Half Cheater Baked Beans

I’ve actually made baked beans a few times now, each time tweaking a recipe (i.e. using a specific recipe as a base but then heavily modifying) but I’ve never written it down until this past Independence Day. So this time I did. Like the black bean burgers, the base for the recipe was the Veganomicon. But I borrowed ideas from Vegan Soul Kitchen and Rancho Gordo’s bean book.

Rancho Gordo’s method (and many on the internet) call for entirely cooking the beans during baking. That is, you start with dry beans in a baking dish, put in a bunch of liquid and seasonings, then let it bake for hours. I do mean hours: this method can easily take twelve or more hours and you have to watch it the entire time (topping up liquid mostly). I’ve made them this way and honestly it’s a pain. Further, I’ve discovered that a simpler method tastes as good (no doubt I will be corrected on this point).

Veganomicon calls their recipe “cheater” baked beans because you use canned beans and just bake them with pretty simple seasonings. Since I I mostly keep dried beans on hand, I was obviously going to use those. Further, the Veganomicon recipe doesn’t really try to develop the flavors of the seasonings outside the baking dish. I know from making curries and chillis that cooking your onions well, cooking with spices and then making a “gravy” is a very effective way to make something flavorful. So with this recipe you’re basically making a sweet and tangy tomato gravy that is pour over cooked baked beans into a baking dish. Then that dish is baked until the liquid reduces.


1 pound (dry)BeansLast week, I made a double batch so used an entire pound each of white navy and small red beans (not kidney). But I’ve used other varieties with success. Experiment!
2 smallYellow onions, diced fine
6+ clovesGarlic, minced
1/2 15 oz canTomato sauceI used an unsalted tomato sauce so if you use salted, you may need less salt.
1/4 cupMaple syrupReal maple syrup. See below for notes on sweetener
1/4 cupSorghum syrup
2-3 teaspoonsYellow mustard, preparedThe stuff you put on hot dogs works fine, but feel free to experiment! The Veganomicon calls for mustard powder for example but there are many kinds of prepared mustards.
1 teaspoonChili powderI used a chipotle variety for the smokiness
1 teaspoonSalt
To tasteBlack pepperDon’t you hate it when recipes say to put black pepper in to taste? The reality is many recipes call for it, I never really measure it and I have no idea why I put it in some things. Anyway, I probably put in close to half a teaspoon or more of freshly ground black pepper.
2 tablespoonsLime juiceI keep little glass bottles of lime or lemon juice around. But really this is calling for something tangy and sour, so many substitutions would probably work.
1 tablespoonVinegarI actually used a splash of “salad vinegar” which is a slightly sweetened rice vinegar the Japanese grocery sells.
1 tablespoonBragg’s “Liquid Aminos”We call this “hippie juice”. It’s similar to soy sauce and adds glutamate (“savory”) but has a bit different flavor. You could probably also stir in some nutritional yeast instead or soy sauce.
1 tablespoonHenderson’s RelishThis is a vegan worcestershire seasoning that a very awesome friend from Sheffield, England gave me a few years ago. You could probably just substitute more Bragg’s.
As neededWaterThis is to top off liquid levels during baking.
As neededOilI believe I used peanut oil but honestly any vegetable oil would be fine.

A Note on Sugars

The synthesis of the recipes I’ve looked at in general calls for more sugar than I have here — probably more like a full cup for this quantity of beans between the maple and sorghum. I’ve used that much sugar before but it was just too sweet for me (though apparently my guests didn’t think so!) Further, while I’m using maple syrup and sorghum here, that’s only because it’s what I had on hand. Other sugars I’ve seen in various recipes are molasses (duh), brown sugar, agave, honey, plain brown sugar and more in various combinations. I’ve even seen recipes that use only brown sugar, which doesn’t seem like it would have enough flavor. There are various online calculators that will let you convert between sugars (especially dry to liquid) but really I say just experiment! Since I’m out of sorghum the next batch of beans probably won’t use it.


  1. Cook the beans in stock. I use a pressure cooker and we have oodles of homemade veggie stock. You can use water and it probably won’t matter. Much. :)
  2. Cook onions in a fair bit of oil (couple tablespoons probably) until getting golden and at least some edges areare getting a little brown.
  3. Add garlic and the dry spices. Stir around and let it “fry”. The oil will seep out the edges.
  4. Add the tomato sauce and sugars. Let cook.
  5. Stir in liquids like lime juice, henderson’s and bragg’s. Let it cook a few minutes, stirring infrequently. You might taste it at this time and adjust flavors, but keep in mind the chile flavor will get spicier most likely. Note that the above amounts are in fact adjusted for how I decided to adjust the flavors at this stage, so you should too!
  6. Move beans into baking dish.
  7. Pour the the onion and spice gravy over it. Scrape out pan well.
  8. Top up liquid and stir around in baking dish. I didn’t need to this time, but especially if you use a granulated sugar you might have to.
  9. Bake in 350F oven uncovered (you might want a drip pan) until SPECTACULAR.

I say until “SPECTACULAR” because you’re basically just checking and stirring every 20-30 minutes. Eventually the beans will no longer be in a liquid so much as a creamy gravy of awesome. When you open the oven you will have to stop yourself from diving in and burning yourself. It will however take hours.

Summary: Traditional baked beans take half a day. Cheater baked beans take an hour or so. Half cheater baked beans take a few hours more but are worth it.