Making from scratch – Baked Beans (vegan)

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve had the leisure to sit down and post. Now in the time of coronavirus/COVID-19 I have time and tips to share.

I’ve followed a rule for some years: If I can make it, I don’t buy it (I’m also fond of Michael Pollan’s aphorism: you can eat anything you want — as long as you make it yourself!) I find cooking calms my busy mind, so I’m doing more of that these days, and I’ll share some staple recipes with you over the next while.

Every home should have a supply of dried beans which are so versatile and rich in fibre. And they look pretty in jars on the shelf! In all the panic buying, one food I’ve heard has disappeared from the shelves is baked beans. These are so easy to make! And commercial varieties are often shockingly high in sugar, so why not try your hand at making your own? Here you go:

Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

1 pound/500g dry navy, cannellini, borlotti or Great Northern beans (or your preference!)
1 tbsp olive oil or bacon fat
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp kelp powder
1 tbsp mustard powder
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp soya sauce
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
2 cups vegetable or bone broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 cups crushed tomatoes, passata and/or tomato sauce
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Method:

  1. Pick over the beans and soak overnight.
  2. Drain and cook in fresh water to cover until just tender.
  3. Heat the oil or bacon fat and cook the onions and garlic over a low heat until soft and starting to brown.
  4. Add seasonings, molasses, broth, tomato paste and tomatoes. Heat to blend. Add beans.
  5. Cover the pot and cook in 325f/160c oven for an hour and fifteen minutes, or simmer in a crockpot until thick and flavourful.
  6. If the sauce is still thin, remove the cover and cook for 15 minutes more or until it’s the right thickness. (Note: If you plan to can, you’ll need the sauce to be more runny: see below)
  7. When the beans are tender and the sauce is thickened, remove from the heat. Stir in the apple cider vinegar, and add salt and pepper just before serving.

Tips:

  • You can use home canned beans if you have them: advice on doing this here.
  • Omnivores can bump the pork & beans flavour by using bacon fat instead of oil, or adding a bacon-browning step at the start.
  • You can fine-tune the flavour after cooking by adding (a smidge at a time!) smoked paprika, liquid smoke, chipotle sauce, or a dash of Marmite or Vegemite.
  • You can substitute or augment the sweetness with stevia or other sweeteners, but remember that blackstrap molasses adds minerals (selenium, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese) as well as flavour, so you’ll need to tweak to get the flavour right.
  • Baking molasses and treacle are not the same as blackstrap molasses; check labels when buying.
  • If using commercial broth, tomato sauce, tomatoes or tomato paste, check the label to check amounts of salt and/or sugar added: these will affect the nutrition content (below).

Storage:

  • Cool and refrigerate for about a week.
  • Freezing: ladle into sterilized jars and freeze for up to six months (after which flavour & texture will be less wonderful).
  • If you have a pressure canner you can store for up to a year (here’s a canning recipe from Bernardin) (not suitable for water bath canning).
  • Note: the cooking time will depend on several things, the most important being how thoroughly the beans were cooked to begin with when they were simmered. If the beans are still a bit undercooked when they go in the oven, it may take several hours to soften them.
  • Beans can become irretrievably hard through poor storage, old age or fluctuations in storage temperature. If they don’t soften after soaking and pre-cooking, you may need to start again.

Nutrition facts below are for vegan version: assume use of navy beans, olive oil, vegetable broth and canned tomatoes.

New Frontiers in Fibre

New Frontiers in FibreI spent Thursday afternoon at at St Thomas’ Hospital, attending #BNFNewFibre, a British Nutrition Foundation half day seminar on dietary fibre research. In four short hours we heard from eight nutrition academics and researchers studying new uses for fibre.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has deemed specific forms of fibre may be recommended for maintaining cholesterol levels, maintaining normal bowel function, reducing post-prandial glycemic levels, increasing fecal bulk and reducing intestinal transit time.

It is the term “fibre” that is problematic, though: soluble vs insoluble; dietary vs functional; whole food sources vs manufactured, extracted and refined, and so on. Since many health claims do not specify the precise type of fibre they are talking about, it is difficult to make sweeping conclusions about intake and effect.

And of course, we are each biochemically unique, the health of our microbiome affected by many factors (age, genetics, pregnancy, lactation, environment, dietary habits, medical conditions and interventions, antibiotic use, etc) not all of which we can control or even identify. These same factors determine our need for fibre, which feeds the hundreds of different strains of beneficial bacteria throughout the length of our digestive system.

We have only identified some 200 unique strains, and 600,000 unique microbial genes, so we have barely begun to learn the position and role these play within our metabolism.

We don’t yet have a good understanding of how fibre works in the microbiome to protect against cardiovascular disease or increase calcium uptake (to protect against osteoporosis), or how it may interact with bile acids, in gene expression or in immune support. Research suggests it may increase satiety, leading to weight loss or protecting against obesity.

Fibre is often included in health advice (either avoiding or adding to the diet) for treatment or prevention of a whole array of medical conditions (colorectal cancers, enteral feeding, irritable bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, radiation toxicity, constipation..)

The speakers whirled through dozens of studies in these areas – published and in process – and left us with the unsurprising conclusion that fibre studies are maddeningly difficult to do with accuracy and consistency (humans being maddeningly diverse in their habits and behaviour, subjects being less than numerous in many studies due most likely to the expense of dietary research, and the very nature of fibre which differs greatly in its chemical composition and effects in the body). And that much more needs to be known.

All this was discussed in the context of last year’s daunting Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommendations which propose raising the already unattained 18g recommended daily fibre consumption to 30g/day for British adults (in Canada it’s 38g for men under 50 or 25 for women).