Ball Game-Worthy Oven-Braised Beans

It’s come to my attention that this is a big weekend in pro football world. Mister MA tells me there’s a slew of playoff games taking place both Saturday and Sunday. (Oh goodie, she replies, wondering about that overdue date with her sock drawer.)

(Kim O'Donnel)

He delivered this exciting sports news update as we sat down over a pot of beans earlier in the week. I had tried out a new beanery method (oven braising) from a new book (“Ten” by Sheila Lukins) and was eager for his thoughts on the variation, which includes a mélange of spices reminiscent of Jamaican jerk seasoning.

If nothing else, I loved the aromatherapeutic results of the oven method; for a few hours, the whole house was filled with spicy oven perfume and cocooned me from the rain pounding outside the kitchen window. It felt easier than a stove top pot of beans, too; most of the work here is in the prep and then there’s little else to do but wait and keep an eye on the prize.

Although the original recipe calls for a ham hock, I omitted to see if this heady broth of ginger, garlic, chile, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice would keep our taste buds plenty entertained without the meat – and it most certainly did. However, I garnished our bowls with a few slices of prosciutto begging to be used up, crisped up for a few minutes in a skillet for texture and salty tang. As we slurped away, with griddled corn tortillas in hand (a great companion here), Mister MA piped up.

“You know, you could serve this to a bunch of guys this weekend for football, and they’d love it. This is total guy’s food, and they’d never know there was no meat.” I have no idea if this was his smooth-operator way of telling me how he (translation: we) would be spending this weekend or if he was just being sweet.

Fingers crossed, I chose the latter.

Jerk Red Beans
Adapted from “10” by Sheila Lukins
KOD notes in parentheses

2 carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into ½-inch pieces
2 ribs celery, halved lengthwise and cut into ½-inch pieces
2 shallots finely chopped
1 onion, chopped (I omitted, given all the shallots)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger (about an inch long)
Fresh chile of choice, seeded and finely chopped (I used half of a Serrano, what was in the fridge)
1 tablespoon dark or light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
2 cups dried red kidney beans (Original amount in recipe is 1 cup)
2 cups stock of choice (I used water only, it’s what I had on hand)
1 ½ cups canned plum tomatoes, crushed
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce or your favorite hot sauce
2 dried bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
1 ham hock (optional, in my opinon)

Possible garnish
Chopped scallions, shredded cheese, crème fraiche, crisped up prosciutto or bacon

In a large bowl or saucepan, cover beans with a few inches of water and allow to soak for at least two hours. Drain and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Have carrots, celery, shallots, onion, garlic, ginger, chile, sugar and spices prepped and ready to go in one bowl.

Combine broth (or water), Tabasco, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and 1 cup water in a large ovenproof casserole. (Lukins suggests adding tomatoes at this stage, but I delay that addition until after the beans have had a little time to cook. More on that in a bit.)
Bring mixture to a boil, and remove casserole from heat.

Add beans to hot mixture, plus the bowl of carrots, celery, etc. Add ham hock at this time, if using. Cover casserole, transfer to oven and bake until beans are almost tender, about 90 minutes. (After 45 minutes, add tomatoes; I’ve learned the hard way that if you add acid to beans right off the bat, they toughen up and never coax into tender morsels.)

Uncover pot and test beans for doneness. If using ham hock, remove, cut meat from bone and stir meat back into pot. Cover and cook until beans are tender but not mushy, up to another 30 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper – for two cups of beans, you’ll need about 1 teaspoon salt, maybe a tad more. Add gradually.

Makes at least six servings.

Serve with rice, your favorite cornbread or a handful of griddled corn tortillas.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 9, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Beans and Legumes
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Years ago I had a very large Sears Crockpot. When the element burned out I saved the Crock and its Glass lid. This will be perfect for Oven baked beans. Thanks

Posted by: nipperdo | January 9, 2009 10:44 AM

Kim this looks yummy, but for some reason I've never been a big fan of chili. Do you think this would work without the tomatoes, maybe substituting more broth and more carrots/celery, to make something with that jerk profile but without the chili taste? It's a lot of subs, but I'm thinking maybe the baby limas I have on hand rather than kidneys, too, to avoid that association...I haven't figured out quite what it is about that cozy food that bothers me, which is too bad because I've been enjoying experiments with a weekly pot of beans!

Posted by: mailergoat | January 9, 2009 10:48 AM

This is exactly what I've been looking for; I can't wait to try it! However, 6 servings is a lot for just me. Can I just halve everything down the middle? (You're note about the original recipe having just one cup of beans is confusing me.)

Posted by: monnie1 | January 9, 2009 11:19 AM

Yes, you could halve everything down the middle. Wanted you to know proportions as they originally appeared in recipe, which in my opinion would have made really liquidy results.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | January 9, 2009 11:30 AM

Mailergoat, I say give it a try w/o the tomato if it will make you happy, but you will need some kind of acid in its place. A beer, perhaps, some vinegar. Fyi, the amount of tomato called for in this recipe is fairly low and I'd say this feels more like a pot of beans than chili. Just sayin'!

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | January 9, 2009 11:33 AM

Kim, did you have a particular source for your dried beans? I'm thinking that this would be very tasty, but also think that the beans on our grocers' shelves are old. Rancho Gs?

Posted by: CentreOfNowhere1 | January 9, 2009 4:16 PM

As you know, I'm a big fan of Rancho Gordo beans. I got real lucky when I moved to Seattle, where local dried beans are up for grabs at the farm markets, and these red babies in the photo are from a Washington farm. That said, go with your gut on this one. The fresher the bean, the tastier the results. Beans do really have individual characteristics; unfortunately many of us miss out on this goodness when we buy decrepit beans on the shelves that come without a sell by date!

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | January 9, 2009 4:57 PM

Happy stuff - I need to see if I can hook my little kids on beans, so all recipes are good ones. There was a bean article in Cook's Ill. last year (Tuscan Bean Stew) where they did something similar to keep the beans from exploding. Specifically, they brined the beans beforehand, then oven braised at 250F. They also used tomato dice, well drained. Cheers!

Posted by: info_stuporhighway | January 11, 2009 9:39 AM

Would this work as well with pinto beans, in your opinion?

Posted by: mayoungkin | January 13, 2009 1:36 PM

Kim-I made this yesterday and found that I needed to add a lot more broth/water. Since the original recipe called for 1 cup beans and your version was for 2 cups - should the liquid have been doubled as well? With the addition of more broth (and I added leftover shredded chicken) it was delicious.

Posted by: GFReilly | January 13, 2009 2:11 PM

GFReilly, I didn't have that problem, but I'm glad you stepped right up to the plate and took matters into your own hands. First-hand reports are so very useful. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | January 13, 2009 2:17 PM

Mayoungkin, yes indeed, pinto beans would be equally delicious. Keep me posted on your adventures.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | January 13, 2009 2:19 PM

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