This New England classic tastes like no other bean, and can be slow cooked all day on the stove, in the oven, or in a slow cooker. However, you can make them in a fraction of the time in a pressure cooker, or multi-cookers.
My mother was known for her baked beans, a long-baked dish enhanced with mustard and spices and maple syrup, and usually with pork of some sort, bacon or salt pork. They were served up with baking powder biscuits or old-fashioned Boston brown bread. 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!
Even better than baked, for some of us!
But another of the family favorites was stewed yellow-eyed beans, another long-simmering bean dish perfect for the slow cooker. These beans have a distinct flavor, and cook up to a beautiful creamy consistency. We had a lot of these when I was growing up, ad they were my father’s favorite. Mine too.
Lighten this one up for a healthful profile
Mom used a big fat chunk of salt pork or bacon in hers which, if you are so inclined, can still be found in most New England markets. I have omitted this from the recipe because of the saturated fat and excessive salt, both of which are not regulars on my husband’s heart-healthy diet. In my earlier vegetarian versions, the dish tasted flat, missing both the salt and the smokiness of the pork. You can’t just take those flavorful things out, you have to replace them in some way.
The dish needed salt, so I threw caution to the wind and ignored every warning about not salting beans before you cook them and added a teaspoon of salt in the soaking liquid, and also a little more in the actual cooking. No, it did not prevent the beans from cooking, or make them split! Since then, I’ve done this with all my dried beans and I’ve found the texture to be even better.
Then there was the smoke from the bacon. 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 sometimes it’ds hard to find just the right ones on a consistent basis.
Enter, Smoked Paprika!
My third choice is my favorite, smoked 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 to boost the flavor, but it added absolutely nothing to the dish, so straight-up water it is, unless of course I have some veggie stock in the refrigerator that needs to be used.
A bit of warmth
Because I like a little heat, my last change to the basic technique 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.
I added the greens because I love greens and beans! This is not traditional by any means, but is really delicious, and further boosts the nutritional profile.
To top it all off!
This dish was always served with warmed milk or cream passed around the table at our house, and you don’t need a lot, just a little drizzle to enhance the creaminess. This, of course, is also optional, and easily swapped with coconut milk or fat-free half and half. I also like to add something crispy for a little texture: fried shallots, for example.
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 filling carbs and 18 grams of fiber, plus 16 grams of protein. A nutritional powerhouse!
New England Stewed Beans with Greens
- 1 lb. dried yellow-eyed beans
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 really large yellow onion, or a couple of large leeks, diced
- 1 small carrot, diced, a scant cup, optional
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 quarts water
- ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 heaping tsp. smoked, sweet paprika
- Salt to taste
- Large bunch of spinach or Swiss chard, thick ribs removed
- Optional: cream, milk, half-and-half, or non-dairy alternative
First, you will need to soak your beans. You won’t find these canned, even in New England. 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 about two inches of water, a heaping teaspoon of salt, and let them soak overnight, or at least six hours.
The next day, drain and rinse the beans and set aside. Sauté the onion or leeks, garlic, and carrots in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add the beans, water, cayenne, bay leaf, salt, 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, stir in greens, cover and set aside for a few mintutes for the greens to wilt. Add salt to taste, and serve up in shallow bowls, topping it all off with dairy or plant cream of choice, and perhaps something crunchy like crispy shallots or Brussels sprouts.
Pressure cooker method: Sauté the aromatics as above, then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to pressure, and cook for 45 minutes. Let naturally release.
Go ahead and go green!
The optional ingredient to the beans is one of my favorites twists on the original – Swiss chard or spinach, 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, adding to the nutrition and flavor as well.
Now, Take Two…leftovers? Not if they are planned!
You’ll have leftover beans, of course, so top a serving with one beautiful local organic over-easy egg for a healthy and hearty breakfast, lunch, or supper!
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