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Baked Beans

À La Différence

A little while back we had some Mexican friends staying with us in London and we wanted to show them a traditional British Sunday breakfast down the local caff.

They loved the instant coffee, white toast, trans fatty acid laden margarine, pork bangers, 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 did think I’d have a go at making baked beans fit for a Mexican

No cheating: baked beans are sweet, just not so sweet they compete for dessert. They are also savoury with that oh so important twang of acidity. I think Claudia liked them. For myself, I haven’t bought a tin of (baked) 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!

For a no faff method use a can of cooked beans. I find ready cooked beans tend to fall apart and prefer to cook my own. But if you don’t mind your beans a bit mushy or don’t own a pressure cooker keep it 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. Salting does’t make your beans hard, producing instead a firm skin with a lovely creamy centre

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 simmer in fresh water (with salt) for around an hour


Tinned baked beans are thickened with corn starch. While corn starch produces a nice shiny glaze, essentially if your sauce needs cornstarch it’s just too thin. The best thickener for a tomato sauce is tomato

Carrot and celery are the dynamic duo of the Italian soffritto, the basis for a number of sacuces, notably tomato. 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. Another help along the way for avoiding to corn starch


Tinned tomatoes are great. Better than the tasteless off-season ones you get in supermarkets

But if you have access to decent fresh plum tommies, it’s a no brainer. Cut them in four, throw them in the blender with a drop of water and blitz them till smooth. No blanching, no peeling, no chopping, no sieving. Tomato skin is full of lycopenes. And discarding the seeds you’re throwing away half the flavour.


I’ve known chefs use tomato ketchup. Fair enough. Bu+t if it’s sweet and sour you’re looking for there are alternatives:


SUGAR jaggari, muscovado, demerara, white
NECTARS agave, maple, coconut, honey
OTHER pomegranite or blackstrap molasses, stevia, xylitol


VINEGAR malt, wine, cider, sherry, rice
CITRUS lemon, lime, bergamot, yuzu
OTHER tamarind, dried mango powder


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


chipotle in adobo, guajillo, pasilla, ancho and just about any other fresh or dry chilli. Herbs: epazote, hoja santa, oregano ...


cumin, garam masala, black cardammon, fenugreek, asafoetida ...


gochujang, doengjang, miso, ginger, sriracha, shichimi togarashi, black bean sauce, sesame oil, sichuan pepper ...


sumac, ras el hanout, preserved lemon, za'atar, nigella seeds ...

Baked Beans A La Différence

Cuisine European
Keyword beans, pulses
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
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
  • 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)

Make The Sauce

  • peel of scrape the carrot and celery stick, then chop very finely
  • finely chop the onion and garlic
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • eat with a couple of poached eggs and sautéed mushrooms on hot buttered toast, crumpets or english muffins

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