My vegan baked beans are a cookout crowd-pleaser for their bold smoky flavor while delivering a healthy-ish, meatless experience. Also, it’s quite an easy recipe. Smoked tomatoes are used as a base for a hearty and onion-packed homemade barbecue sauce and the beans pretty much cook low and slow. Upon completion of testing this recipe I took a photo of the finished product and she instantly thought of BBQ ribs … exactly what I was going for. These baked beans can complement some hearty ribs, or stand on its own as a main course for meatless dieters.
Being a native New Englander from the great state of Rhode Island, baked beans were hugely popular growing up. They’re on my list of top comfort foods. Other key aspects to these vegan baked beans include lots and lots of onions, the use of a little fennel seed, and an extra bay leaf. Not using pork means you kinda have to go hard on the herbs, spices and aromatics. Just a little bit of fennel imparts a bit of a sausage-like flavor, you don’t need too much. Briefly toasting the black peppercorns helps enhance its flavor, so pretty please refrain from using the pre-ground pepper. This is the best reason to go out and buy a stone mortar and pestle if you don’t already have one.
How to Smoke Tomatoes
To infuse a smoky flavor without having an actual smoker, simply cook them low and slow over one layer of charcoal mixed, in with some some water-soaked wood chips. Any type of woodchips are fine, but I recommend hickory because it brings a bacon-like experience to the flavor, and texture of the large pieces of tomatoes will remind you of that chunk of salt pork you find in a can of baked beans. And if you’re not in much of a mood for beans use these tomatoes in my Smoked Tomato Soup with Roasted Eggplant recipe.
If you don’t have access to a grill, simply roast tomatoes in the oven in some olive oil combined with liquid smoke (pictured below). If you like them real smoky, add more liquid smoke to the beans as they cook. Don’t worry about smoking too many tomatoes. You can always make some plain tomato sauce with the extras.
- ½ pound navy beans, hydrated
- 4-5 vine tomatoes
- olive oil for roasting and sautéing
- 3 yellow onions
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (from toasted peppercorns)
- ½ teaspoon fennel seed, ground
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
- 14 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 6 cups water
- ½ cup molasses
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard
- 2 bay leaves
- If using a grill, prepare your grill with low-heat coals combined with soaked hickory or mesquite wood chips. Coat tomatoes in olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Cook the tomatoes with the lid slightly ajar until they’re tender and skins are falling off, flipping them occasionally.
If using the oven, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat tomatoes with a generous amount of olive oil, liquid smoke, and kosher salt. Roast tomatoes in a foil-lined sheet pan until tender throughout and the skins start falling off, approximately 45 minutes.
- Remove and discard the skins from tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes into large chunks according to your liking. Set aside.
- Finely slice one whole yellow onion. Peel and cut the other two onions into 4 halves.
- In a large pot, heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the finely sliced onion over medium-high heat until translucent. Stir in the black pepper, fennel, tomato paste and kosher salt. Stir thoroughly and let the spices bloom and tomato paste caramelize for about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the crushed tomatoes, water, molasses, vinegar, liquid smoke and dry mustard. Then, add the reserved smoked tomatoes. Mix until thoroughly incorporated. Turn off the heat.
- Transfer beans to a 13″ x 9″ baking dish. Place each quarter of the yellow onions in each corner of the dish. Add the bay leaves wherever you see fit.
- Bake this covered in foil for about 4 hours until the beans are tender, times may vary depending on your oven. If the beans are still kinda crunchy, keep on adding water as needed.
- When beans are tender, remove the foil and bake uncovered for another hour so some serious caramelization can happen on the surface.
- Remove beans from heat and let the cool and serve.
Yield: one 13″ x 9″ dish