This New England classic can be slow cooked all day on the stove, in the oven, or in a slow cooker. Or, you can make them in a fraction of the time in a pressure cooker, or one of the more modern multi-cookers that everyone seems to be using these days.
My mother was known for her baked beans, a long-baked dish enhanced with mustard and spices and maple syrup, and usually with a little pork of some sort, bacon or salt pork. They were served up with baking powder biscuits (recipe here) or old-fashioned Boston brown bread (recipe here). The beans would cook in the oven all day, so this was a winter dish, at least until she got her first slow cooker and she never looked back!
As often as she made baked beans, she prepared my father’s favorite – stewed yellow-eye beans, another frugal New England classic, using very few ingredients. It’s delicious, it’s filling, but there is a lot of fat and salt in the original recipe. Since the recipe’s main ingredient is healthful beans, I wanted to create a version that would have the same flavor profile, but with less guilt.
It still needed to be comfort food.
Lighten this one up for a healthful profile
Mom used a big old chunk of salt pork which, if you are so inclined, can still be found in most New England markets. I have omitted this from the recipe, but in my earlier vegetarian versions, the dish tasted flat, missing both the salt and the smokiness of the paprika.
I tried using liquid smoke, but it tasted revolting. I found some smoked peppers at a specialty store and used them in another batch. They added that nice smoky taste, but also added too much of a pepper flavor, plus they are hard to find in Vermont on a consistent basis.
Enter, Smoked Paprika!
My third choice is my favorite, smoked Hungarian paprika. It adds just the right amount of smoky flavor, and is a healthful anti-inflammatory ingredient.
I also tried using stock instead of plain water, but it added absolutely nothing to the dish, so straight-up water it is.
Because I like a little heat, my last change to the basic recipe was to add either cayenne pepper or a small dried hot pepper (also, anti-inflammatory) from our local farm stand. Both work really well, as does hot, smoked Hungarian paprika, but you will need to adjust the recipe in a way that suits your family, or omit it altogether. This should add warmth, not a lot of heat.
To top it all off!
This dish was always served with warmed milk or cream passed around the table, and you don’t need a lot, just a little drizzle to enhance the creaminess. This, of course, is also optional. I also like to add something crispy for a little texture: fried shallots, Brussels sprouts, carrot chips, or a few nuts.
The recipe can be halved, and is actually better if made a day ahead and then reheated just before serving. It freezes nicely, too, so this really big batch is great to make to eat a couple of meals now, and freeze the rest for you future hassle-free dining pleasure.
Nutritional note: 1 cup of cooked yellow-eyed beans has 45 carbs and 18 grams of fiber, plus 16 grams of protein. A nutritional powerhouse!
1 lb. dried yellow-eyed beans
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 really large yellow onion, or a couple of large leeks, diced (about 1 quart)
1 small carrot, diced, a scant cup, optional
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 quarts water
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 heaping tsp. smoked, sweet Hungarian paprika
Salt to taste
Optional: cream, milk, half-and-half, or non-dairy alternative
First, you will need to soak your beans. Weigh them out, pick through them to ensure there are no dried-bean “stones” in the mix, and then place in a large bowl. Cover them with a bout two inches of water, and let them soak overnight, or at least six hours.
The next day, sauté the onion or leeks, garlic, and carrots in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add the beans, water, cayenne, bay leaf, pepper, and smoked paprika. Bring to a boil and boil rapidly for five minutes. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for four to six hours, or even all day. You want the beans soft and the broth thickened as some of the beans break down.
Remove the bay leaf. Add salt to taste, and serve up in shallow bowls, topping it all off with cream of choice, and perhaps something crunchy like crispy shallots or Brussels sprouts.
Go ahead and go green!
An optional ingredient to the beans is one of my favorites twists on the original – Swiss chard or spinach, lightly steamed or stirred into the hot beans at the end just until wilted. We can get these greens grown locally all winter long, so it is a great addition to an economical meal.
Now, Take Two…leftovers? Not if they are planned!
You’ll have leftover beans, of course, so top a serving with a beautiful organic over-easy egg for a healthy and hearty breakfast or lunch!