An Instant Pot and tiny lentils deliver big ‘baked’ bean flavour fast

Joe Yonan

THE WASHINGTON POST – Baked beans are a thing of beauty: A little sweet, a little tangy, and cooked so low and slow the flavours 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 favourite version takes a long time, because I first cook the beans from dried very simply on the stove top until tender, then add the flavourings 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 flavourings 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. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

This lentil-focussed take on baked beans can be the base for many meals throughout the week: tacos, grain bowls, burritos, Sloppy Joes and more.
Make this quickly in the Instant Pot, slowly in a slow cooker, or in a Dutch oven.

Storage Notes: Leftover lentils will keep tightly sealed in the refrigerator for five days or in the freezer for six months.

One-and-a-half cups dried large green or brown lentils, rinsed
Three cups of low-sodium vegetable stock, plus more as needed
Three garlic cloves, chopped
One cup chopped yellow onion
Two tablespoons ketchup
Two tablespoons granulated sugar
One tablespoon molasses
One tablespoon paprika
One-and-a-half teaspoons chili powder
One-and-a-half teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
Half teaspoon ground cumin
Quarter teaspoon cinnamon
Quarter teaspoon 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 multi-cooker.

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 three-and-a-half to four hours, until the lentils are falling-apart tender. To make the lentils in a Dutch oven, increase the stock to four 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 two 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.