Lima beans have been a part of our diet for a few years now, about 4,000 years actually, so it is no surprise to see this wonderful legume popping up more and more these days, especially with the recent emphasis on low-fat and gluten-free foods.
It is always interesting to note how trade, commerce and imperialism have influenced the diets of peoples around the world, and Lima beans are no exception. This stalwart little bean was a staple of the people of South America for eons, domesticated by the Andeans long before they were cultivated for use in Europe and North America. The fact that we typically refer to them as Lima beans reflects their provenance: when the Spanish Viceroyalty set up shop in Peru in the sixteenth century, they exported crates of them-stamped with the words “Lima-Peru” back to Spain and the rest of the Americas. So the name stuck.
Why we pronounce the beans “Lie-mah” and the city “Lee-mah” is less clear. You could call it by its scientific name, Phaseolus Lunatus, that has a nice sort of Wile. E. Coyote ring to it. Some places avoid this confusion altogether by calling them “Butter Beans,” a reference to their soft, buttery texture, or in the Southern U.S., where they are famously used in dishes such as succotash, as “Dixie Beans.” Make no mistake however; although Lima Beans may taste buttery, they are virtually fat free, making them an excellent choice for most diets, especially given that they have that magic bean combination of being low in calories and high in nutrition, an excellent source of dietary fiber, protein, and iron.
In one cup of Lima beans you get:
|Dietary Fiber||13.16 g||52.6||4.4|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)||0.30 mg||20.0||1.7|
But it is no good being a Superfood if you are not tasty, something that people enjoy eating. Fortunately, Lima beans are delicious, inexpensive and ridiculously simple to prepare, especially given that you can by them dried (which requires a little more time), canned, or frozen. They are great for soups, can be blitzed with a little lemon juice olive oil and salt for a fabulous healthy dip, or served as a traditional side dish like succotash.
Caveat: do not eat them raw. For one thing, they taste terrible; bitter, like most poisonous plants. This is because they contain the toxic compound linamarin, also found in cassava and flax. Don’t worry though, you can handle them raw no problem, and cooking renders them safe and delicious!
Our American friends are celebrating their Thanksgiving this weekend, and succotash is a traditional Thanksgiving side dish, especially in the Southern States. Interestingly, “Sufferin’ Succotash” is a mild oath that caught on during the Great Depression, when times where tough, meat was was scarce and lima beans were cheap, and is a favourite expression of astonishment /bemusement/bewilderment used by luminaries like Sylvester the Cat and Daffy Duck. It, like many bowdlerized curses which we now find archaic or quaint, and are favourites of cartoon animals everywhere, refers to the “suffering savior.”
This weekend, why not whip up a side sufferin’ succotash for yourself.
You can give thanks to the little bean that could.
serves 4 – 6
10 ears shucked corn
1 red bell pepper, medium dice
3 tbsp. butter
1/2 chopped, peeled small yellow onion
1 cup fresh or frozen lima beans
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 strips bacon, sliced into lardons (optional)
1. Scrape kernels from 6 ears shucked corn into a bowl with a corn slitter or tines of a fork, then scrape cob with back of slitter or side of fork to release meat and corn milk. Add kernels from 4 more ears shucked corn to bowl and set aside.
2. Melt butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft (not browned), about 10 minutes. Or fry bacon in pot, once crispy remove bacon bits and set aside. Use bacon fat to fry the onions.
3. Add reserved corn, red pepper, lima beans, and heavy cream. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook, stirring often, until mixture thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Garnish with bacon bits before serving.