Caramelized onions, molasses and a touch of bourbon make these the best vegan baked beans on earth!
I know. Believe me, I know. I usually roll my eyes when I see a recipe title claiming to be the best ever anything. So as a rule, I usually don't do it. But today, you guys, because these vegan baked beans are so incredibly good, I'll make an exception.
Growing up, my family usually took pity on me at barbecues and left out the bacon (or whatever meat usually goes in baked beans). I appreciate that, but the result was many-a-picnics with no options for me but baked beans. So up until now it's been a little challenging for me to get super enthused about them.
But since barbecue season is right around the corner I thought I'd take to the kitchen and see what could happen with some whiskey and caramelized onions. Could I come up with a vegan baked beans recipe worth getting excited about?
OH YES! These beans did the trick.
They're sweet, smokey, and packed with savory flavor. They really are the best!
Ingredients You'll Need
- Canola oil. Any high heat oil can be substituted, such as olive, coconut or vegetable oil.
- Onion. The recipe calls for yellow onions, but sweet onions could also be used.
- Bourbon whiskey. This ingredient adds so much flavor! However, if you prefer to cook without alcohol I totally get it. Leave it out and skip step 3 of the recipe. You could experiment with adding some bourbon extract, but I haven't tested this myself.
- Tomato paste.
- Vegan Worcestershire sauce. You can use store-bought or homemade vegan Worcestershire sauce. Annie's, Edward & Sons, and Whole Foods brands are all vegan.
- Molasses. The recipe calls for unsulfured molasses. If you're more of a blackstrap molasses kind of person I'd recommend using a 50/50 blend of blackstrap molasses and maple syrup.
- Brown sugar. Make sure this is organic in order to keep the recipe vegan.
- Apple cider vinegar. White or red wine vinegar can be substituted if needed.
- Soy sauce. Gluten-free tamari or liquid aminos can be substituted if needed.
- Prepared mustard. Nothing fancy — just plain old yellow mustard.
- Smoked paprika.
- Liquid smoke. Look for this near where the barbecue sauce is sold at the grocery store. It will add so much smoky flavor to your beans!
- Beans. We're using canned beans for this recipe. Great northern beans are my preference, but navy beans will also work.
- Salt & pepper.
How They're Made
The following is a detailed photo tutorial on how to make this dish. Scroll all the way down if you'd like to skip right to the recipe!
- Caramelize the onions first. Coat the bottom of a skillet with some oil and add thinly sliced onions. Stir them up!
- Cook the onions over low heat, stirring every so often, until they brown and break down. Be patient — onions need to cook slowly to caramelize properly.
Tip: Caramelizing the onions takes time, but it's so worth it! You can skip this step and sauté your onion briefly instead if you're short on time. Cut the amount of onion down to 4 ounces (about 1 smallish onion) if you do this.
- Keeping the heat low, slowly and carefully add the whiskey. Once it's all in you can raise the heat and let it simmer.
- Once the whisky has reduced, add minced garlic and cook it with everything for about a minute before taking the skillet off of heat.
- Mix your vegan baked bean sauce ingredients in a small container: tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, molasses, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, paprika, and liquid smoke.
- Drain and rinse your beans, then add them along with the sauce and caramelized onion mixture to a baking dish. Stir it up!
Tip: If you cooked your onions in an appropriately-sized oven-safe skillet, feel free to add the beans and sauce to the skillet and use it for baking the beans, rather than putting everything in a separate baking dish.
- Cover your baking dish and bake the beans until the sauce is bubbly, then uncover them and bake them for a few minutes more.
- Be sure to let the baked beans sit inside the dish for a few minutes before serving them!
Leftovers & Storage
Leftover vegan baked beans will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, or in the freezer for about 3 montths.
Reheat your beans in the microwave or in a small pot on the stove. If they've been frozen, thaw them in the refrigerator first.
Frequently Asked Questions
They can be! Just use gluten-free tamari or liquid aminos in place of soy sauce, and make sure your Worcestershire sauce is gluten-free (Edward & Sons is).
You can, but you'll need to soak and precook them. Try this method.
More Summer Side Dishes
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Best Ever Vegan Baked Beans
Caramelized onions, molasses and a touch of bourbon make these the best vegan baked beans on earth.
- 1 tablespoon canola oil (or high-heat oil of choice)
- 1 large onion (about 8 ounces), thinly sliced into half rings
- ¼ cup bourbon whiskey (Note 1)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ⅓ cup tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons vegan Worcestershire sauce
- ¼ cup unsulfured molasses
- 2 tablespoons organic brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 2 (15 ounce or 400 gram) cans navy beans or great northern beans, drained and rinsed
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Coat the bottom of a skillet medium skillet with the oil and place it over low heat. (Note 2). Add the onions and toss them a few times to coat them with oil.
Allow the onion to cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and caramelized, 30-40 minutes.
The whiskey goes in next, but before adding it, check to make sure the heat is still set at low. If there is any sizzling in the pan, lower the heat until it subsides. Alcohol vapors are flammable, and adding whiskey to a pan that's too hot could result in ignition. Keep a lid handy and use it to put out any flames. Now slowly begin adding the whiskey.
Stir the whiskey in and raise the heat to medium to bring it to a simmer. Allow it to cook until most of the liquid has cooked off, about 4 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and cook it with the onions and whisky for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Remove the skillet from heat.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Stir the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, molasses, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, paprika and liquid smoke together in a small bowl or container.
Add the beans, caramelized onion mixture, and tomato paste mixture to a medium (about 2 quart) baking dish. Stir everything to combine.
Taste-test the mixture and season with salt and pepper, if desired.
Cover and bake the beans for 40-45 minutes, until bubbly. Uncover and bake 10 minutes more.
Remove the dish from the oven and allow it to sit for a few minutes before serving.
- If you prefer to make this recipe without whisky, simply leave it out and skip steps 3 and 4.
- If you have a medium-sized oven-safe skillet, you can use it to caramelize the onions. Then in step 8, simply transfer the beans and sauce to the skillet and use it to bake everything.
- Recipe makes about 4 cups.