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Vegetarian Un-Baked Beans

Most recipes for baked beans use pork for flavor and long slow cooking to thicken the sauce. After talking about the physics of baking with my Taster, who is an engineer as well as a patient man, I tried to capture the creamy richness of baked beans faster and with less work. The quick and easy recipe below makes beans every bit as tasty as the ones I grew up with, using equal parts peanut butter and tahini instead of pork and a slow cooker instead of an oven.

vegetarian baked beans made with tahini, peanut butter, and molasses on brown rice

Bean Physics. Water boils when it reaches 212° F and doesn't get any hotter except under special conditions, such as in a pressure cooker. So my original thought of baking beans and bread at the same time was a bust: a big pot of beans will drag down the oven temperature. Even alone in the oven, the beans took forever to cook. Why? My Taster says transferring heat through the air, like in an oven, is much less efficient than transferring heat through physical contact, like on a stove or in a slow cooker. The acidity of the tomatoes and molasses makes a slow situation slower even slower by toughening the beans.

My solution? I think beans can't tell much difference between bubbling along in a slow cooker or an oven, but the slow cooker will be, yes, faster. Instead of cooking the beans uncovered in the oven to boil away some of the water, I just added less water in the first place. Don't let tomatoes and molasses put the brakes on the cooking time either; add them when the beans are already tender, then let the flavors blend overnight.

Active time: 15 minutes. Total time: at least 4 hours, preferably at least 12 hours. Makes 10 servings.


1 pound dried pinto beans
5 cups water
1 onion
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses (I used Grandma's Original)
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons mustard (I used Gulden's Spicy Brown Mustard)
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon tahini


  1. Pick over and rinse pinto beans (see Cooking Dried Beans). Put beans in a slow cooker with water and cover. Optionally, allow beans to soak for up to 12 hours to reduce cooking time and improve texture.
  2. Stir in salt and turn slow cooker to high. Cook beans covered until tender, about 3 hours if soaked and about 4 hours if not. Stir beans if they peek up above the water line, adding hot water if needed to keep them barely covered.
  3. When beans are nearly tender, chop onion and stir into beans with remaining ingredients. Continue cooking covered on high until beans and onions are tender.
  4. Serve immediately or, better yet, pour into another container to speed cooling, let cool for up to two hours, and then refrigerate overnight so the sauce flavors works their way through the pintos. Reheat and serve over rice, baked potatoes, toast, or as a side dish.

Tips and Notes

  • I haven't tried this, but I bet you could just add everything to the slow cooker at night and let it cook on low heat overnight. Refrigerate it in the morning, let the flavors mingle all day, and enjoy for dinner. If you try this, please let me know in the comments.
  • Try these mild beans for breakfast, especially if you can't enjoy a hot lunch. I first enjoyed beans for breakfast, along with pan-fried tomato slices, in many English B&Bs.

Reader Comments (6)

I combined everything in the slow cooker at the beginning, as suggested in the tips & notes section, and it turned out really tasty! I made a double batch - I doubled all the ingredients except for the water (I used 9 cups total), and salt (I used 2 1/2 tsp). I did not have tomato paste, so I used tomato sauce, and I did not have tahini, so I used more peanut butter in its place. I used a wholegrain dijon mustard and I omitted the onion. I cooked it on low for 9 hours, but it was still really watery (you could probably get away with using much less water), so I turned the slow cooker up to high, took off the cover, and let it simmer for approx. 2 hours. I had them for lunch and they were very tasty, with a flavourful, thick sauce!

Feb 23, 2012 | Registered Commentertwinsmum

Twinsmum, how interesting that yours turned out watery (but tasty!) & what a smart idea to turn the slow cooker up.

Did you by any chance soak the beans first, drain the water, and start with 9 cups of fresh water? I cook in the soaking water & mine aren't watery. But beans vary a lot, so maybe yours were just less thirsty! Thanks for sharing your variations.

Feb 24, 2012 | Registered CommenterLinda Watson

Sorry I am just replying now. I have decided to make the slow cooker beans again for the first time since last time, and just saw your comment. Turning up the slow cooker to high and taking off the lid is a neat trick I learned years ago that thickens up watery dishes, without having to add a thickening agent. I did not actually soak the beans first, as I was in a rush. I just rinsed them and threw them in the slow cooker with everything else, then added the 9 cups fresh water and let it cook overnight for 9 hours. The two additional hours on high without the lid thickened things up to a nice consistency. I'm about to make them again tonight, so we'll have them for brunch tomorrow with some fresh bakery bread and perhaps some grilled tomatoes! Thanks for the tasty recipe :)

Jul 6, 2012 | Registered Commentertwinsmum

So glad it worked out! The combo sounds extra tasty, too!

Jul 6, 2012 | Registered CommenterLinda Watson

Your bean recipes always say to add salt at the beginning of cooking. I remember reading that you should add salt at the end of cooking as it would toughen beans if it was added at the beginning.

Jun 3, 2013 | Registered Commentersusannaball

Susanna, you are right that adding salt later is often recommended. I follow the method recommended by the nerdy but adorable food testers at America's Test Kitchen, who do hundreds of comparison tests. They recommend salting during soaking and cooking in the soaking water for maximum flavor and nutrition. The salt has a chance to enhance the beans' flavor all the way through. I've done it both ways and don't notice any difference in the tenderness of the beans.

That said, if you makes you feel better salt afterwards, by all means do so! The main thing is to eat beans!

Jun 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Watson
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