I think it is safe to say we all need a little comfort in the form of our favourite foods here and there. Growing up, one of my most favourite snack foods was just this – comforting – not to mention dirt cheap and easy to make. After all, what is easier than opening up a can of beans and heating them up? Toss a few pieces of bread in the toaster and slather on the butter….just thinking of it brings me right back to 4th-grade heaven.
My 30 something-year-old self now knows that while the old canned standbys are still good in a pinch, there is nothing better than a warm bowl of home cooked beans and a fresh piece of bread hot out of the oven. Especially when they are this cheap, and this easy. All you need is (just a little) love. And (just a little) time.
Having just celebrated another birthday, I find myself of late quite keenly aware of the fleeting nature of our lives. As I think back to my days as a young child I can tell you my defining moments just as easily as I can tell you what my favourite things to eat were. Most often, and particularly at the beginning of each new school year, I think back to me and my siblings, convening after a long day at school to watch TV and eat food we could make on our own. Hot beans in a bowl. With toast. Childhood comfort food. Three’s Company. Let’s do it!
Homemade Baked Beans:
(2) cups dry white Navy beans, soaked in cold water
(1/3- 1/2 cup) good olive oil
(2) medium-large yellow onions, chopped
(2) tsp salt
(1) small can tomato paste (about 1/2 cup)
(3) tbsp honey, brown sugar, or another plant-based sweetener
(8) cups cold water for cooking
Lots of love of and plenty of time
Start by soaking your beans in plenty of cold of water for anywhere from 8 – 20 hours (8 is about the minimum to soak thoroughly and don’t worry if you ill time the soaking – they can sit there for a while). When ready to cook, drain the beans and rinse in the colander under more fresh cold water. Next, heat the oil in a large soup pot and add the chopped onion and salt. Cook the onion for about 10 minutes on medium-high heat, being careful not to burn them. Stir here and there, after 10 minutes the onions should be soft and translucent.
Next, add the tomato paste, beans, and 4 cups of cold cooking water. Stir well to dissolve the paste and bring to a boil over high heat with the lid on. Once the boil is reached, stir again and reduce the heat to medium, to keep the simmer at a jolly roll (not boiling but cooking nicely). Cook the beans with the lid ajar for 1.5 hours, stirring here and there and adding the remaining 4 cups of water in increments as the sauce reduces. After the first hour, add whatever water is left, and the honey or sweetener, and cook for 30 minutes until the mixture is deliciously saucy. From here, you can let the beans hang out until you are ready to bake them (you can even sneak in a bowl to eat at this point).
To bake, transfer the beans to a casserole and bake, covered either with the casserole lid or with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours. Remove from the oven and serve hot with fresh bread or toast. These beans will keep extremely well and should be good to eat up to a week after they are made. A little goes a long way here as these guys are hearty and filling, so pile them into a container for those moments during the week when you need a little comfort. Paired up with the bread recipe lined up for the next post, you’ll wonder if there could possibly be anything simpler or more nostalgic (especially if you grew up in my family).
I was pleased to see that 25 years later, kids still love this food as a filler up after soccer practice or after a long tough day as a teenager (because let’s face it, that is exhausting work for those of you who may recall). Next, I’ll share with you the bread recipe that has literally changed my life since I discovered it. Turns out, it’s never too late to be a baker, even if you’ve never even made bread before! Stay tuned, I am really excited about this one!