Baked beans are a thing of beauty: A little sweet, a little tangy, and cooked so low and slow the flavors infuse every morsel. They’re a traditional side to barbecue, especially in the South, while in Maine my sister and brother-in-law like to eat them over roasted potatoes.
The only issue is, my favorite version takes a long time, because I first cook the beans from dried (I like to use Jacob’s Cattle, cranberry or pinto) very simply on the stove top until tender, then add the flavorings and bake them at a very low heat for a full eight hours.
Using an Instant Pot instead of baking speeds things up, naturally, but even then my two rounds add up to almost 90 minutes.
Enter lentils. As I discovered when I tried this recipe from Simply Laura Lea (Blue Hills Press, 2020), they get tender so much more quickly than larger beans. One 35-minute session in the Instant Pot, with all the flavorings added from the outset, results in something that tastes like it bubbled away for hours. You can also cook them in a slow cooker or in the oven.
Even better, they’re versatile enough for you to use throughout the week, on sweet potatoes, tacos, tostadas, burritos, grain bowls and surely something I haven’t thought of yet — but am excited to discover.
Barbecue ‘Baked’ Lentils
Active: 5 minutes | Total: 1 hour
8 to 10 servings (makes about 4.5 cups)
This lentil-focused take on baked beans can be the base for many meals throughout the week
Storage Notes: Leftover lentils will keep tightly sealed in the refrigerator for 5 days or in the freezer for 6 months.
1 1/2 cups dried large green or brown lentils (not the small French du Puy), rinsed.
3 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium vegetable stock, plus more as needed.
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1/2 large)
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon smoked or sweet paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Chopped chives or scallions, for garnish (optional)
Combine the lentils, stock, garlic, onion, ketchup, sugar, molasses, paprika, chili powder, salt, cumin, cinnamon and black pepper in the canister of an Instant Pot or other multicooker.
Stir to evenly distribute, then cover the Instant Pot (the steam valve should be turned to “pressure” or “sealing”) and cook on high pressure for 35 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally for at least 15 minutes, then turn to “venting” to release the remaining pressure.
Alternately, you can cook the lentils in a slow cooker on low heat for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, until the lentils are falling-apart tender.
To make the lentils in a Dutch oven, increase the stock to 4 cups, bring the mixture to a boil on the stove top, then transfer to a 300-degree oven and bake on the middle rack for 2 hours, checking occasionally and adding more stock if the mixture looks dry.
Remove the lid, stir, taste, and season with more salt and pepper, if needed.
You can add an extra splash of stock if you want to thin the lentils out a bit, or turn on the saute function on High and reduce if the mixture seems too watery.
Garnish with chives or scallions, if desired. Serve warm.
Adapted from Simply Laura Lea by Laura Lea. Blue Hills Press, 2020.