Saturday, September 6, 2014

Eat your lima beans

Lima beans at Gjelina
As a child of the sixties in America, I have eaten my share of frozen mixed vegetables, served up by my mother, who, though raised on a Texas farm where her family grew fresh vegetables in their own garden, chose to feed her family with Clarence Birdseye's modern invention of convenience. Purchased in waxy paper blocks in the freezer section of the supermarket, these usually included peas, carrots, yellow corn kernels, short lengths of green beans, and lima beans.

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
But when I discovered Greek-style lima beans, I realized how wrong I was.

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?


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I HATED lima beans as a kid.

Bland, horrible texture, bleh!

Also, canned peas.

smalltownme said...

Mixed veg, a staple in the freezer and I don't know why. Each veg has the same vague taste.

This sounds tasty!

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

My friend's mother, an immigrant from Calabria, manages to make frozen mixed vegetables delicious. I'll have to try this recipe for Lima beans.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

I didn't like lima beans as a kid. Who does? But they are so full of fiber. In fact, I didn't like many of the terribly-prepared veggies of my childhood (mostly frozen and boiled without a bit of seasoning)! Those days are long gone. Veggies are awesome, even lima beans! A friend of mine posted this recipe on her blog. Thought you might like it too.

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

I will definitely try this recipe. I think it's funny that we all hate lima beans but most of us will gobble up edamame like it's going out of style. Sometimes it only takes one recipe to turn things around.