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Baked Beans with Bacon and Cassareep

Well-known as the star ingredient in Guyanese dish pepperpot, cassareep can also be used for other slow-cooked stews and dishes where its thickness, smokiness, and bittersweet flavor is desired.

The Amerindians of what is now Guyana invented this thick, black sauce, made from the boiled down juice of cassava. It is sold all over Guyana, but you can also find cassareep in some West Indian grocery stores in the States, especially in the stores along Liberty Avenue in Queens, New York.

Owing to its popularity in Guyanese cuisine, cassareep is available from many different brands, and the resulting flavors can vary from sweet to bitter to barky to spicy. The seasonings already added range from cinnamon to hot red pepper (usually wiri wiri or habanero). Cassareep from some brands have a smoky dimension to them, owing to how they were cooked down.

This dish is not traditionally Guyanese, as I never found baked beans in Guyana. I found that the smokiness of the cassareep goes well with slow-cooked beans (and boosts the smokiness of the bacon). For this dish, I prefer more of the cassareep’s sweetness than bitterness, so I also add brown sugar.

˝ pound navy beans
˝ Spanish onion, diced
4 oz. crushed tomatoes
2-3 tablespoons cassareep, preferably one that is smoky (I use Prestige brand)
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of brown sugar (or 2 tablespoons of agave syrup)
2 strips of bacon, chopped
canola oil, approx. 1 teaspoon

Soak the beans overnight. Drain beans and change water. In a large saucepan, fry the bacon pieces in the canola oil. When crispy, remove and reserve. Sautee the onions in the bacon drippings until they start to brown. Drain the beans again and add to the saucepan. Add the stock, the crushed tomatoes, the bacon, the salt, and the pepper, and deglaze. Add enough water to cover all the beans. Bring to a boil and simmer on very low heat.

After about an hour, add the cassareep and the sugar and stir around. Check for seasoning; add more sugar or salt if necessary. Simmer on very low heat until beans are soft, about two hours.

Makes about 4 servings.

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©2011 Darrin DuFord