Sub In Lentils For Baked Bean Flavor In A Fraction Of The Time

There's a certain comfort that a long-simmering pot of baked beans brings to the table. Sweet, tangy, and effortlessly filling, it's been an enduring fixture of American spreads since colonial times. But this old-fashioned dish is ready for some modern innovation, especially when it comes to side-stepping the most irritating aspect of homemade baked beans: the interminably long cook time. Taking beans from hard and dry in the bag to tender, molasses-rich perfection can take upwards of eight hours. And while time-saving gadgets like a pressure cooker or Instapot can help, the number one way to cut your time down is to switch up which legume you're using. 

To best approximate the texture and heartiness of the bean, it's best to stay in the legume family by swapping in the diminutive, disc-shaped lentil. In, at most, 30 minutes on the stovetop or roughly a third of that time in a pressure cooker, dried lentils transform into a perfectly tender substitution for beans. Even better? With the right seasonings and ingredients, the flavor and starchiness are a perfect dupe for baked beans and are just as comforting.

How to turn lentils into mock baked beans

To make your lentil-powered pot of faux baked beans, you need to start with the right variety. Opt for the hearty brown lentil rather than the tender reds or yellows used in dishes like dal, as the cook times mentioned will turn more delicate lentils into mush. Second, throw into the mix some classic baked bean ingredients, like a touch of brown sugar, molasses, and warm spices. 

If you're working with an Instapot, pressure cook your lentils and liquid (water or stock) in a 1:3 ratio on high for 10 minutes. You can add alliums like onion or garlic before sealing the top, but feel free to add them afterward if you plan to let the mixture stew. Once done, carefully release the pressure valve and stir in your barbecue aromatics (ketchup, molasses, chili powder, etc.). 

If you have more time on your hands or lack an Instapot, you can cook them in the oven as well. After mixing your stock, lentils, and other ingredients, place them into an oven-safe dish and bake in a preheated oven (350 degrees Fahrenheit) for one hour. If you like, play with the ingredients a bit, adding a cup of your favorite barbecue sauce or even a half pound of bacon. 

Whatever method you choose, you'll end up with the fastest, tastiest take on baked beans you can get sans a can opener.