Happy St. Patrick’s Day! This recipe is not Irish or a festive bright green color. But, it is absolutely delicious, and it does include beans and greens. If you try it, I really do not think you’ll be disappointed.
I can’t take credit for the recipe. It’s my brother’s originally, and currently a family favorite. Matt is this great, instinctive, unfussy cook. More than anything else, his unique style has taught me that food can be simple without being quick. If something takes hours of slow-roasting to get done right, he’ll tend to it carefully and faithfully. The ingredients he chooses are usually humble and few, but he doesn’t shy away from grinding his own spices, or hand-chopping 20 or 30 cloves of garlic for a couple batches of chili. (Matt makes one pot with beans and vegetables, and the other pan with meat only, so that people can combine the two in any proportion they choose. Smart way to serve chili to vegetarians and carnivores, right?)
From him I’ve also learned to be less wary of big, loud, strong flavors. The man will literally DOUSE things in black pepper, red pepper, molasses, homemade combinations of spices and seasonings, and whatever else he dreams up to create a bold, fearless taste experience. (He and my mom have a system for the spice cabinet at home: if Matt is refilling an empty spice jar with a new mixture he’s made, he has to get a sticker out of the box of birthday card supplies for our younger cousins and put it over the old jar’s label, so mom knows it really isn’t plain cardamom or whatever the label originally said. This is why there were monkey stickers on two different bottles the last time I went home.) My palate hasn’t adjusted to Matt’s liberal use of spicy heat yet, but I have come to enjoy molasses more than I ever thought I would.
And that brings us to the recipe for these AMAZING beans. They’re kind of a California casual, pared-down, greened-up distant cousin to the East Coast staple of baked beans. This West Coast version is less saucy, more health-conscious, and more simply-composed to let the flavors of its few ingredients shine through. Do not be afraid if you’re unsure of the balance of tastes before they go in the oven. My onion was way too strong and I thought I’d used too much molasses and agave, but some sort of magic happened during the roasting and they came out great. The molasses flavor really settles down and sweetens up by the time the dish finishes baking. You’re left with a sweet, slightly savory, immediately appealing flavor.
And, did you know that blackstrap molasses contains iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, selenium, manganese, and copper? My brother has drawn my attention to the fact that unrefined sweeteners like molasses and raw honey are not merely stand-ins for sugar, they have vitamins, minerals, and health benefits in their own right. He is also a big believer in the antioxidants in black pepper, and in not cooking garlic or onions for more than 30 minutes in order to preserve their nutrients.
Anyway, here is the recipe. You’ll notice that it readily lends itself to dozens of adaptations. If your tastebuds like more unexpected, perked-up flavors, you could squeeze some fresh lemon juice on top of your portion, or sprinkle the finished product with chopped walnuts or roasted pumpkin seeds. You could also experiment with tossing in cubed tofu, partially-roasted cubed squash or sweet potatoes, or bits of vegetarian bacon before baking. Of course, you could add more savory elements to the sweet molasses with any spice blend you like, a dash of soy sauce, or maybe a touch of Worcestershire sauce. Lastly, I thought it was plenty sweet enough, but if you wanted to get creative in that direction, I could also see cutting down the agave and baking chunks of fresh apple in the mixture, or sprinkling raisins or currants on top before serving. Truth be told, we like it best without any of those extras, but I know your palate and imagination might prefer more possibilities!
Matt doesn’t use kale in his- I added that in and love the result. My brother likes to serve this with rice and salad. I’d also suggest pairing it with a scoop of more cooked greens and cornbread to sop up some of the molasses sauce.
Oven-Roasted Molasses Beans and Kale
2 cans of beans, any variety, drained and rinsed (I used pinto and kidney, but will try red or cannellini next)
1 red or yellow onion, chopped (about 2 and 1/2 cups)
4 – 6 cups kale, de-stemmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 Tbsp. blackstrap molasses
1 – 2 Tbsp. agave nectar or maple syrup
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Finely ground sea salt (or smoked salt) and black pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 425. Toss all ingredients together in a big bowl until thoroughly mixed.
2. Transfer the mixture to a deep, oven-safe stainless steel skillet or baking dish.
3. Bake on the middle rack for 20-25 minutes. Stir every 10 minutes or so if you’d like to prevent browning on top, but that doesn’t bother me so I leave mine unattended.
Serve hot or warm. Makes a full, deep skillet, enough for 4-6.
I hope you enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day! We’re off to buy gardening supplies and try to plant our herbs before the temperature hits 80-something today.