New Recipe: Lima beans ‘another home run,’but not all taste testers in ballpark

Can you identify this quote?

“Dear Lord, if you spare this town from becoming a smoking hole in the ground, I’ll try to be a better Christian,” a character in an animated satire once prayed. “I don’t know what I can do … Mm. Oh, the next time there’s a canned food drive I’ll give the poor something they’d actually like, instead of old lima beans and pumpkin mix.”

Well, gentle readers, that was Marge Simpson, who seemed to be hinting that lima beans are not a desirable food.

I have to disagree; I’ve always liked lima beans. Actually, my sister liked them even more. I still remember when she, as a child of about 4, asked our dad to escort her on a second trip to a smorgasbord buffet — so she could get a second helping of lima beans.

But I thought of Marge earlier this week when I brought a casserole of lima beans baked in tomato sauce to the newsroom and two of my usual taste testers flatly refused to try them.

“You can tell people I’m like a little kid,” page designer Lyndsay Bartos said, while obit clerk Ashley Bringmann also declined, citing a dislike for the main ingredient.

Among those who did try the dish, no one was displeased, although some were more enthusiastic than others.

“I’m a big fan,” page designer and resident vegetarian Toni Pennello said, describing the dish as “a good pasta replacement.”

“Speaking as a diehard carnivore,” reporter Ryan Evans said he “could eat it everyday,” especially after a workout.

Then columnist Bill O’Boyle astonished me by saying it was “one of the tastiest things you’ve brought in.”

And news editor Roger DuPuis called it “another home run,” suggesting it would be “a wonderful side dish for chicken; I’m thinking lemon-marinated chicken.”

“It has a wonderful Mediterranean taste and I think it could be served cold,” Roger added. “Maybe with feta crumbled on top.”

Reporter Jen Learn-Andes actually did try it cold, without waiting for me to warm a sample for her. She said it was a refreshingly different way to have lima beans because she is used to having them Boston style, baked with molasses and bacon.

One skeptical taster — but at least he did taste it — was reporter Kevin Carroll, who said “it definitely exceeded my expectations” and credited the tomatoes with giving the overall dish a good flavor.

The oregano and thyme, onions and garlic may also have played a role in that.

I found the recipe at a food blog called Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes, and I pretty much followed it. I have to admit I took a shortcut by using three 15-ounce cans of beans instead of one pound of dried beans; I also threw in two handfuls of raw chopped spinach before I baked it — because I didn’t have the called-for parsley on hand and thought the spinach would add a nice contrasting color.

The blog author explained her recipe is based on a dish she enjoyed at a Mediterranean restaurant in Baltimore, and its Greek name, Gigantes Plaki, is a reference to how gigantic the beans are, compared to smaller beans.

Large lima beans also are sometimes called butter beans,

Greek Style Baked Lima Beans

1 pound lima beans (dry)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 medium onion (diced)

4 cloves garlic (minced)

15 ounces diced tomatoes

2 heaping tbsp tomato paste

1 teaspoon thyme (dry)

1 teaspoon oregano (dry)

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Instructions: Place dry lima beans in a large pot and cover with two inches of water. Bring the water to a boil, cover, and let the beans simmer until the beans are tender, but not mushy. This could take about 30 minutes Add more water at any point if needed. Drain the beans and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the same pot used to cook the beans, heat the oil and add the onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for 3-4 minutes until the onions soften but don’t brown.

Add the thyme and oregano, stir to mix, and add the tomatoes and tomato paste with ½ cups water. Stir well to mix and bring to a boil.

Add the lima beans, mix, and add more salt and ground black pepper if needed.

Pour out the lima bean-tomato mixture in a large baking dish and spread in an even layer.

Bake, uncovered, for 60-75 minutes or until the top is slightly crusty.

Garnish, if desired, with some fresh parsley and serve.

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