I have been in love with dry beans forever. Pink lentils enrapture me. I salivate over green split peas. I would never pass on cream of lima bean soup. By now, you know that it started with my mother, of course.
When I grew up, legumes were inexpensive, they were filling, and they did not need much supervision to cook. All criteria which pleased my mother, always pressed for time in a household where laundry for nine people was done mostly by hand and ironing was for, among other things, bed linens, dish towels, underwear and handkerchiefs.
I don’t know what she did. Maybe she clicked the heels of her red “espadrilles” or struck the “Creuset” stew pot with her wand; in any case, coming back from school in the drizzling darkness and opening the front door while wiping our wet nose on our wet sleeve, we smelled the magic in the hallway leading to the kitchen where the table would already be set, and that daily, ritualistic miracle would unfold, not surprising any of us.
Lately, I have been interested in heirloom varieties of legumes and I discovered the Christmas lima beans on the cover of Barbara Kingsolver’s book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”. It made me want to read the book which made me want to buy the beans. They are heirloom and gorgeous. A beautiful pattern of red and white (well, hers are red. Mine are a purplish kind of brown. But no matter). I ordered them from Purcell Mountain Farms in the Kootenai River Valley of North Idaho. A place I would like to visit one day.
The best way to eat legumes during the cold months is as a stew, simmered with a lot of different vegetables such as carrots and leeks, garlic and onions, and fresh herbs either from your garden or from the supermarket: thyme, sage, tarragon, and bay leaf. You can warm up a loaf of whole grain bread in the oven and dunk warm slices of it in the stew. Add a green salad and you have a perfect lunch for a windy, rainy December day.
In Praise of Christmas Lima Beans
- Cast iron stew pot
- 1 lb. or 3 cups of lima beans
- 1 finely chopped onion
- 2-3 grated garlic cloves
- 1 dry kombu seaweed
- finely chopped fresh thyme
- finely chopped oregano
- finely chopped sage
- 1 bay leaf
- 1-2 carrots thinly sliced
- 1-2 celery stalks thinly sliced
- vegetable broth enough to cover them 2 inches above the top
- sourdough bread
Cooking the beans:
- This recipe is for about 1 lb. or 3 cups of beans. Give the dry beans a quick boil in water, then turn the heat off and let them soak in the hot liquid, covered, for an hour or so. Or, if cooking them is not a last minute decision, soak them overnight in cold liquid, covered.
- Once soaked, pour the beans in a colander and let them drain.
- In a cast iron stew pot, if possible, fry a finely chopped onion and 2 or 3 grated garlic cloves in vegetable oil until just golden.
- Add: The beans, and enough vegetable broth to cover them 2 inches above the top. One dry kombu seaweed (found in any good health food store) for its capacity to make dry beans more digestible.
- Fresh thyme, oregano and sage leaves chopped finely before being thrown in and this is my favorite method of using herbs for a more flavorful stew.
- A whole bay leaf (which will be removed when the beans are cooked).
- One or two carrots and one or two celery stalks, both thinly sliced.
- Simmer for at least one hour. Taste to insure that the beans are not over cooked. They should be tender (without any crunch when you bite into one), but still holding their shape.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Optional: Half an hour before cooking is done, add one or two leeks, white part only, sliced thinly. A few small potatoes, peeled and cut in half. Fried and chopped bacon or fried and chopped vegetarian sausages.
- And don’t forget the slices of hearty, warm sourdough bread to dunk in!