Eat Well ∼ Move Well

A few years back when our Mexican friends were visiting us in London we took them out for a traditional British Sunday breakfast down the local caff. They loved the instant coffee, white toast, margarine, sausages, mushrooms, bacon. Then Claudia made a face: “sweet beans? Wákala (yuk)”.

Obviously they didn’t go to waste. I grew up with baked beans and love them. But I thought I’d have a go at making baked beans fit for a Mexican. No cheating, mind: baked beans are sweet, just not so sweet they compete for dessert. They are also savoury with that oh so importnt twang of acidity. I think claudia liked them. For myself, I haven’t bought a tin of beans since


These are typically white beans such as haricot, or cannellini, but any bean is good. I’ve even tried baked chickpeas – they’re great!

The no faff method is to use cooked tinned beans. I find ready cooked beans tend to fall apart and I prefer to cook my own. But if you don’t mind your beans a bit mushy or if you don’t own a pressure cooker who can blame you for wanting to keep things simple?

Pressure cooked beans don’t need pre-soaking, though they will cook that much quicker if soaked. Throw them straight in the pot with 4 times their volume of water and a teaspoon full of salt. Yes, salt. Salt does not make your beans hard, instead producing beans with a lovely creamy texture

Cooking times varies with the type and age of your beans, your pressure cooker and the altitude of your kitchen. As a rule of thumb cook unsoaked white beans for 18-20 minutes at high pressure then turn off the flame and let the pressure reduce naturally to ambient – around 15 minutes

If you don’t have a pressure cooker soak the beans for 8-12 hours and cook in fresh water (with salt) for around an hour


Another thing about tinned baked beans is a sauce thickened with corn starch. Yes, corn starch produces a nice shiny glaze. But essentially if your sauce needs cornstarch it’s just too thin. The best thickener for a tomato sauce is tomato, albeit with a little help from …

Carrot and celery are a magic combo in Italian tomato sacues. For good reason. They are packed with umami (deliciousness) and impart a gentle sweetness to the sharpness of the tomato. They also add body – that is, they help thicken your sauce. So you’ll never need to resort to corn starch


Tinned tomatoes, of course … ? The pic indeed depicts tomatoes of the tinned variety. And if the alternative is the insipid hydroponically grown, sun-starved tomatoes we get in Northern European supermarkets you’re better off with tinned

Got access to decent fresh tommies? Great. Cut them in four, throw them in the blender and blitz them till smooth. No blanching, no peeling, no chopping, no sieving. Tomato skin is full of lycopenes. And discard the seeds and you’re throwing away half the flavour.


I’ve known chefs use tomato ketchup. Fair enough. But if it’s sweet and sour you’re looking for there are alternatives, Here’s a few

SUGAR jaggari, muscovado, demerara, white VINEGAR malt, wine, cider, sherry, rice
NECTARS honey, agave, maple, coconut CITRUS lemon, lime, bergamot, yuzu
OTHER pomegranite & blackstrap molasses, stevia, xylitol OTHER tamarind, dried mango powder


korean gochujang for baked beans

You can really go to town here. Or keep things simple. The recipe below has Korean gochujang: fermented rice and red chilli paste. Why? Because that high priestess of Korean food Maangchi keeps telling us how totally different real gochujang tastes to the shop bought variety and I was nuts enough to follow her recipe. Be warned: it’s massively hard work. And totally worth it

If gochujang is a step to far to exoticism, or you don’t have a Korean store nearby, or if you don’t want your beans spicy try Spanish paprika or whatever you fancy

Za’atar is a wonderful Palestinian blend of oregano, marjoram and thyme with ground sesame, sumac and salt. Using any of the above herbs singly or in pairs gives equally great results

Other condiments include

MEXICAN chipotle in adobo, guajillo, pasilla, ancho and just about any other fresh or dry chilli, epazote, hoja santa …
INDIAN cumin, garam masala, black cardammon, fenugreek, asafoetida …
FAR EAST gochujang, doengjang, ginger, siracha, takoyaki sauce, black bean sauce, sesame oil, sichuan pepper …
MIDDLE EAST sumac, ras el hanout, preserved lemon, za’atar, nigella seeds

Well, it’s getting on. Let’s make some beans

baked beans

Baked Beans A La Différence

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Cuisine European
Servings 6


  • Pressure cooker (optional)


  • 400g dry white beans eg haricot, cannellini OR 2 400g cans cooked beans
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 400g tin tomatoes or 4-5 fresh plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp za-atar or any combination of thyme, oregano and marjoram
  • 2 tbsp vinegar eg apple cider
  • 1-2 tsp sugar, nectar or stevia
  • 2 tsp Korean gochujang or 1tsp Spanish smoky paprika


Dry Beans Without Pressure Cooker

  • If you're using tinned beans skip this step
  • soak the beans in plentiful water 6-8 hours or overnight
    white beans soaked overnight
  • discard the soaking water and rinse the beans under a running tap
  • cook the beans generously covered with water with a teaspoon of salt for around 1 hour or until tender but not mushy

No-soak Beans In A Pressure Cooker

  • place the beans with 4 times their volume of waterf and teaspoon of salt in the pressure cooker and cook on a low flame at high pressure for around 20 minutes. But please note that the cooking times will depend on the type and also age of your beans. Turn off the flame and allow the pressure to come down gradually to ambient pressure (about 15 minutes)
    white beans soaking

Make The Sauce

  • peel of scrape the carrot and celery stick, then chop very finely
  • finely chop the onion and garlic
    chopped vegetables for tomato sauce
  • saute all the above in a pan with a little oil. When the mixture is well covered in oil pop a lid on and cook until very soft (this can take 15-20 minutes). Avoid browning by adding a large pinch of salt and an occasional small splash of water
    sauté for tomato sauce for baked beans
  • Cut fresh tomatoes in quarters and liquidze in a blender. Chop whole tinned tomatoes
  • add the tomatoes, za'atar herb mix and gochujang or paprika
    korean gochujang for baked beans
  • Add the "sugar" and vinegar
  • cook the sauce for 10-15 minutes

Purée The Sauce

  • purée in a globlet blender or a hand-held to a very smooth sauce
    tomato sauce for baked beans
  • adjust the seasoning, sweetness and acidity to your taste
  • Add in the beans and cook them in the sauce for 10 minutes, stirring gently so as not to break the beans, and adding a little water if the sauce starts to get too think
    baked beans
  • eat with a couple of poached eggs and sautéed mushrooms on hot buttered toast, crumpets or english muffins
Keyword beans, pulses