Just about every baked bean recipe I’ve ever eaten has hit me a little too heavy on the sweet tooth. Do they really need to have brown sugar and honey and molasses and maple syrup? Geez, it hurts my teeth just thinking about it. My version has some sweetness, but it’s a deep, earthy kind of sweet, thanks to molasses, and balanced with only a bit of brown sugar. There’s dark-roast coffee, cumin, ancho chile, coriander and ginger, too—plenty of savory notes to keep these beans off the dessert end of the potluck table.
You could sauté the onions in olive oil and this recipe would make even a vegan happy. But don’t lament, carnivores. Your beloved bacon will feel right at home in this dish, too. Y’all go ahead and make it your own!
About 4 cups cooked pinto and great northern beans* (see notes)
2 Tbsp. bacon drippings (or extra virgin olive oil)
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. spicy coffee rub*
1 tsp. coarse kosher salt
8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 Tbsp. ketchup (Heinz organic made with sugar)
3 Tbsp. molasses
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. maple-flavored balsamic vinegar*
(Optional) chopped cooked bacon and/or browned meat*
I cooked the beans from dry, which is easy to do after an overnight soak. For me, the texture of from-scratch beans is worth the minimal effort, and a lot cheaper. If you prefer, use two or three varieties of canned beans. You’ll need 3 cans, and you’ll want to drain and rinse them well before proceeding.
My recipe for spicy coffee rub follows, or substitute any pre-made spice blend that includes coffee, sugar and chili spices, but be mindful of the sodium content and adjust the recipe accordingly.
I’m a very devoted follower of flavored oils and vinegars, and I think the maple balsamic brings a nice maple flavor to these beans, without more “sweet.” Use any other dark balsamic you like (perhaps espresso or dark chocolate), or omit it altogether. It’s kind of like the cherry on top of a sundae—nice, but not necessary.
We had 3 slices of leftover cooked bacon from breakfast and about 1 cup cooked ground bison (a leftover from chili for hot dogs). Both found their way into the baked beans, and the dish was even more hearty and satisfying for it.
Sauté onion in bacon drippings (or olive oil) until they’re slightly soft and translucent.
Add spicy coffee rub and salt, and cook until fragrant. Add tomato sauce, ketchup, molasses, brown sugar and maple balsamic vinegar. Cook until sugar is dissolved, and mixture is thick and syrupy.
Preheat oven to 350° F.
Put prepared or canned beans in an oven-safe, lidded casserole. Pour sauce over beans and fold gently to combine. Bake about 45 minutes, until fully hot and bubbly. I left the lid on for most of the baking time, but removed it for the last 15 minutes. That dark, sticky crust just makes me so happy, and I can’t wait to eat the leftovers cold from the fridge.
Spicy Coffee Rub – my take on a Bobby Flay recipe
Makes about 1 cup
1/4 cup ancho chile powder
1/4 cup finely ground dark roast coffee*
2 Tbsp. sweet Spanish paprika
2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp. dry mustard
1 Tbsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. ground coriander seed*
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (optional to taste)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. kosher salt*
The coffee should be ground as finely as powder, not just ground for coffee. If you have a spice grinder, that’s the best way to achieve the proper grind texture.
Coriander is the seed form of cilantro, but the taste is not similar. You can find it pre-ground at the market, but I much prefer the flavor of freshly ground seeds for this rub. I use a mortar and pestle to crush the seeds, but you could also use a spice grinder, as used for the coffee.
I keep the salt to a minimum in this spice rub recipe to allow more flexibility in its use. If you want a more intense flavor when you use the rub, you don’t end up making your end dish too salty.
Combine all ingredients and keep in a tightly covered jar for up to four months.
Use it as a dry rub on steak or ribs before grilling, add a tablespoon to your favorite chili recipe or mixed in with your meat for burgers or tacos. Obviously, use it also in this recipe for savory baked beans.