A question I love asking people lately is about their favorite comfort foods. Everyone has a different food or dish that brings them happiness, peace of mind, good memories, contentedness. I've heard some pretty interesting responses to this question too - for example, and I hope she won't mind me telling you, but my Mom's favorite comfort food is macaroni with cottage cheese. She says this is to do with the texture, and while that combination doesn't sound great to me, I get it. I think most of our comforting foods are about texture and memory rather than taste.
No one has a deluxe gourmet meal as their comfort food of choice. Think about yours now. Is it sweet or savoury? Is it crunchy or soft? Is it warm or cold? Was it something you had as a child? Was it homemade or store-bought? Was it a treat food or something you had often? What makes it comforting to you? I'd love to hear what your comfort foods are in the comments!
One of my comfort foods (I believe we all have more than one depending on our mood!) is baked beans on toast. This is a classic meal that kids in the UK will have for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and is so simple and easy to make. I remember loving beans on toast for an after-school supper - a can of Heinz baked beans warmed up and poured over two slices of buttered white toast. The soft warm beans with their sweet, tomato sauce were a great contrast to the crunchy toast (I liked mine almost burnt).
This is certainly not Michelin star quality stuff. This is pure and simple childhood memories. Being a nutrition fanatic, I had to see if I could recreate my comfort food in a healthy, wholesome way. Luckily, I discovered a recipe for Boston Baked Beans and adapted it to make a vegetarian version (the original relies on salt pork or pork belly for flavor). My friend Pippa also has a fabulous recipe if you're bacon-inclined! How fabulous too that the dish is named after the city we're moving to :) The main thing was that I wanted to do this using dried beans. It takes much longer, yes, (8 hours to soak + 15 mins to boil + at least 2 hours baking time) and it can go wrong, but remember what I said about stepping out of your food comfort zone? Ironically, I stepped out of my comfort zone to create comfort food...
The result is this gorgeous, rich, smoky, sweet pot of beans, perfect when tumbled onto a couple of slices of sprouted grain toast (I love Everfresh Bakery's sprouted spelt bread with raisins or in the US I'd choose Ezekiel). And to round out the plate, of course I needed some greens! Sauteed purple sprouting broccoli with the leaves and some mustard greens are a great complement to this dish. See? Baked Beans CAN be gourmet and healthy!
I don't insist that you use dried beans here, but they do provide more flavor, texture, and value for money. Still, if you're short on time, canned is fine - if you want to make a smaller amount, make sure you decrease the measures of the other ingredients too!
Boston Baked Beans (Vegetarian)
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 2 hours
Ingredients (serves 6)
- DRIED OPTION: 1 lb haricot/white beans, soaked for 8-12 hours
- CANNED OPTION: 4 cans cooked haricot/white beans, drained & rinsed
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 tbsp blackstrap molasses
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp dry mustard powder
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp tamari or Bragg's liquid aminos
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
IF USING DRIED BEANS: Drain the soaked beans and rinse. Place in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse again.
Heat the oven to 300F. Place the cooked beans in a large ovenproof casserole dish that has a lid.
Add all other ingredients and pour in some boiling water until the beans are just covered. Stir well to combine all the flavors. Cover and place in the oven.
Cook for at least 2 hours, checking the water level periodically and topping up as needed. If too liquid, leave to cook with the lid off for 20 minutes.
Alternatively, this can be left to cook all day in a slow cooker. The longer it cooks, the more the flavors develop!
Serve with sprouted grain toast and sauteed greens.