Reconsider opinion on lima beans

  • Creamy Lima Beans with Ancho Chile-Pepitas Pesto. Washington Post

Washington Post
Published: 3/28/2017 4:18:50 PM

We all have those foods we turn to, without elaborate planning or complex execution, when we want to feel taken care of. We don’t worry that they won’t turn out, because they always do. Time and time again, they fill us with warmth. For me, it is a pot of lima beans.

Whether you find this prospect delightful or horrifying, you have company. Among polarizing foods, lima beans top the list: People respond to them with total glee or pure vitriol, with some uncommon ambivalence in between.

What’s interesting to me about this is that along with chickpeas, limas are some of the least beany tasting of beans, with a flavor that fans describe as nutty and sweet. But overcook them, and they can turn bitter and sulfurous, not unlike other oft-maligned foods, such as Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Their texture, too, can pose a challenge. As I surveyed lima bean preferences recently, texture surfaced as the common thread, regardless of preparation or source, and one person’s love (“so mushy and yummy”) was another’s aversion (“starchy and smushy”).

I’ve known plenty of lima bean converts won over by fresh beans shucked from flat, fuzzy, jade-colored pods. Cooked just until tender, they are not unlike fresh fava beans: smooth and creamy in texture, without the graininess or mealy dryness that sometimes plagues frozen or canned beans.

But fresh limas, with their precious short season, are not the regular on my stove. It’s dried limas – perennially available no matter where you live, bearing more in common with a dried gigante (popular in Greek cooking) or great northern bean (a white bean that’s plumper than a navy). And I’ve wondered if, for the lima bean averse, they might actually offer some reconciliation. The reason is starch, the same characteristic that seems to put so many people off from frozen, canned and even fresh limas. As the dried beans cook, that starch goes from chalky to creamy, yielding tender, velvety beans in a creamy, buttery-tasting suspension.

Mexico was where the small-seeded limas many Southern cooks call butterbeans were born. But in Peru, birthplace of the larger limas, cooks harness this starchy quality in two reverential treatments: in one, soaking the beans in water overnight, then peeling the thin skin before cooking them into a velvety puree; in another, cooking the skinned limas with milk and sugar into a version of the luscious caramel sauce dulce de leche.

All the same, I would insist that limas don’t really need coddling. My own approach is to cook them lazily and minimally, with just a little salt, a bay leaf and some olive oil, until they begin to break down and the cooking liquid is thick and rich. I make a huge batch, because one meal is never enough.

The first night, we serve them in their broth in small bowls, sprinkled with chopped onion and fresh black pepper, corn bread at the ready. The next night, I may thin them with a little water for soup, stirring in whatever is most compelling at the moment: ribbons of escarole or chopped turnip greens, or slivered green onions and fistfuls of parsley and dill. Another day later, when the beans have thickened just enough, I’ll warm them over low heat, spread them over a slice of broiled crusty bread, drizzle them with olive oil and spoon on a heap of braised greens.

In the recipe variations that follow, I’ve offered a few additional turns. One is for an earthy, smoky ancho chile pesto edged with garlic, pumpkin seeds and marjoram, to be whorled into the beans upon serving. Two more versions elevate the beans to soup, both streaked with emerald green: one leaning toward Tunisia, with chard and cilantro, sharpened with fiery harissa; another toward Iran, with a bouquet’s worth of chopped parsley, dill and slivered scallions, tinged gold with a turmeric bloom.

Cooking the basic beans involves some commitment, if only to be present for a couple of hours while they bubble on the stove. Beyond a stir every now and then, they take care of themselves. Better, they don’t suffer a nick for being made in advance, becoming thicker and creamier with time. You can thin them with a little water if you like, but some folks prefer them this way, the better for sopping with one edible utensil or another.

Although I suggest using dried baby lima beans for their quicker cooking time, the preparation is flexible. Larger limas and beans with a little age on them will still yield delicious results; they just may take a little longer to cook. Likewise, heirloom varieties (and there are many – speckled and splotched and mottled with color) certainly won’t disappoint, but neither will basic commodity beans. I have made equally delicious pots with limas from the bulk bins and from bags squirreled away in the back of my mother’s pantry, age and provenance unknown.

They are there for me every time.

Creamy Lima Beans

Dried lima beans, with their abundant starch, turn rich and creamy with long cooking; this recipe calls for the smaller limas often labeled baby lima beans or butterbeans because they cook a bit more quickly, but you can also use large limas. For the latter, count on an additional 30 minutes to 1 hour of cooking time.

Make ahead: You’ll need to soak the beans overnight. The cooked beans can be refrigerated up to 3 days in advance. They will thicken upon standing; if you prefer a looser consistency, thin with more water when reheating.

2 cups dried small lima beans (baby lima or butterbeans)

9 cups water, plus more as needed

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/8 teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup finely chopped yellow onion (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Place the dried beans in a bowl; cover with water by 2 inches and let soak overnight.

Drain the beans and transfer to a heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the 9 cups of water, the bay leaves, oil and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming off any foam that forms on the surface.

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover and cook for 2 to 2½ hours, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed so the mixture is bubbling steadily. The beans should become quite creamy and have begun to break down, with a thickened broth. Discard the bay leaves, and stir in the remaining ½ teaspoon salt.

Serve the beans with their broth, garnished with the chopped onion and the pepper, if using.

Creamy Lima Beans with Ancho Chile-Pepitas Pesto

This flexible dish, also built upon a pot of Creamy Lima Beans that you cook in advance (see related recipes), will provide a welcome amount of a flavorful, brick-red pesto to use in other ways, such as smearing on toast, stirring into warm grains and slathering on something off the grill.

Make ahead: The Creamy Lima Beans and the pesto can each be refrigerated up to 3 days in advance.

Creamy Lima Beans (see recipe)

1½ cups boiling water, plus water as needed for the beans

1 ounce dried ancho chili peppers

3 tablespoons roasted, unsalted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

2 cloves garlic

2 packed tablespoons fresh marjoram leaves (may substitute fresh oregano)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon sherry vinegar

¼ teaspoon sea salt

Warm the Creamy Lima Beans in a large pot over low heat, adding water as needed to achieve the desired consistency.

Meanwhile, discard the chilies’ stems and seeds. Break up the dried peppers into large pieces and place in a medium bowl. Pour the 1½ cups of boiling water over them and let sit for 20 minutes to soften.

Toast the pepitas in a small skillet over medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes, just until fragrant. Let cool.

Smash and peel the garlic with the flat side of a chef’s knife, then mince. Add the marjoram; use the knife to work in the herb and create a coarse paste.

Pulse the cooled pepitas in a food processor or grind in a blender to the consistency of a crumbly powder.

Drain the chilies, reserving ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon of their soaking liquid; add both to the food processor or blender, along with the marjoram-garlic paste, oil, vinegar and salt. Process to form a thick pesto. The yield is about 1 cup. Transfer to a bowl.

To serve, ladle the warm beans into individual bowls; swirl 2 teaspoons of pesto into each portion. Pass the remaining pesto at the table.

Lima Bean Soup with Chard and Harissa

Store-bought varieties of harissa vary widely, with some incorporating the sweetness of tomato and others leaning to the more savory side. The latter are an especially good counterpoint for the sweet beans and greens used here.

Make ahead: The Creamy Lima Beans can be refrigerated up to 3 days in advance.

Creamy Lima Beans (see related recipe)

1 bunch chard (about 1 pound; may substitute spinach or beet greens)

1 small bunch cilantro, bottom half of stems trimmed

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons harissa paste (see note)

⅔ cup water, or more as needed

Sea salt (optional)

Warm the Creamy Lima Beans in a large pot over low heat.

Strip the stems from the chard (reserve them for another use, if desired), and cut the leaves into thin ribbons.

Coarsely chop the cilantro leaves and remaining tender stems.

Whisk together the lemon juice and harissa paste in a small bowl.

Stir the water into the cooked beans; increase the heat to medium-low. Add the chard and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the leaves are just tender. Stir in the cilantro, then remove from the heat. Add water, as needed, to achieve the desired consistency; without additional water, the consistency is that of a thick stew. Season lightly with salt, if desired.

Ladle into individual bowls and swirl 1 teaspoon of the harissa mixture into each portion. Serve warm.

Lima Bean Soup with Turmeric and Green Herbs

This soup takes inspiration from herby Iranian soups and pilafs, some of which feature lima beans, among other legumes. Giving the turmeric a brief turn in a hot pan before adding it to the soup brings out its warm flavor.

Make ahead: The Creamy Lima Beans can be refrigerated up to 3 days in advance.

Creamy Lima Beans (see related recipe)

⅔ cup water, or more as needed

½ bunch parsley, tough stem ends discarded

½ bunch dill, tough stem ends discarded

1 bunch scallions (5 or 6 total), trimmed

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper, as needed (optional)

Combine the Creamy Lima Beans and water in a large pot over medium-low heat, stirring to incorporate. If the consistency seems too thick, add more water, as needed.

Coarsely chop the parsley and its tender stems (about ⅔ cup), then the dill and its tender stems (about ½ cup), transferring them to a mixing bowl as you work.

Separate the scallion greens from the whites. Finely chop the whites. Cut the greens on the diagonal into thin slivers; add the scallion greens to the parsley-dill mixture.

Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the scallion whites and cook for 3 or 4 minutes, just until softened, then stir in the turmeric and cook for 1 minute. Use a flexible spatula to scrape the mixture into the pot of lima beans, stirring to incorporate.

Add the parsley-dill mixture to the beans, cook for 1 to 2 minutes until wilted and heated through. Remove from the heat, and season lightly with salt.

Ladle into individual bowls and serve with black pepper, if desired.




Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2019 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy