|Lima beans at Gjelina|
My brother B hated the carrots - he managed to eat around them without touching them with his fork, leaving little orange cubes randomly scattered on his plate. I, on the other hand, didn't object to them, but I swallowed them down as though they were medicine, without any enjoyment. They were just food, something I was supposed to eat.
Since then, I have learned to appreciate these vegetables. I have gloried in fresh farmers' market carrots in a rainbow of colors from yellow to orange to crimson to purple - fire-roasted and served with creme fraiche and Moroccan spices in a Santa Monica restaurant, they are amazing. I have eaten fresh, farm-grown corn on the cob, grilled over charcoal and smeared with chile and lime. I have delighted in the bright green sweetness of newly picked and shelled baby peas, flash-sauted in butter or in sesame oil. But lima beans? No, sorry. Why would I want to eat those?
|Photo from Wikipedia, in public domain|
The lima bean, or phaseolus lunatus, was first domesticated in the Andes mountains of South America around 2000 BC. There are actually two distinct types of this species of nutritional legumes - the large-seeded type, which we call lima beans, and the small-seeded type, which are often called butter beans.
Gardening writer Eleanor Perenyi wrote about the lima bean, in her book Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden, first published in 1981: "No bean in the world can compare with a freshly picked lima...The perfect lima looks like a little purse of eau-de-Nil satin, keeps it color in boiling water, and is only faintly, exquisitely mealy."
Much as I love the thought of those little satiny purses, fresh from the garden, I'm in love with the way Greek cuisine treats lima beans.
Slow-cooked for forty-five minutes with garlic and tomatoes, this is a counter-intuitive vegetable recipe. For the last couple of decades, conventional foodie wisdom has deplored the practice of cooking vegetables to death. A light steaming was all that was required, we were told; briefly blanched so they were still fresh-tasting and a little crisp.
Not these babies. Like Southern-style collard greens, braising lima beans in a flavorful broth brings out a rich meatiness that's particularly satisfying.
The best thing about them is they couldn't be simpler. You can make them with frozen lima beans - I always have a bag in the freezer these days.
Greek-Style Lima Beans
1 package frozen lima beans
1 can diced tomatoes OR 2-3 fresh plum tomatoes, diced
2- 3 cloves of garlic, minced, or to your taste
A handful of chopped parsley
A handful of chopped dill
A bit of dried oregano, optional
A handful of chopped onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
Water or chicken broth to cover
Put all ingredients in a heavy saucepan with a lid, and simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes.
You can use other beans, or even peas for this recipe. Shelly beans from the farmer's market would work, also the big gigante beans used in Italian cuisine. You could probably do this with canned cannellini beans, but you wouldn't need to cook them so long. You could do this with dried beans, soaked first.
A high-end version of this can be found at the restaurant Gjelina in Venice. There, the chef prepares lima beans with tomato confit, black lime and crispy prosciotto.
But frozen lima beans make it easy, so why not?