[108] Maple-Baked Apple Butter Baked Beans

Cover of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman

If you want a truly authentic Tasha & Bill experience, you need to add some amount of chaos to the cooking of this recipe.

Start by not being really sure about this “bean soaking” thing, because neither of you has done much with dry beans before (a.k.a. only one of you has cooked with them, and they’re all documented on this blog, probably under the “how to cook anything” tag). Refer back to the page he tells you to refer to about soaking, and then be unsure how far into everything to go. Be pretty sure you don’t want “cooked” beans, but there’s actually no specific directions on soaking. Feel like a bit of an idiot. Say, “Well, he says you can also do this recipe with unsoaked beans, it’ll just take an hour longer” to each other, and decide to do that.

From there, you can add your own chaos. We chose to do so by inviting our friend Rob over for dinner, and to help Bill install some shelving in our closet two days before.

The day of, I got a text message from our friend Krysti asking for Bill’s phone number, and expressing surprise she doesn’t have it already. I was also surprised and passed it along. Hours later she responded saying that she, her boyfriend Tony and Rob were making workout plans for that evening, but Bill was oddly absent from the conversation.

As you might imagine, I blinked at this statement.

I responded by telling her that Bill was amazingly slammed at work that day, so he couldn’t really respond, but what time was working out with Rob happening? After all, he’d told us he’d be around at 6:30 pm.

“Apparently 6:30 pm” was the response. I blinked some more. Then I told her not to take my word for when Rob was coming to my house, as he might have changed his plans and not informed me. I could deal with that, but it’d be good to know about it. Especially if the change in plans was them coming over too.

It was 5:45 pm at that point. A couple more texts confirmed that 1) yes, all three of them were coming over and 2) Tony & Krysti didn’t know about dinner. I told them to bring sides, since I had plenty of main course, but no sides. I told her I would put them to work hanging shelves.

Then we failed to be near our phones when the two of them arrived, and they waited downstairs for 20 minutes while the door person tried our phones over and over. That was sad for them.

Then the four of them got to work hanging shelves. What that really means is that Bill hung shelves while one to three of them helped out. They kind of rotated in and out of hanging shelves, hanging in the kitchen with me. There was, perhaps, a small amount of alcohol consumed in the kitchen.

The shelves went fairly quickly. The beans did not. So, of course, Tony and Bill and Rob got bored, and decided to tackle other home repair projects. They got a lot more things done, but did not manage to fix our track lighting.

Moral of the story? If you want projects done around the house, make these beans, without soaking them first. But be prepared to eat at 11:00 pm.h2. Ingredients

1/4 c neutral oil (I used corn oil.)
2 medium onions, chopped

1/2 c apple butter

6 c water (Once again, not listed.)

1 5-inch piece of kombu (This is a kind of dried seaweed, & I estimated on size.)

1 lb dried white beans, washed, picked over & soaked (I used cannellinis, I think.)

½ c maple syrup

2 tsp dry mustard or 2 tbsp prepared (To taste)

Salt & freshly ground pepper

h2. Instructions

Preheat the oven to 300F. In a large ovenproof pot you have a lid for, heat the oil and then sauté the onions in the hot oil over medium-high heat. Stir them up frequently, because it’s fun. Let ‘em go for about 7 minutes, until they’re soft and lightly browned, then toss in the apple butter and cook for another minute or so. Stir in the water, adding maybe 1/3 at first, and using that to scrape up any browned bits (assuming you have them; if not just stir it all in).

Once the water is added, toss in the kombu, syrup and mustard. Stir well (the kombu will be stiff and that’s fine for now), cover, and then put it all in the oven and bake it for a full 2 hours without peeking at it. After that, you can peek, and you should. You should see how the beans are doing, add more water to cover the beans if you need to, and cook again until they are done. Mr. Bittman estimates this will be another 30 minutes.

After this is all done, and the beans are nicely cooked, sprinkle in as much salt and pepper as you’d like, and then stir it really well. The kombu should be nice and soft and break up at this point. It will also have expanded quite a bit. Taste your beans and add more syrup if needed. Turn the oven up to 400F and toss the uncovered beans back in until the beans are “creamy” and the liquid has thickened up nicely. Taste it one last time, add salt & pepper if needed, and serve or cool & refrigerate up to three days, but “reheat gently”.

h2. Cooking and Consumption Notes

h3. Cooking

Okay, seriously, don’t be like us. Soak your beans first. Hopefully you are more skilled in the kitchen than we, and you have some tried and true method for soaking beans. Something like, I don’t know, thinking to do so a day ahead of time or so and dumping some beans in some water?

That might work.

Anyway, not soaking the beans in some way is a sure path to disaster, I think. The recipe basically says they’ll take 3 hours and 10 minutes if you soak them, and 4 hours and 10 minutes if you don’t. I know I was aiming to have dinner on the table approximately 8:00 pm, so I must have started the beans around 4:00 pm. We finally ate at 11:00 pm, and that’s after Krysti and Rob and I tried many a bean and finally decreed them acceptable.

Not really as soft & delicious as we’d like, but cooked. Pretty good. Not crunchy anymore, at least. They’d have worked nicely in a firm bean salad. Of course, baked beans is about the opposite of a firm bean salad, but that’s fine. It’s especially fine so late at night.

No one worked out that night. We did laugh an awful lot though, and it was a very good night.

h3. Consumption

You’re probably thinking, “Kombu? What is this kombu thing, and how weird is it?”

Answer: Seaweed, and surprisingly not weird.

I bring this up in the consumption notes because it’s supposed to be the “bacon substitute” for vegetarian baked beans, giving a smoky flavor and a great texture.

I hear you now, “Seaweed as a bacon substitute? You’re out of your mind.”

Well, it’s like this. The beans, as you can tell, did not have a great texture. I’m sure that’s more about our failure in cooking/soaking than anything else. The flavor, though, was fantastic. Very enjoyable. Sorta smoky, sweet and tangy, without a distinct “maple” flavor. All in all, delicious.

And when Krysti asked what was in the beans, Rob, who did not help with the cooking, answered before I could. He told her there was bacon in it.