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Baked Beans and Barbecues
While barbecue season and the foods that are deemed grill-worthy and go-withs seem to expand every year, baked beans are, and have been, must-haves for outdoor feasts from the earliest days of our country. Native Americans introduced dried beans to the Colonists, who followed their lead, cooking the beans in clay pots with salt pork and hominy (corn), or adding some maple sugar to the bean pot for good measure and better flavor, and burying it in a hot coal pit fire to simmer overnight.
From those early days forward, from Boston to Bangor, variations on baked beans abounded with dissertations, discussions and disagreements on everything from the correct beans (peabeans, navy, kidney beans, cranberry, etc.), to the proportion of salt pork, to the kind and proportion of sweetener and seasonings. In other parts of the budding nation, black-eyed peas from the South, kidney or red beans from the Midwest, and black beans brought by Spanish conquistadors to Florida, were adding to our culinary storehouse.
Whether the location was the Texas range, where chuck wagon cooks served up hearty portions of beans, long-simmered in a smoky, sweet and spicy tomato sauce, as belly-filling accompaniment to spit-roasted meats, or the mission towns of California where the art of Spanish barbecoa (barbecue) was perfected, and garlic-and-chile-spiked beans stewed daily in large ollas (clay pots), America’s appetite for beans, along with all-things barbecued, has grown steadily throughout our history.
That’s certainly a good thing, and might well be because beans are inexpensive, readily available in many shapes, sizes, and colors, and most importantly, an excellent source of protein. The versatility of dried beans is illustrated in our two recipes. Each recipe has star-power on its own, yet each can also work as a complement to grilled meats from steaks and burgers to pork ribs, sausages, and of course, the all-American barbecue mainstay, the hot dog.
As a summer bonus, we’ve taken the heat out of the kitchen by giving you a microwave oven method for cooking beans from scratch. While microwaving saves only a small amount of time over stovetop cooking, it is a one-dish cooking method that keeps your preparation and clean-up time to a minimum and keeps your kitchen maximum cool!
Boston Baked Beans
Serves 10 to 12
Nothing goes better with char-grilled hot dogs than our sweet-spiced beans, made with classic ingredients. To make vegetarian, eliminate the bacon and add a drop of liquid smoke for that favorite familiar flavor.
1 pound navy beans or Great Northern beans
8 whole cloves
1 large onion
8 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
2/3 cup unsulphured molasses
1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
1. Place beans in a colander; pick through to remove any stones or debris. Rinse beans and place in a 2 1/2 to 3-quart microwaveable casserole with lid. Add 6 cups water; cover and cook on High 15 to 20 minutes until boiling. Remove from microwave and let stand, covered, for 1 hour. Drain water from beans.
2. Add 6 cups cool water to the beans. Cover and microwave on Medium (50% power) 25 to 30 minutes until beans are just tender, but not soft.
3. Insert the cloves at intervals around the onion; add the onion to the casserole. Add the bacon pieces. In a small bowl, stir together the molasses, brown sugar, mustard, ginger and salt; stir into the beans. Add bay leaf.
4. Cover casserole and microwave on High 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until beans are soft. As an alternate final cooking method, beans can be placed in a 350º F. oven and baked for 2 hours until soft. Remove and discard bay leaf, and if desired, the onion, before serving.
California Mission-Style Baked Beans
Serves 10 to 12
The bold flavors of chili powder, cumin, and garlic are rounded out with tomatoes, red wine, and a touch of brown sugar in this recipe. Try alongside grilled sausages, steak or pork chops.
1 pound pink beans
1 ham hock
1 large onion
1 medium carrot, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large sprig fresh oregano
1 bay leaf
1 can (14 to 16 ounces) diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon salt
1. Place beans in a colander; pick through to remove any stones or debris. Rinse beans and place in a 2½ to 3-quart microwaveable casserole with lid. Add 6 cups water; cover and cook on High 15 to 20 minutes until boiling. Remove from microwave and let stand, covered, for 1 hour. Drain water from beans. Rinse and drain beans.
2. Add 6 cups cool water to the beans. Add ham hock, onion, carrot, garlic, chili powder, cumin oregano and bay leaf. Cover and microwave on Medium (50% power) 25 to 30 minutes until beans are just barely tender.
3. Stir in tomatoes, brown sugar, wine, oil, tomato paste, and salt. Microwave uncovered on High 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until beans are soft, and sauce is slightly thickened. As an alternate final cooking method, beans can be placed in a preheated 350º F. oven and baked, uncovered for about 1 hour or until soft and sauce is slightly thickened. Remove and discard bay leaf before serving.