slow cooker Sloppy Joes, traditional and an experiment with Brown Tepary beans

Sloppy Joes aren’t supposed to be tricky, I don’t think. Surely a large part of the appeal is that they’re easy? Also, of course, once you get away from the revolting Manwich-style Sloppy Joe of my childhood, they’re pretty damn good.

I actually only recently discovered that Sloppy Joes were good, when I first tried the recipe in Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann’s Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook. ( No goopy manwich, this. Just completely addictive deliciousness. So, when I came up with the idea of a bean cookbook, I wanted to create a version using beans. And without refined sugar.

The sugar issue wasn’t a big deal. I just subbed honey in for the brown sugar called for by the original recipe, which is included at the end of this post in case you’re curious. But the beans are a completely different story. This is my third attempt and, while they’re alright, I’m still not there.

One thing that did work this time is the bean. Which is huge progress. I’ll outline the history so you’ll understand.

For my first try, I used navy beans. I thought they would work well because of the size, which was large enough to be meaty but small enough to keep the sandwich feeling. Wrong. The flavor was good by the beans themselves were overwhelmingly dense and heavy. It also took forever to cook. Literally 24 hours.

For the second try, I used lentils. Again, the flavor was fine. And the lentils were fully cooked in a normal time (10 hours on low). The problem was the texture, which was unpleasantly sharp, like eating little shards of cooked clay. Well, maybe that’s a little harsh. But not as much as you might think.

This time, with the Brown Tepary bean, I was confident that I’d finally found the perfect bean. Brown Tepary beansAs described by Steve Sando in The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower’s Guide, Brown Teparies, are small, meaty beans that “are higher in protein and fiber than other beans,”¬†drought-resistant and will grow almost anywhere. Good for the environment? Small? Meaty? Plus extra nutritional superpowers? Perfect!

Not so fast, Goldilocks. The size and texture of the Brown Tepary were indeed perfect. But the beans took far too long to cook and the final result had too liquid. Which means I’m not done yet. That said, this version is edible. But there’s no photo. I made a light box, I did! It just doesn’t work. Yet. So I’ll try again. Later.

For now, here’s the recipe, which is true to what I did today. It would be vegan¬† except the Worcestershire sauce is made with anchovies. If you’re feeling courageous and decide to try for yourself, I recommend using only 2 cups of water and adding the tomato sauce at the beginning. That’s my plan for next time.

2 c. Brown Tepary beans, brined overnight
2 ribs celery, diced
1 sm. red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 tsp. dried mustard
1-3/4 tsp. paprika
1-3/4 tsp. chili powder
1 dried red chili, crumbled
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 Tb. Worcestershire sauce
3 Tb. olive oil
3 Tb. honey
1 28-oz. can tomato puree
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar

1. Add everything except the tomato puree and apple cider vinegar to the insert of your slow cooker. Add water to cover, put the top on the pot, and cook on high for 4 hours.

2. Add the tomato puree and vinegar. Stir and continue cooking for another 2 hours or until the beans are tender and the liquid has reduced (this took another several hours).

Serve on buns or as a topping for baked potatoes. If, like me, you have a lot of leftovers, they freeze really well. Dinner and lunches for later! Now, if you’re curious, here’s the recipe that made me realize why people eat Sloppy Joes.

Original recipe from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook
1 pound lean ground beef
1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
1/2 large red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 large rib celery, finely chopped1 clove garlic, ninced
One 6-oz can tomato paste
2 Tb. apple cider vinegar, or more as needed
2 Tb. brown sugar (I use honey)
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. chili powder, or to taste
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. Worscestershire sauce
Dash of hot sauce, such as Tobasco
Dash of cayenne pepper

Hamburger buns or other soft sandwich rolls (or baked potatoes) for serving

1. Cook the beef and vegetables in a large skillet over medium high-heat, stirring, until the meat is cooked through. Transfer to the slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients, cover, and cook on low for 6 or 7 hours. (I usually cook for 8 hours. It’s fine.)

2. Taste and add more vinegar or sugar, if desired. Serve the meat mixture spooned into the buns.

Vegetable stew with wheatberries and cranberry beans

This dish is actually two separate recipes, both of which are all-day, long cooking kinda foods. I posted the cranberry bean recipe on January 3, when I made the beans that became part of this dish. It makes a large batch, so I simply froze some for later.

The vegetable stew component, which I made yesterday, is my adaptation of a recipe that appears in Terry Walters’ Clean Food ( as “Stovetop Barley with Sweet Vegetables.” I switched it up by using wheatberries instead of barley and soy sauce instead of tamari. And I added the beans. So, really, this is a completely different recipe. I can’t vouch for the original, as I’ve never tried it, but this version is very good. If you make it, be aware that this is a LOT of food, especially with the beans. I’m afraid to freeze it, as I fear the vegetables would turn to mush, but I may try this time. Also, I haven’t yet tried, but I suspect this recipe would work in the crock pot…

4 cups cooked cranberry beans with garlic, sage, and olive oil (

1 c. wheatberries
1/2 c. brown rice (I use basmati, but I don’t think it matters)
1 thumb-sized piece kombu
2 T dark soy sauce or tamari
4-1/2 c. water
1 onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 rutabaga, peeled and cubed
12 Brussels sprouts, halved
1 sm. fennel bulb, halved, cored, and sliced

1. Soak wheatberries and rice together for 1 hour with water to cover. Rinse and drain, and place in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add kombu, soy sauce or tamari, and water. Cover and bring to a boil.

2. When the grains begin to boil, add the vegetables in the order listed. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Remove from the heat and stir in beans.

Cranberry beans with garlic, sage, and olive oil

Yesterday didn’t turn out at all as planned. After writing and publishing my post for the day, I went to put the chickpeas in the crock pot only to find the chickpea container sadly empty of anything but a few dusty flecks. WTF?! It was terrible. But, in a testament to my newly acquired, almost-daily yoga regimen, which really has made me a lot less likely to freak out and more likely to keep breathing, I quickly rallied and went for the not-empty container next door. Cranberry beans.

Outside the baby lima and Crowder beans I ate growing up, cranberry beans were my introduction to the world of fresh beans. I first saw them about 15 years ago, at a farmer’s market in Chicago. There was a giant pile of gorgeous, red and white speckled pods, each filled with plump, red and white speckled beans. I stuffed a bag full, went home, and entered a new world of culinary experience. It was simple. I shelled the beans, boiled them for about 10 minutes in salted water, then tossed with butter. The cooked beans had lost the speckles. Yet it didn’t matter. They were, at that moment, the very best thing I had ever tasted,with a fresh and earthy flavor, a firm yet tender bite, and a creamy, almost meaty texture. Yum! It was hard to believe I’d gone my whole life up ’til then without even knowing such a thing existed.

Fast forward to now, 2013, when cranberry beans are a staple in my life. I’m lucky to live in a place where it’s super easy to find almost every kind of food. A neighborhood market stocks the Goya brand of dried beans, which includes a variety of cranberry beans that are sold as “Roman” beans. I typically use them for vegetarian chili as a substitute for pinto beans. But I also love them on their own.

My favorite way to eat fresh cranberry beans is still super simple, as described above. But dried cranberry beans star in this recipe from Skye Gyngell’s My Favorite Ingredients. I’ve adapted her original recipe for the crock pot and added kombu. While Gyngell provides directions for both fresh and dried beans, the following recipe calls for dried beans.

Yesterday, which is when I actually made this dish, I did not soak the beans. I generally don’t. When I first started cooking beans, I thought it was mandatory. There was no room in my life for such a thing as spontaneous cooking with dried beans. But as time passed and I grew more comfortable, I relaxed. I learned that soaking wasn’t necessary. Indeed, as I mentioned yesterday, I grew to believe that soaking was actually a bad idea.

Now I’m not so sure. After reading yesterday’s post, a friend who is studying nutrition commented that “soaking beans makes them more easily digested and nutrients more bioavailable. Beans (nuts, seeds) have a hard exterior shell because their goal is to prevent digestion so they can be replanted in the earth to grow. By soaking the beans, you are breaking down some of that phytic acid (tannins, carbs, etc) and encouraging full absorption of vitamins, minerals, and proteins. Better yet? Soak beans in warm water with a bit of acid (lemon juice, vinegar) for 24 hrs+ and the beans will start to sprout. This means the tough exterior is breaking open PLUS enzymatic activity increases in the (now) living plant. In my experience, this takes at least a few days (switching out the water occasionally to re-warm/re-acidify) and is harder to do with tight beans (ie: black).” I’m not sure about the acid soak yet, as I haven’t tried it. But I’m thinking I will go back to soaking, at least when I think ahead of time. However, my soaking technique will be a little different from what it was before. I’m going to follow Steve Sando’s advice, which is to soak for 2 to 6 hours and then cook the beans in the soaking water. I’ll let you know how it turns out the next time I make a pot o’ beans. For now, here’s the recipe for what I made yesterday.

1 lb dried cranberry beans, soaked overnight if desired
1 garlic bulb, split horizontally
1 thumb-sized piece of kombu
bunch of dried sage
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
generous 3/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
5 good quality anchovy fillets, packed in salt or olive oil, rinsed if salted

Place all ingredients in insert of crock pot. Cover with 1-1/2 to 2 inches of cold water. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4.

If you aren’t using a crock pot, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a dutch oven and add water to cover by 1 or 2 inches. Cover tightly, either with a lid or with foil, and bake until the beans are tender. This will likely take 1-1/2 or 2 hours.

Remove from the oven or turn off the crock pot, stir well to combine, and salt to taste. Then let the beans cool to room temperature in the liquid. As Gyngell says and as I’ll attest, “[t]he beans should be full of the flavors with which they have been cooked and allowing them to stand will enhance this further.” The last time I made this I served it as a side with roasted rack of lamb, potato-celery root latkes, and an arugula salad with fennel, blood orange, and avocado. The beans are also a substantial main course with bread and a salad. I’ve also been known to eat a bowl on their own as a snack or an emergency meal. Beans are good fuel.