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October 8, 2012

you'd be the first to know | homemade baked beans

beach dunedin

September is the beginning of spring - at least, that's what the calendar says, so that's what everyone hopes. But September is a strange month, where gorgeous spring days and daffodils in flower are punctuated by icy reminders that winter isn't over just yet; to keep the tights handy and the woollen coats on the nail by the front door.

It's a strange month for meals. On the one hand, daffodils and asparagus are a welcome addition to items available for purchasing, the garden goes crazy growing its greens, begging you to make salads and pesto (if you're lucky enough to have a food processor). On the other hand, the cold weather, made all the more difficult to bear by the teasingly warm spring days in between, makes you feel like hearty soups, spicy curries, beans.

I think that beans are so underrated. They are an excellent and healthy source of protein, and they're so versatile. You can boil them with star anise and cassia bark and eat them for breakfast with avocado, brown rice and canned chopped tomatoes; you can make a bean salad, you can spice them up with chili and eat them in wraps with cumin yoghurt and grated carrot ..

.. and you can make homemade baked beans. 

I have fond memories of school holiday lunches with my primary school teacher dad, who also had the same holidays as us. We relished the break from the monotonous peanut butter sandwiches and almost always had a hot lunch - curried eggs, omelettes, bird's nests, toasted sandwiches, Wattie's baked beans on toast. Simple and cheap, but filling lunches I would gratefully remember and make for dinners as a poor student. There's always a time and a place for canned spaghetti or baked beans (but only if it's Wattie's brand).

However, if you've got an ever so slightly larger budget, a little time on your hands and beans in your cupboard; making them from scratch is incomparably delicious. It takes time - but you'll be rewarded with a delicious pile of baked beans and a wonderfully aromatic house. The beans are even better the next day or the day after - so this is an ideal recipe to make on a lazy Sunday afternoon and enjoy baked beans for lunch at work in the coming week. After all, the time is mostly cooking time! 

baked navy beans

Navy beans/haricot beans are white and large, similar to cannellini beans, which you could also use. Any white bean will do. I wouldn't use the canned counterpart for this recipe. An important note on cooking - cannellini beans are related to (red) kidney beans, and as a result have high levels of lectin, a toxin. This toxin can be denatured (deactivated) by ensuring that you boil the beans hard for at least 10 minutes - never cook beans in a slow cooker, as the slower cooking and lower temperatures mean that the toxin might not be denatured. 

2 cups navy beans, presoaked overnight.
2 cans whole peeled tomatoes (ever since I reading Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book veg everyday, where he says that he feels he gets more value for money buying whole canned tomatoes as opposed to the chopped variety, I've been following suit!)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp tamari (or worcestershire sauce, or 1tsp brown miso paste, or 1tsp vegemite)
2 bay leaves
8 cloves of garlic, cut into pieces
25g butter (can be substituted for a high-heat oil like canola to keep this dairy-free).
2 onions, chopped finely
1 leek, chopped finely
6 shallots, chopped finely
1 red onion, cut into wedges
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp English mustard
handful of good olives - we use a brand which is the best, according to a friend who devours olives. They are not pitted. Definitely don't use the stuffed green ones (shudder) or the tasteless chopped black ones. They're not essential so if you don't have any good ones, just leave them out.
1 tbsp capers

Put the dry beans in a large bowl and cover with plenty of water. Leave to soak overnight, for at least 12 hours. Soaking the beans makes them quicker to cook and easier to digest. Overnight they will at least double in size. The picture below shows the beans after they have been soaking for 48 hours. I apologise for the picture, my camera does not have very good capabilities in low, grey light.

navy beans

The next day, drain and rinse your soaked beans. Put them in a pan with fresh water and bring to the boil. Boil hard for 30 minutes. If foam forms on the top of the water, scoop it off and throw it away. After 30 minutes (they won't be fully cooked yet), take them off the heat, drain and set aside.

While the beans are boiling, heat the butter in a heavy bottomed pan (we use a cast iron fry pan).  Add  the cumin to the butter. Gently sweat the finely chopped onions, leek and shallots in the cumin/butter mixture. This will take around 10 minutes.

Take a deep, oven proof dish, and add the cooked beans to it. Add the cooked onions/leeks/shallots, and the remaining ingredients. Roughly chop/smush the tomatoes. Bruise/crush the bay leaves a little if they are fresh from the bush. Do not add salt at this stage, but you can add cracked pepper. Adding salt will make the beans harder and more difficult to cook. Add as much water as the container will fit (up to 400mL) and bake for at least 2 hours at 200ÂșC. Check the beans as they cook and add more water if they need it. Ideally, you won't add any more liquid in the last 45 minutes of cooking.

If you're pushed for time, the beans can be finished off in a large pot on the stove. I did this because it was getting on to 9pm and, despite 3 hours in the oven, the beans still weren't done. I didn't get a final picture as my camera is no good for photographing food once it's dark; but the final product was definitely more reduced than the picture above.

We ate the beans with toasted dark rye bread - made by a local guy who makes his own stone ground flour - and some simple greens from the garden. You could also have them with a poached/fried egg on top, or with homemade corn bread.

They are filling, and warming, and perfect for a pre-daylight saving's September Sunday night.


title from the bats - spill the beans


  1. Oh my! those baked beans look fantastic, and a perfect accompaniment to roasted dark rye bread, must try making this!

  2. mmm hat looks so good! :D I love beans...especially when they're soft, mushy and tasty and so easy to eat. I'm definitely going to try this recipe out one day.