Let Us Now Praise an Old-Fashioned Vegetable

Let’s discuss vegetables … shall we? Specifically, let’s talk about lima beans, which I think of as an old-fashioned vegetable, something granny would’ve eaten, that seems to have fallen out of favor these days.

When I was growing up, lima beans were never in favor. They were one of two foods my mother refused to cook. She, who whipped up amazing meals for a family of seven — homemade dumplings and blintzes! quiche! a lot of meat! once an astounding asparagus rollade! another time astonishing orange french toast! (alas, I think I was the only one who enjoyed this) — looked with disdain upon the lima bean. The other food she refused to cook was lamb.

Since I don’t eat meat, I don’t mind that we missed out on lamb, but there was a little lima bean sized hole in my soul for all the years I was deprived of lima beans.

But, no matter. We can’t change what’s past. All we can do is move on and eat all the lima beans we can. Because a good lima bean is a delicious thing. (And a bad lima bean is a disgusting thing. Avoid wrinkled over-cooked lima beans, especially the kind that are found in frozen succotash and the large fist-sized beans that often appear in a vegetable medley with cubed carrots. STAY AWAY. This is not the good kind of lima bean. I cannot speak of canned lima beans. I won’t.).

If you can get your hands on fresh lima beans, jump for joy, and then buy all you can. Hopefully they are already shelled for you, but if they’re not, buy them anyway.

The person selling them to you may tell you that it’s fun to shell lima beans. This is what the woman at the farmers market who sold me my lima beans told me. She was wrong. It was tedious work, but I stared out the window and watched the catbirds flitting about, and eventually, my fingers were sore, and the beans were shelled.

If you can’t get fresh, buy frozen baby lima beans. Let me stress that again: frozen BABY lima beans. Then make Shells with Baby Lima Beans and Rosemary from Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” (best cookbook ever). If I could convince my mother to take one bite of this, she would be an instant lima bean lover. I’ll leave it up to someone else to tempt her with lamb.

Quick literary aside. Some people call lima beans “butterbeans.” I first heard this name when I read “To Kill A Mockingbird:

“Don’t you like butterbeans? Our Cal’s a real good cook.” — Scout to Walter Cunningham (Chapter 3)

Shells with Baby Lima Beans and Rosemary

2 cups (or more if you love them!) fresh lima beans or frozen baby lima beans
3 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon minced rosemary or summer savory
Salt and freshly milled pepper
8 ounces small or medium shells
Freshly grated Parmesan

Bring the water for the pasta to a boil, add the lima beans, and cook until they’re tender. Scoop them out and set aside. Warm 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet, add the onion and rosemary, and sauté over medium heat until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add a ladleful of pasta water, the cooked beans, and the parsley. Season with salt and pepper and turn off the heat.

Cook the shells until al dente. Scoop them out and add them to the beans. Add the final spoonful of oil and grate a little Parmesan over the top. Share with people who think they don’t like lima beans.


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