For me, when I am throwing a barbecue party, what I cook on the grill is the easy part. I always focus on what I will serve with the main course. Will it complement the grilled flavor? Does it add texture to the plate? Will the plate have lots of color? What kind of starch does everyone like? Am I serving a different menu than the last time they came to dinner? And, if it is a holiday, do I have enough “traditional” foods to satisfy people’s memories. I put a lot of thought into my party menus and try to get a good balance of flavors, textures, nutrients and “favorites.” My mother used to say that if a plate of food was “pretty” and had lots of color, then it was healthy. She was so far ahead of her time! Today we know that fresh fruits and vegetables are essential for good health and are nature’s rainbow. Just like a leprechaun’s pot of gold, eating fresh produce will give you a happy life!
A lot of people know who Rick Bayless is thanks to his win on Top Chef Masters, numerous culinary awards and accolades. He is known for being an expert on all forms of Mexican cooking, but few realize that he grew up in a restaurant family. His family ran a very popular barbecue joint in Oklahoma City and he worked there as a young man, honing his cooking craft. In 1995 he and his partners founded Frontera Foods, a line of prepared food products including salsas and sauces. I don’t often recommend prepared foods, but this is one line of products that I wholeheartedly endorse. Everything is delicious and meticulously made – try them for yourself and see if you don’t agree with me. Soon your pantry will be stocked with Frontera labels! I recently tried Frontera’s Chipotle Pineapple Barbecue Sauce and was bowled over. Full of piquant flavors, it is the perfect blend of spice, sweet, and heat. The moment I tasted it my mind filled with thoughts of ways to use it. With the Fourth of July barbecue coming up, I decided to develop a recipe to combine this amazing product with baked beans. So here is my take on a traditional side dish, using some store-bought products to save time.
The Japanese salad, Sunomono is sliced cucumbers with a sweetened vinegar sauce. I love the sweet/sour combination with the cucumbers. Another classic combination with this dressing is fresh dill. Adding raw red onion gives the salad a little bite, but if you soak the onions in ice water first, it mellows their flavor. To me it is bright, fresh, crunchy, and the flavor of summer. I think it is the perfect complement to the sweet baked beans and grilled meats.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
When making baked beans, instead of starting with dry beans, you can save yourself hours by using good quality canned beans. I like a blend of white, black, and pinto for a more interesting look and texture. As with many casseroles, I think the flavor improves with time, so if you can, make the beans a day ahead to let flavors meld. For the cucumber salad, soaking sliced raw onions in ice water for just 30 minutes mellows their flavor dramatically. You get their bright flavor without the harshness. Using a mandoline will produce paper-thin slices and is extremely easy to use. Just be careful not to slice yourself!
- 1 (12 oz) bottle of Frontera Chipotle Pineapple Barbecue Sauce
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp dry mustard
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced, cooked and drained, or use 2 tbsp olive oil instead for vegetarian version
- 1 large onion, chopped finely
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped finely
- 3 cans cooked white, black, or pinto beans, or a combination; drained and rinsed
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup water, or as needed Hot sauce, optional
- Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F.
- In a bowl, whisk together the barbecue sauce, Worcestershire, maple syrup, and dry mustard. Make sure mustard is completely dissolved.
- Cook bacon in skillet and once done, remove all but 2 tbsp of the renderings, or if you are not using bacon, heat olive oil over medium heat. Sauté onion and bell pepper until translucent and tender, but not mushy, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Place beans in a large mixing bowl. Add cooked bacon, sautéed onion, and bell pepper. Toss to combine. Pour in barbecue sauce and stir to blend. Add water as needed to get to the consistency you like. Remember that the sauce will thicken as it bakes. Taste and adjust seasonings. You can add some hot sauce if you want a spicier flavor.
- Transfer to a deep ovenproof baking dish Bake 30 to 45 minutes or until it is bubbling around the edges, is hot all the way through, and top is browned. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
- Yield: about 6 servings
- 1 small red onion or sweet onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 cucumbers
- 3/4 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh dill, plus extra sprigs for garnish
- 1-1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Place onion slices in a bowl and cover with ice water. Let stand about 20 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.
- Combine vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook until sugar is completely dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in olive oil. Let cool.
- While vinegar is cooling, peel cucumbers and either cube or slice thinly. Sometimes I like to remove the seeds first by splitting cucumber in half lengthwise and scraping out the center with a spoon. Place cucumbers in a medium mixing bowl, add drained onions, and sweetened vinegar. Sprinkle with chopped dill, salt, and pepper. Toss to mix.
- Cover and chill. It will hold several weeks in the refrigerator, so make extra and have it on hand for a snack during hot days.
- Yield: 6 to 8 servings