September 30, 2010
Lima beans used to remind me of a line in a Josh Ritter song: “I’m trying hard to love you / You don’t make it easy, babe.”
You know what I mean, right? That wan, wrinkled skin; that wet-sawdust texture; that hospital-cafeteria smell…those are the lima beans I recall picking out of the “frozen mixed vegetables” of my youth. (Which worked out just fine, since my vegetable-averse father actually likes lima beans. And brussels sprouts. Go figure.) Judging from this “Why are lima beans so universally hated?” thread on Chowhound, I’m not alone. And yet we know we’re supposed to like them because of all the fiber, protein and other nutritious stuff lurking within.
Fresh lima beans, however, have me singing a different tune. I found myself facing a pint of them for the first time a few weeks ago, thanks to our CSA share. After wresting the beans from their pods, I boiled them in just enough vegetable broth to cover for about 10 minutes, then hesitantly speared one for a taste test. It was tender without being mushy—almost velvety—with a lightly nutty flavor. Not bad at all!
They’ll be out of season soon, but if you’re fortunate enough to find some fresh lima beans, also called butter beans, here are a few ideas about how to cook them. (And if you happen to like frozen lima beans, I envy you, since they’re available year-round and could be used in any of these recipes, too).
1. Succotash. Recipes like this succotash of fresh corn, lima beans, tomatoes and onions are a good way to use up end-of-the-season vegetables. I like to add a hot pepper, and this recipe throws in zucchini and fingerling potatoes, too.
2. Hummus with herbs. The Gourmet recipe I tried actually called for frozen lima beans, but I used fresh ones boiled in vegetable broth. I also subbed fresh chives for parsley, sauteed the onions and garlic separately, and used some of the cooking broth in place of water. I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as chickpea-based homemade hummus, but it was better! We gobbled it down with toasted pita wedges, and made it again the next week.
3. Soup. Most recipes call for dried lima beans, which I’ve never tried, but suspect I might like more than frozen. From simple vegetarian butter bean soup to heartier versions involving ham hocks, chard and barley, there are plenty of options online.
4. Roasted. I’m eager to try this Mayan method, which calls for skillet-roasting the lima beans with sesame oil and ground pumpkin seeds. Oven-roasted lima beans seasoned with lime juice and cayenne pepper sound good, too.
5. Bacon and eggs with lima beans. I know, it’s a bit odd—but Chez Pim calls this the breakfast of champions, and she’s got awfully good taste. Besides, bacon has a way of making even the yuckiest vegetables taste divine.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.