Beans and Cornbread

Homemade vegetarian baked beans can have the perfect balance of sweet and tang. Get bean recipes at
Baked beans can be a vegetarian’s guilty pleasure. Cans on the store shelf often make up for the lack of bacon by upping the sweetness factor, taking the beans out of the “healthy food” realm and putting them in the same category as store-bought granola and sweet potato fries. It’s unfortunate, because when cooked properly, vegetarian baked beans can have the perfect balance of sweet and tang.

I’ve always found canned vegetarian baked beans to be cloyingly sweet. Then I got hooked on beans in tomato sauce when I lived in London. These navy beans stewed in tomato sauce and popped into a can aren’t exactly gourmet, but the first flavor on my tongue wasn’t corn syrup. The Brits are great fans of them as beans on toast. As filling as this meal was on a backpacker budget, a stand in Covent Garden went one better: for a few quid, I could get a giant, piping hot jacket potato smothered in these beans. Since then, I’ve upscaled the beans, but I still love to serve them in baked potatoes.

Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You just need some beans, tomatoes, and kitchen staples. To make the recipe even easier, start with a leftover batch of Seasoned Pot Beans.
1. Make the sauce.
2. Add the beans.
3. Bake and enjoy.

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Vegetarian Baked Beans

  • Servings: 6–10
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Print
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
16 ounces frozen cherry tomatoes or fresh diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons brown sugar or maple syrup
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 batch Seasoned Pot Beans
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients except the beans. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 5 minutes, until the tomatoes defrost and burst. Stir in the beans until evenly coated. Arrange the beans in a 2-quart baking dish. Cover the dish with a lid or aluminum foil.

Bake at 350°F for 40–60 minutes, until the beans are tender and the mixture has thickened. Remove the lid after 30 minutes, adding a splash of water if the beans from seem too dry. Remove from the oven and adjust the seasonings as needed before serving. Serves 6–10.

Tips & Tricks
  • This recipe comes together quickly if you’ve made Seasoned Pot Beans in advance. For the One Prep, Two Meals formula, eat half of the pot beans as their own meal and make a half batch of these baked beans from the leftovers later in the week.
  • I love the pot beans shortcut, but you can make this recipe from scratch with 2 cups of dried cannellini, red kidney, or pinto beans—or a blend of these. They won’t be as flavorful, so add a chopped onion and a few minced cloves of garlic to the sauce.
  • For a richer dish, pour 2–4 tablespoons of bourbon into the sauce. For a sweeter one, try baking in an apple before increasing the sugar.
  • These beans are delicious on their own but can be enhanced with cheese or avocado. Spoon them into baked potatoes, or dollop them on a thick slice of sourdough toast. For fusion beans and cornbread, serve them over polenta (see below).

Homemade vegetarian baked beans can have the perfect balance of sweet and tang. Get bean recipes at

Twice as Tasty

Homemade vegetarian baked beans can have the perfect balance of sweet and tang. Get bean recipes at is another food I discovered while traveling but took time to fully adopt. It’s most common as coarsely ground yet plain cornmeal boiled in water to a soft mush. This lets it absorb whatever flavors you put on it—mushroom, fish, tomato—but it still often feels like you’re eating savory porridge.

Then I tried baked polenta. Suddenly this mushy dish became a textured cornbread. Better yet, I began replacing the water with stock and piling in herbs like I do for Corn Kernel–Sage Muffins. The result still absorbs flavors from toppings but puts its own imprint on a dish. It also becomes sturdy enough to bake or even grill, stand up to weighty toppings like Vegetarian Baked Beans, and make a perfect vehicle for melting and browning cheese. What’s not to love?

Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 3 main ingredients plus some dried herbs and butter.
1. Boil the polenta in vegetable stock.
2. Chill the polenta and cut it into pieces.
3. Sprinkle with cheese and bake.

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Baked Polenta

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: 2
  • Print
3 cups Vegetable Stock or water
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons dried basil, crumbled
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
1 cup polenta
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup freshly grated or torn mozzarella (optional)

Bring the stock and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the polenta in a slow stream, stirring constantly. Stir in the herbs and 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook, stirring often, for 7–10 minutes over medium-low heat, until the polenta becomes thick. Pour the polenta into a lightly oiled 9-inch square or round baking pan and smooth it into an even layer. Cool for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator, until firm.

Cut the cooled polenta into 2- to 3-inch squares or wedges and space them like you would cookie dough on a lightly oiled rimmed baking sheet. Dot with the remaining butter and sprinkle the cheeses evenly over the top. Bake at 350°F for 15–20 minutes, until heated through. For further browning, slide the polenta under the broiler for about 1 minute, until golden. Serves 4.

Tips & Tricks
  • Polenta can be made simply with water, but it won’t have nearly as much flavor. Store-bought stock falls on the other end of the spectrum: it tends to be thicker than homemade, so try the recipe with half stock and half water if you didn’t make your own.
  • The longer you let the polenta cool in the refrigerator, the firmer it becomes. This makes it easy to prep a double batch create two meals; serve half as a soft polenta under Spanish Shrimp in Garlic Oil and put the rest in the fridge to bake for a later meal.
  • Polenta chilled until firm can be grilled instead. Brush the squares or wedges well with oil and grill about 5 minutes per side, just until they begin to color. A grill screen can help ensure they don’t fall through the grate when you flip them.
  • A pie server is my favorite tool for removing polenta from the pan after you’ve cut it into pieces. If you’re worried about cheese melting onto your baking sheet, cover the pan with a sheet of parchment paper.
  • Baked polenta makes an excellent base for Vegetarian Baked Beans. It’s also delicious topped with Grilled Tomato Pasta Sauce or Romesco Sauce.

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