Jul 26, 2010

Vegetarian Boston Baked Beans

I find that people tend to be amazed that I make baked beans from scratch. Maybe they find the 5+ hours of baking time intimidating. But have no fear – baked beans are actually super easy to make.

However, they do require one big decision up front: whether to include ketchup or any other tomato products.  Anyone  from New England will be solidly in the no-tomato camp.  In other parts of the country, you not only find ketchup in baked beans, but cinnamon, apple juice, soy sauce and kinds of other crazy stuff. Me, I’m from upstate New York – that’s not quite New England, but today I’m siding with the Bostonians. My recipe is traditional in its tomatoless-ness, though nontraditional in its meatless-ness.  I used smoked paprika – my secret weapon – and a bit of olive oil as a stand-in for bacon or salt pork. I think the result is good enough to satisfy your friendly neighborhood meat eater – and I don’t think anyone will really miss the ketchup.

This recipe makes a huge batch of beans, but you will be very happy to have a lot of leftovers. In fact, if you’re anything like my father, you might find yourself eating them cold for breakfast, along with some eggs and toast.

Vegetarian Boston Baked Beans

2 pounds dried navy beans
1 tablespoon dry mustard
2/3 cup molasses – I used blackstrap, but you can sub. “full”/”robust” for a slightly sweeter flavor
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Spanish smoked paprika
1/4 cup cider vinegar (use gluten-free vinegar if you prefer)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (can substitute vegan version)
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cloves
2 large onions, sliced
2 bay leaves

Soak the beans overnight, or use the quick soak method (bring the beans to a boil in a pot of water, boil 2 minutes, cover and remove from heat for 1 hour. Drain.)

Place the soaked beans in a large saucepan and cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until nearly tender, about 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on your beans. (If your beans are still rock hard after an hour, discard them – they are probably too old and may never soften, or will do so at the expense of your patience.)  Drain the beans, reserving the cooking water.

Heat the oven to 300 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the mustard, molasses, brown sugar, garlic, paprika, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, cloves, olive oil, salt and pepper. Put a third of the cooked beans in a large covered bean pot or dutch oven, and cover with half the onions. Repeat, then top with the final third of the beans. Tuck the bay leaves into the pot. Pour on the sauce, then add bean cooking liquid to cover generously (about 6 cups; if you don’t have enough bean cooking liquid, add water.)

Cover and bake for 4 hours, checking occasionally to make sure the beans aren’t getting extremely dried out – add hot water if they are. After 4 hours, taste and add additional salt if you feel it’s needed, and bake  uncovered for an additional 45 minutes to one hour, until sauce is thickened and beans develop a bit of a crust on top.  (Note that beans will thicken significantly as they cool.) Remove bay leaves and serve, or serve later at room temperature or cold right from the refrigerator.

Serves 16-20


  • I will testify that these were great. I’m a ketchup-centric bean baker who uses salt pork, but I’m tempted to try this recipe.

  • What’s a good size for a large bean pot, 4 quarts or 6 quarts?

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    I think mine is 4 quarts and it seems plenty big.

  • Michelle

    They’re in the oven now…so excited! Thanks!!

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Michelle, I can’t wait to hear how they turned out. Great, I hope.

  • Michelle

    They were SUPER yummy!! I’ll be making them again for sure :)

  • LisaLovesToCook

    I want to make this so my vegetarian husband can eat with me while we watch the football game on Sunday. My only question is this: can I use regular paprika? I can’t seem to find teh spanish smoked kind.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    You can leave out the paprika altogether. Or throw in a canned chipotle chili for that smoky flavor!

  • Laura

    This recipe was a HUGE hit, even with my carnivore friends and family. It took me two days to make because I made the beans from scratch in my slow cooker, but, oh, so worth it! Just one question: do you have the nutritional information anywhere? Love, love, love your website by the way.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Glad you liked the beans, Laura! No, I don’t really do nutritional information, because I just don’t have the time to figure it out. Sorry!

  • clau_loves_ambercat

    Hi Cathy,

    Is there anything you would recommend to substitute the worcestershire sauce? I’m trying an allergy diet and it seems I have to avoid the corn or soy in it…dilemma!!

  • You can just leave it ou, no problem

  • Clare Marie

    Hi Cathy, I have no idea how I stumbled upon your blog but I did, and I wanted to thank-you for sharing this recipe .. I made it last Friday with a few substitutions to use what I had on hand, and it was delicious!

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    That’s great, Clare Marie! Glad you found me, too.

  • Thank so much – I’m planning on making a big batch with a few substitutions from what I have in the pantry, but I am SO excited to find a recipe that doesn’t have any tomato. I am allergic to berries, cherries & tomatoes – I KNOW, horrible right? Even worse, we just found out that my 21-month old daughter is as well, so I am always on the hunt for good recipes that both she and I can eat that her daddy will enjoy as well. I’m hoping this will satisfy a southern boy who’s addicted to all the tomato goodness we can’t have in the house anymore!

  • Lisa

    I know these are supposed to be baked, but can I do them on top of the stove? I need to make a huge quantity for a gathering and don’t have an appropriate pan to use in the oven.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    I’m sure you could do them on the stove, simmering them for maybe two hours, but I’m not sure how much water to suggest. I guess just start by covering the beans by a little, and add more as needed.

  • Lisa

    Thanks, Cathy! I have these going right now, and they are seriously the best beans I have ever eaten. OMG!!!

  • Butterflygal

    Do you know how many cooked cups 2lbs of dry beans translates to so I can make this good lookin’ recipe with beans I’ve already cooked?

    Also, I can’t find smoked paprika but I do have Liquid Smoke – could I use some of that?

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Should be 10-11 cups of cooked beans. Good luck!

  • Lindalou

    Just a side note: The vinegar is already naturally gluten free; what you need to be aware of is that the Worcestershire sauce contains gluten – use gluten free sauce.

  • Stacey

    We just made your recipe today. We cut it in half so it would fit in our bean pot, but that was the only change we made. It was GREAT – flavorful with just the right amount of spices! Being gluten-free, tomato-free (and with many other food sensitivities), it can be very difficult to find a recipe that is completely okay for my diet, but this one just plain works. Thanks so much.

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Glad you liked it, Stacey! It’s one of my faves.

  • tony


    Should these be stored in the fridge afterwards and how long do you think they will last?

    Thank you.

  • Yes Tony, they should be stored in the fridge and should be good for four days.

  • Amber

    Great recipe! But just an FYI- Worcestershire isn’t vegetarian/meatless. It usually has beef broth or anchovies or both.

  • Hi Cathy. Can I use black kidney beans and pinto beans to substitute dried navy beans?

  • Hi Vienna. No, I personally wouldn’t substitute the beans here. It just wouldn’t be the same at all. Navy beans are best – great northerns would be the only substitute. Good luck!

  • Deborah

    These didn’t have a lot of taste, and the sauce never really got thick. Not many got eaten so I have a ton of beans left. I will try doctoring them, but we can’t possibly eat them all right now. Can these be frozen?

  • Deborah, so sorry it didn’t work out -I’ve never had a problem with this recipe. Did you use navy beans? Anyway, yes I think you can freeze.

  • Deborah

    Cathy, I did use dried navy beans. I followed the recipe exactly. They will make an excellent base for the BBQ baked beans I usually make. I froze 3 containers. And yesterday I doctored some a bit with BBQ sauce and a little more brown sugar. They thickened up and tasted great.

  • Ok, good. Thanks for your input. I’m going to make this dish again and see if I need to make adjustments to improve!

  • […] Vegetarian Boston Baked Beans – What Would Cathy Eat? […]

  • Meg

    I enjoy making these and have done so with great success, several times! Today I’m going to try substituting maple syrup for the molasses. Have you tried that?

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    It might be a much milder flavor, but it’s certainly worth a try!

  • Sam

    Nice tasty recipe but unless you want to eat extra farty food then you should NEVER use the water you cook beans in as it contains a lot of the toxins that makes beans gassy to begin with. Always discard and rinse beans well for less stomach discomfort!

  • Wendy

    Instead of using fresh beans can I use canned instead?

  • whatwouldcathyeat

    Hi Wendy, sorry for the late reply. No, this recipe is not designed for canned beans, so I wouldn’t recommend that at all.

  • Becky

    I became allergic to nightshades about two years ago. I omitted the paprika and added quarter teaspoon of tumric, I was able to have baked beans again! Yum!!!!!

  • Bexy

    I keep reading Navy Beans in recipes today and I’ve never heard of them. However, I can assume they are probably haricot and as for the bay leaves a local church has bay growing in the hedge… Moving swiftly on for it’s Beans on Toast Day (25th Dec). A simple peaceful tradition which started a few years ago by one of my adult children. It’s an alternative to the stress, avarice and waste created by mainstream traditions (kept going by films and the media, for retail). How peaceful to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, for to live a simple life helps others to simply live. You’ve probably got something going on this year, but maybe you might like to do the same next year for yourself? Anyways: “Happy Baked Beans on Toast Day”

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