- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

I may be the only person in the world who loved lima beans as a child. I liked their buttery taste, and also the way you could press on the end and they might slip their skins on your plate. So this week’s column is for those few who, like me, love the humble lima and appreciate its varying sizes, from baby to giant.

A flat, pale-green, kidney-shaped bean, limas are also called butter beans for their buttery flavor. Peak season for fresh limas is in the summer, but dried limas are available year-round in health food stores, Italian groceries and on some supermarket shelves.

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The appeal of lima beans lies in the rich taste they give to soups, stews and other hearty dishes. It’s easy to omit some of the salt in a soup when you have limas in the recipe.

When boiled, dried limas don’t double in volume like most beans. They just plump up a bit. Since they freeze well, you can cook quantities in advance.

Once you have a container of boiled lima beans on hand, try them pureed with garlic, chili powder and cumin for a quick sandwich spread. You can also fry the puree with minced onion and green bell pepper, plus cayenne pepper to taste, to make a low-calorie version of refried beans.

When I boil dried lima beans to flavor up a quick soup or marinate for a bean salad, I save the cooking water in a container in the freezer. Adding to it each time I boil beans, I soon accumulate a quart of delicious broth that adds great flavor to homemade soup stocks.

My favorite fall lima bean salad follows. It can be assembled up to four days in advance and makes a great side dish for a lunchtime sandwich.

Lima bean salad

3 cups cooked (tender but not mushy) lima beans

1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper

½ cup chopped red bell pepper

⅓ cup olive oil

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

¼ cup chopped scallion, both green and white parts

2 tablespoons chopped, pitted Nicoise or Greek olives

In a large bowl, combine lima beans, green and red bell peppers, oil, lemon juice, parsley, scallion and olives. Mix well. Let stand at room temperature or refrigerate at least 45 minutes before serving, or until flavors blend. Makes 6 servings.

Italian lima bean and vegetable stew

The recipe that follows is a real crowd pleaser. Try it for your next weekend party. It is great served with hot crusty rye bread and a large green salad.

1 cup chopped onion

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 cups sliced zucchini

2 cups canned peeled tomatoes with juice

2 cups cooked lima beans

⅓ cup chopped green bell pepper

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons minced fresh basil

Salt, freshly ground pepper

In a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, cook onion in ¼ cup water and oil until soft but not browned. Add zucchini, tomatoes, lima beans, green bell pepper, garlic and basil. Lower heat to medium, cover skillet and simmer stew for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water if needed to prevent scorching. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving. Makes 6 servings.

Nona’s lima-bean minestrone

My friend’s Italian grandmother always made this soup one day ahead of time and refrigerated it overnight. She said letting the soup sit was the secret to its rich flavor.

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

¼ cup dry red wine or apple juice

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 cups chopped fresh Roma tomatoes

⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley

⅓ cup sliced carrots

⅓ cup chopped celery

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 cups nonfat stock

2 cups dried lima beans

1 cup diced red potatoes

½ cup uncooked macaroni

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried chives

½ teaspoon dried oregano

In large soup pot over medium-high heat, saute onion in red wine or apple juice and oil until onion is limp but not browned. (Add small amount of water if onion starts to stick.) Add tomatoes, parsley, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, 5 minutes.

Add stock, lima beans, potatoes and macaroni. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook uncovered 45 minutes or until lima beans are soft. Add basil, chives and oregano. Remove from heat and refrigerate overnight. Reheat before serving. Makes 8 to 10 servings.


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