Baked beans with cheesy topping

baked beans pan

It’s cold out, how about a nourishing bowl of steaming hot baked beans with cheesy topping and a slice of homemade sourdough? Sign me up!! After many unseasonally warm (and wet) weeks over here, we are finally getting some cold days, which is actually nice – it finally feels like winter to me.

I’m continuing with my sugar-free pledge and I am feeling amazing even though it’s only been 11 days – it feels like a brain fog I didn’t know I had shifted… I have started going on long walks around my neighbourhood on the days when I don’t run or go to the gym and that too has been great for my mood and energy levels.

When I come back from my 8 km (5 mile) walk, tucking into a bowl of hot baked beans tastes exceptionally good. I have it with a couple of slices of my rye sourdough and it keeps me going till dinner. Both are delicious and packed with nutrition so I recommend them if you are on the lookout for low effort and healthy food this January.

My idea behind this recipe was to create something easy, healthy yet really satisfying too and these baked beans with cheesy topping tick all of my boxes. This dish is packed with flavour. The base of the dish is simply beans baked in tomato sauce. I season them with some ground cumin and smoked paprika (perhaps my two most favourite savoury spices) and a heaped tablespoon of either smoked harissa paste or chipotle paste, depending which one I have to hand. Either of these pastes adds a bit of a spicy kick and a more complex flavour with no effort whatsoever so they are a great addition.

I first cook the sauce down on the stove briefly and then let it finish off in the oven. I also like to top it with pools of creamy homemade cashew cheese before it finishes baking. The cheese topping is totally optional, but it’s so quick to make that I would encourage you to try it before you write it off. It’s cheesy thanks to the addition of nutritional yeast and miso, tangy thanks to lemon and creamy thanks to cashews. It’s a source of healthy, plant-based fat and it adds another flavour and texture dimension to these simple baked beans.

MORE ABOUT THE INGREDIENTS

baked beans ingredients

AROMATICS: As with most dishes of this kind, onion and garlic are how this dish starts. I chop them both very finely and pan-fry in little oil until fragrant, softened and translucent. If you want to make this dish oil-free to comply with wholefood plant based low fat way of eating or to reduce the amount of calories, simply use veggie stock to sauté the aromatics.

SPICES: I used some ground cumin and a generous amount of sweet smoked paprika for a bit of smokiness. If you aren’t used either harissa or chipotle paste, you may want to increase the spices a little to compensate.

HARISSA OR CHIPOTLE PASTE: you can use either of these if you would like your dish to have some heat and a little bit more oomph, otherwise you may want to add an extra teaspoon of smoked paprika. If you do, you may want to reduce the amount of smoked paprika to 2 tsp. Be careful as to the amount of chipotle / harissa paste you use as they tend to differ in strength. For example, Gran Luchito chipotle paste (available in Tesco, Waitrose and M&S in the UK) is quite strong so I use 1 tbsp of it but when I use Santa Maria brand (available in Morrison’s in the UK), I go for 2 tbsp as I find it milder in taste. The same goes for Harissa paste, I like to use Smoked Chilli Harissa from Belazu, which is not too strong so 1½ tbsp offers nice and mild background heat.

CANNELLINI BEANS: I used two cans of cannellini beans (also known as white navy beans) for this dish. I chose canned for speed and convenience but of course you can cook your own beans too or pick different pulses for this dish. Chickpeas would be my second choice.

PASSATA: In order for this dish to come together quickly, I used tomato passata, but you can also use two 400 g / 14 oz cans of tomatoes (whole plum tomatoes are my favourite). If you do, be aware that step 4 will take longer (about 45 minutes) and you will need to squash the tomatoes with a fork/potato masher and add some water to the pan to so that they break down and cook down until you get a more homogenous sauce.

CASHEWS: I topped my beans beans with some homemade vegan cheese made out of cashews. It adds some creaminess and healthy fat to this dish and it comes together really quickly, but you can skip this bit of course. You could also top it with seasoned silken tofu for extra plain protein instead.

TAPIOCA: Tapioca starch is a thickener and I added a bit of it to my cheese topping so that it firms up quickly. You should be able to replace it with cornstarch instead. I haven’t tested the amount but conventional wisdom says half of the amount of tapioca so half a tablespoon should work well.

MISO: I used a touch of white miso (also known as shiro miso) to flavour the topping. It’s salty and full of umami (depth of flavour). It is widely available these days, but you can skip it if you don’t have it and use more nutritional yeast instead. If you are making this dish gluten-free, look for miso that is based on chickpeas, brown rice, millet etc., rather than wheat.

NUTRITIONAL YEAST: Nutritional yeast, which is a staple vegan seasoning made out of inactive yeast, gives the sauce a hint of depth and cheese-like flavour to this simple creamy topping.

baked beans aromatics spices

Heat up small amount of oil (or use stock for oil-free version) in an oven friendly pan. Sauté first onion and then garlic until soft and translucent, then add seasonings, spices and either Harissa paste or Chipotle paste (if using, it’s not necessary).

baked beans passata

Fry off the spices on low heat, then add tomato passata. Simmer, on low heat, until thickened – about 15 minutes.

baked beans beans cashew cheese

Next, add in drained beans and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. Top with homemade cashew cheese topping if you wish (it’s optional) and bake some more. Serve hot with a sprinkling of fresh parsley (or coriander) and some toasted sourdough bread.

baked beans ready

baked beans close upx

  • 15-30 ml / 1-2 tbsp olive oil*
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1-2 tbsp chipotle* OR harissa paste* (optional)
  • 700 g / 24.5 oz passata*
  • 2 x 400g / 14 oz cannellini beans*
  • 1 tsp date syrup or any sugar
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • handful of parsley, finely chopped

‘CHEESY’ TOPPING (optional)

  • 65 g / ½ cups raw cashews
  • small garlic clove or ½ garlic powder
  • 1 tsp white miso paste
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 15 ml / 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp tapioca starch

METHOD

  1. Preheat a medium ovenproof dish (I used a 26 cm / 10.2″ round dish) on the stovetop, on low-medium heat. Preheat the oven to 180° C / 355° F. If making the cheese topping, soak cashews in boiling water – set aside.
  2. Add olive oil to the preheated dish and a few seconds later, diced onion. Sauté on low-medium heat until almost translucent before adding diced garlic. Continue sautéing until both are softened, translucent and fragrant – stir from time to time.
  3. Season with salt and pepper, cumin, paprika and (if using) either chipotle or harissa paste. Stir them into the onion-garlic mixture and carry on cooking for another minute.
  4. Stir in passata and a generous amount of seasoning again. Increase the heat and allow passata to bubble on medium heat for about 15 minutes (more if you added any water) until the sauce has darked and thickened a bit.
  5. Next, stir in drained cannellini beans, taste and adjust the seasoning, plus add a little sweetness if liked.
  6. Place the uncovered dish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. While the dish is baking, make the cheese topping if you like (see below).
  7. Carefully remove the dish from the oven, make 4 shallow dents in the sauce and spoon cheese topping into the dents. Increase the heat to 200° C / 390° F and bake for further 10-15 minutes – until the cheese topping is slightly browned and just a touch set.

‘CHEESY’ TOPPING (optional)

  1. Drain the cashews and place them along all other ingredients in a small blender / smoothie maker. Add 120 ml / ½ cup of water (or plant milk for more creaminess) and whizz until super smooth.

NOTES

*OLIVE OIL: use as much or as little as you like and if you are trying to reduce the amount of added oil and only eat fat in its wholefood form, simply sauté your aromatics in some veggie stock instead.

*CHIPOTLE / HARISSA PASTE: you can use either of these if you would like your dish to have some heat and a little bit more oomph, otherwise you may want to add an extra teaspoon of smoked paprika. Be careful as to the amount of chipotle / harissa paste you use as they tend to differ in strength. For example, Gran Luchito chipotle paste (available in Tesco, Waitrose and M&S in the UK) is quite strong so I use 1 tbsp of it but when I use Santa Maria brand (available in Morrison’s in the UK), I go for 2 tbsp as I find it milder in taste. The same goes for Harissa paste, I like to use Smoked Chilli Harissa from Belazu, which is not too strong so 1½ tbsp offers nice and mild background heat.

*PASSATA: I used tomato passata for speed, but you can also use two 400 g / 14 oz cans of tomatoes (whole plum tomatoes are my favourite). If you do, be aware that step 4 will take longer (about 45 minutes) and you will need to add some water to the pan to allow the tomatoes to break down and cook down until you get a more homogenous sauce.

*CANNELLINI BEANS (white kidney beans): I used canned for convenience but you can cook them from scratch, of course – soak them overnight and cook in plenty of water until tender. You can also use other beans, I like using chickpeas instead.

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