Vegetarian Baked Beans Recipe

When I was a kid I spent a lot of time with our next door neighbor Mrs. Stemple who was the most wonderful old lady that all the neighborhood kids flocked to.  She would feed me cookies and tea with milk and sugar (something we never did at my house – all herbal tea for us) and we would chatter or watch some tv or just sit around together.  She always had time for me and never told me to stop talking so much.  Every once in a while she would feed me something other than cookies.  One afternoon she fed me a bowl of baked beans from a can.  My mom didn’t buy much canned food so it was pretty novel for me.  Those beans were amazing!  I happily ate that magical dish until I got something in my mouth that was not food.  It was kind of slick and meaty and I reflexively spat it out and asked what else was in the beans.

Pork.  Of course.  This was in the early 1980′s and being a vegetarian wasn’t as mainstream or common as it is today.  Mrs. Stemple knew I didn’t eat meat but like most people back then she didn’t count pieces of pork as “meat”.  The dish was mostly beans so who cares if there’s some funky globules of lard and a bit of flesh or cartilage in it?  It’s not like she gave me a hunk of steak.  I loved the flavor and texture of those little navy beans and the tomato-y sweet and sour sauce they were cooked in.  I wished very much I could have those beans without the pork.

Many years later, I saw canned vegetarian baked beans at Trader Joe’s and bought some.  They were so much like pork and beans but without the meat they became a favorite of mine, so when I opened a can up one day and discovered they tasted different (and not in a pleasant way) I hoped it was just a fluke.  It wasn’t.  Every once in a while I’ve tried another can of them and been disappointed.  I realized that they must have changed something in the recipe.  At last I decided I was going to have to learn to make my own baked beans.  So I’ve been working at making a recipe for baked beans for a couple of years now.

I started with Deborah Madison‘s recipe in “The American Vegetarian Table” because she’s one of my favorite cookbook authors but she used soy beans and chipotle peppers and it was too dark and smokey.  It just wasn’t what I was looking for.  I have looked at many many recipes and most of them depend on some cut of pig for the flavor and the other vegetarian ones generally have too many exotic or weird ingredients that baked beans shouldn’t need.  So I decided to use the ingredient list on the Trader Joe’s can as a starting point.

This version I’m sharing today is really good – but it’s not quite where I want it to be yet.  I decided to put it up here because I lost all my notes on my previous versions – which I wish I could reference.  I won’t lose it here and I can tell you that my mom thinks these beans are perfect as they are.  I want something more from them.  I will post my next good version here too so I can keep track of the development.  If you try this version, please please let me know what you thought of it and what you would change.  This is a food quest and takes time to reach excellence.

Incidentally, David Leite is writing a new cookbook and said he’d consider working on the ultimate vegetarian baked bean recipe but I think I just might beat him to it.  (I am a David Leite fan – he’s really kind and funny and responds to his commenters on his blog which I find charming)

Vegetarian Baked Beans Recipe

8 servings

Vegetarian Baked Beans Recipe

Ingredients

  • 6 cups cooked navy beans
  • 4 carrots, sliced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 28 oz tomato sauce
  • 2/3 cups white wine
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp blackstrap molasses
  • 2 tsp mustard powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 30 to 40 grinds of pepper (or about 1/2 tsp)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a deep baking dish mix all the ingredients together.
  3. Bake for 3 hours.
  4. Seriously, that's it. Done.

Notes

2 cups of dry beans = 5 to 6 cups cooked beans. I cook my navy beans in the slow cooker on high for about 2-3 hours. I usually salt the water I cook them in.

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14 thoughts on “Vegetarian Baked Beans Recipe

  1. AimeeWrites

    You’ve got me with this one!! I LOVE baked beans, but they are off limits usually…not due to the meat content, but the calorie content! Leaving out the fatty pork will make them so much healthier. Thank you so much; I can’t wait to try these one night. (Probably alongside grilled meat. Oops.)

  2. angelina Post author

    I’m so glad you might try these!! Funny you should mention fat because I didn’t add any fat at all and was just wondering if I should do the next version with some oil in it but I don’t actually know that it needs the fat. Another thing – these aren’t quite classic because of the carrots. The next version I’m going to leave the carrots out – I really like them in there but I do want to make a version that is as close to the classic as possible. So you may want to leave the carrot out yourself. They add extra nutrition which is nice. You decide! And then tell me for sure what you thought and what you would change.

  3. fala cedar

    It’s funny that you’ve made this now — I just came across another recipe for vegetarian baked beans this week and it struck me as so crazy and revolutionary that a person could make their own baked beans. (I’m not a cook, what can I say?). But I’m like you, I love baked beans, but not the pork, and Trader Joe’s beans are weird. I do like Bush’s vegetarian beans, but they’re like a million dollars for a toddler sized can. I’m going to have to try your recipe now.

  4. angelina Post author

    I think I tried Bush’s baked beans a few years ago and they were pretty good but yeah – so expensive! This recipe takes a long time to cook (I’m pretty sure you could cook it for 2 hours with good results) BUT it takes only about 10 minutes to put all the ingredients together and then you don’t do any other work. You just go make some doll clothes while your beans cook.

  5. Amy

    Do you think these can be made in the crockpot? Maybe I would need to reduce the liquid. It’s too hot in Fla. to run the oven for three hours, but these sound delicious. I love molasses and mustard together –I have a favorite black-eyed pea recipe with that combo.

  6. angelina Post author

    You definitely can do that, however, I haven’t done it myself so I can’t advise on the time. I would say to put everything in the crockpot with dried beans and add water to cover the beans by an inch or so and then cook in the crockpot on high for a couple of hours. Just check to make sure that you keep enough liquid in there to cook the beans all the way through. I should try this myself – I don’t use my crockpot to make finished dishes, just to cook beans but I think this is one instance where everything would benefit from cooking together for a couple of hours. If you try this in the crockpot before I do – please come back and tell me how it went!

  7. Kristen

    Hi…pretty good starton this recipe. I have also been woeking on perfecting a vegan baked bean recipe. My whole family loves them, so i have always tried to wran them off as many canned items as possible. A question,..are you a true vegetarian or just trying to be health conscious? The reason I ask is your mention of the use of sugar. Regular sugar, and therefore brown sugar, is not a vegetarian or vegan product. Animal bone char is used in its peoduction. Also, it seems rather repetetive to call for molasses and then brown sugar..since molasses and white sugar produce brown. Qhy not try using vegan white sugar and molasses. Baked beansis also not meant to be a haute dish, therefore I do not understand your use of wine…it is not necessary to add depth to this dish. I generally add unfiltered apple cider vingar, a rouch of bragg’s liquid aminos(for umami depth) chopped fresh bell pepper, chpped sweet onion(pref. vidalia), touch of allspice, a wee bit of garlic, crushed tomatoes, a bit of agave nectar, bay leaf…sometimes the addition of water to the casserole dish is necessary. It is also unnecessary to precook the beans before putting in the casserole and is completely against the nature of baked beans. Putting the casserole in a 325 oven for a couple hrs yielld tender, delectable beans. Hope this helps…good luck!

  8. angelina Post author

    Originally I wasn’t going to publish your comment, Kristen, because I found it very condescending. But after letting it sit in mediation for over a week I’ve decided to let your comment be public.

    There is no such thing as a “true” vegetarian. Such language is divisive and unproductive. I have been a vegetarian since the day I was born but have never been a vegan. Vegetarians don’t eat meat but they do eat dairy and eggs and therefore eat animal products. If you are unclear about what makes a person a vegetarian I suggest you look it up in the dictionary. The word vegetarian itself specifically means a person who doesn’t eat animal flesh. Vegan is a type of vegetarianism but is not any more vegetarian than other variations of vegetarianism.

    Your assertion that wine is a “haute” ingredient is ridiculous. Wine has been made and consumed by peasants and monks since the very beginning of wine’s history and has been drunk and used in cooking by the poorest people for at least a couple thousand years. I had some cheap wine in my cupboard and it suited my needs and so I used it. Doesn’t get less haute than using what you have on hand to cook with. As to whether it should or shouldn’t be an ingredient in baked beans isn’t for you to decide – there are as many variations on baked beans as there are people making them.

    I would not dare suggest to you that your version of baked beans is in any way inappropriate or that any of your chosen ingredients are non-traditional or unnecessary because your recipe is tailored to your specific tastes and needs and I respect that your way is perfect for you. Your version is clearly NOT what I’m trying to create for myself.

  9. Livestar

    I wish I could “like” your response to her snarky comment! Good luck in your quest for recreating your beloved baked beans recipe.

  10. angelina Post author

    Thank you so much, Mj. I really grappled with that one and took my time. It was kind of outrageous, huh?

  11. H

    This is an older post but I gotta know..what’s next to those beans? Some kind of cheesy bread? What IS that? Looks yummy.

    Thanks for this recipe. I am going to give it a whirl. :)

  12. angelina Post author

    I thought I turned comments off on this blog so I haven’t checked in a long time. Yes! That’s open faced melted cheese toast cut into strips for dipping in the beans. I hope if you tried the recipe it worked well for you!

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