans of beans and that totally intrigued me. (Is this an official low point? Admitting that doctoring beans is intriguing to me? I have to hope I'm not alone.) Could there be a middle ground - somewhere between totally-from-scratch beans and the sugar-dredged canned ones?

    There could be and there was.

    Melissa Clark, in her new column at the New York Times, wrote about her version of homemade baked beans last week. But since I'd already gone the dried bean route, I decided to make the more streamlined version of her recipe. I dumped a few cans of pinto beans (I like them better than white beans) with their liquid (shudder) into a pot along with a pungent slurry of ketchup, vinegar, dried mustard, Tabasco sauce and pepper. And since I've always been used to vegetarian baked beans, I eschewed the bacon in Melissa's beans for a knife-tip of smoked pimenton de la vera. I brought the mixture to a simmer and let the whole thing cook gently until the liquid reduced.

    I put a sticky ladleful of beans into a bowl and dug in. Somewhat skeptically, I might add. How could such a simple process result in anything as good as factory-produced baked beans? Just to be on the safe side, I also made a bowlful of Molly's escarole salad. Vitamins and a back-up dinner (awfully tasty, I might add), should the need arise.

    Oh, I can be such a fool.

    Because - spicy, smoky, sweet and complex - these were some seriously good canned beans. Fast, cheap, easy, wholesome and entirely homemade. So I didn't soak those pellet-y little beans for endless hours and then cook them into oblivion! Big deal. I can't believe I might never buy canned baked beans again.

    Fake Baked Beans
    Serves 4

    3 15-ounce cans of pinto beans
    1/4 cup ketchup
    1/4 cup molasses
    3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
    1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
    1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    A pinch of smoked Spanish paprika

    1. Put the beans, with their liquid, in a pot. In a small bowl, mix together ketchup, molasses, vinegar, mustard powder, Tabasco and pepper. Pour mixture into beans and stir well.

    2. Bring everything to a simmer. Let simmer over low heat until beans are thickened, about 30 to 45 minutes. Season with salt if needed.


    I must admit I made baked beans from scratch once -- the process took two days. Then, I did a version similar to this. The taste was practically the same and so much easier! That sold me.

    Sounds interesting - not that I've ever had baked beans of any kind, but I just might have to try! Loved the "...dumped a few cans of pinto beans with their liquid (shudder)..." - bean liquid makes me shudder too! You funny!:-)

    I'm a huge fan of vegetarian baked beans (used to eat the Heinz ones straight from the can, when I was a kid), but I never make them from scratch, or should I say, from "scratch". I like the idea of adding pimenton to get the smokiness in this dish.

    Yum! I'm very glad you tried this, as always. It looks delicious. Now I just have to get over my addiction to the spicy version I made last summer for the sake of trying something new. A baked bean off sounds like too much fun.

    I love that your confession seemed so illicit. "I realized that that fancy version would never be able to live up to my beloved stuff in a can" - ha! :)

    What a great idea to add paprika in place of bacon for some smoke. When I doctor mine, I also had a bit of molasses.

    Really? My mum tried this recipe and told me she had to throw them away. Said they were terrible. I'll have to try it -- it seems like she must have missed something. It sounds fantastic, that's for sure...
    Now that I look at the recipe again, I think she most likely just substituted the apple cider vinegar for other vinegar she already had -- something cheaper and better used as a floor cleaner, probably. I'll try it with the right kind of vinegar and see if that makes a difference...

    Hi Louisa,
    I´ve tagged you for a meme, I hope you don´t mind.
    I did those beans too, they´re awsome!

    kaitkait - well, the vinegar does have a lot of presence here, but apple cider vinegar is pretty simple stuff, at least the stuff I use is. Could it be that your mother just doesn't like baked beans?

    I grew up on my dad's doctored baked beans - a can of Bush's with molasses and a few other things that have now vanished from memory. I don't think I've had them since I was a kid, but I LOVED them.

    Just ran out and bought three cans of pintos...

    I love, love, love the pinto bean. I often feel like the dark sophisticated black bean pushes it aside. But pintos are my favorite. I will try this soon.

    My fave way to eat baked beans as a kid was with hot dogs cut up in them. Mmmmm. I still wouldn't pass those up!

    Baked beans... Can you believe baked beans can stir up so many memories for so many people? When I was a kid, my Dad would make baked beans from scratch every Saturday. I have to say after a while we got sort of tired of them! Then while I was at University I'd have canned ones (Clark's Maple Syrup, the best!). Now, all grown up with kids of my own I can't get myself to make them from scatch but whenever we visit my Dad, I beg: "Please Daddy make your Baked Beans for me..."! Who would have thought?

    hmmmm... i dunno Luisa... I don't know if even you could bring me to like baked beans... there's something about the sweetness, it's the same "issue" I have with sweet potatoes. I'm sure some day I'll love them, but in my heart, I'm just not ready to let them in yet.

    I too adore canned baked beans. But, if you like this recipe, then I guess I'll have to give them a try.

    I agree that pintos make awesome baked beans, and I often use my endless supply of dried ones when making them from scratch. In fact, I've been known to substitute them for cannelini beans in Italian recipes, and been very pleased with my inauthentic result.
    Plain canned beans of all kinds are pretty wonderful-like canned tomatoes, the canning process is just not a flavor problem as it is for most veg- and they are so handy.I like to keep an assortment on hand, and feel a little defenseless when my supply's depleted.

    Since I'm the only one in my house who likes baked beans I usually feel a sense of futility making the old-fashioned kind when I know I'll end up throwing most of them away after I've satisfied my own craving and the rest of the family has turned their noses up. This recipe sounds like a sensible alternative to rinsing, soaking, and having the oven on all day...

    Had to report back: I made these for lunch today, and they were SPECTACULAR! Fantastic flavor. And lots of leftovers too, which means tasty lunches all week long... xo!

    Lusia -- It's her nature to never buy anything new if something she has on hand "will do." Since I'm halfway across the country, I'm speculating, but I'm positive she doesn't have apple cider vinegar, and she certainly wouldn't buy some just for one recipe. I imagine that's what she did wrong. She did say that they smelled fantastic. These are on my "to try" list, and I'm hoping to make them this week. I will be sure to report back -- and be sure to use the correct type of vinegar!

    Thank you for the recipe. I made these a couple of weeks ago and they turned out great.

    I'm going to have to give these a try. We live in Canada and drive to the States so we can buy BUSH's beans (the best!). if these turn out as good as they look we've saved ourselves a trip :)

    You mentioned in passing that you were concerned about the sugar content in the canned beans.

    Then you added ketchup and molasses (sugar and more sugar).

    Do you think this recipe will work without sugar using either canned tomato sauce or tomato paste and artificial sweetener?

    Mark - You can certainly try the beans with canned tomato sauce and artificial sweetener, but I don't think you'll get the nice balance or tang of good baked beans. So will the recipe work? Yes, in the sense that you'll get a pot of stewy beans. Will they taste like what they're "supposed" to? No.

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