large lima beans
What is it?
Butter beans, or large lima beans, are big, flattish beans that range from pale yellow to white. (The small, pale green, kidney-shaped beans that you may recognize as limas are actually baby limas. They were discovered in Peru by Spanish explorers who named the beans after the country’s capital, Lima.) Butter beans have a velvety texture and rich, savory, almost buttery flavor. They are great baked or braised, and in chowders and succotash.
Don’t have it?
If you can’t find them, try giant white beans.
How to prep:
It isn’t mandatory to soak dried beans before cooking them, but soaked beans do cook more quickly and evenly and are easier to digest. There are two ways to soak dried beans: A cold (long) soak, which guarantees fully hydrated beans, or a hot (quick) soak, which is speedier but leaves the possibility that some beans won’t be fully hydrated and may therefore not cook as evenly.
Spread the beans out and pick through them, discarding any rocks, bits of debris, and shriveled beans. Then rinse the beans under cold water to remove any dust or dirt.
For a cold (long) soak: Put the beans in a large metal bowl with enough cool water to cover by about 3-inches. Soak at room temperature for six to eight hours, adding more water if the level gets low. Drain and rinse before cooking.
For a hot (short) soak: Put the beans in a large pot with enough cool water to cover by about 3-inches. Bring to a boil; boil for two minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for one to two hours. Drain and rinse before cooking.
Cook gently, and season at the right time:
• Cook soaked beans in fresh water to reduce gas-causing oligosaccharides, hard-todigest complex sugar molecules found in legumes.
• Never let beans boil, except at the very beginning. Gentle simmering keeps the beans intact and creamy, not mealy.
• Wait to add salt until the beans have begun to soften, usually about halfway through cooking. That way, the salt can pass through the beans’ softened skin and bring out their flavor.
• Add acidic ingredients such as tomatoes, vinegar, wine, or citrus juice once the beans have softened; if added too early, acid can thicken the beans’ skin and extend cooking time. Non-acidic seasonings such as herbs, garlic, and onion can go into the pot from the start.
• Don’t bother skimming off any foam that rises to the top of the cooking liquid. It’s simply water-soluble protein released from the beans and will dissolve on its own.
• Always taste several beans to check for doneness. Some beans may be cooked through, while others need more time.
How to store:
Recently harvested dried beans cook up creamy and tender. They’ll be shiny, bright, and evenly colored, with no wrinkles. Look for freshly dried beans at farmers’ markets.
Store dried beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry place and try to cook them within six months. Technically, they will last indefinitely, but they lose moisture as they sit. Old beans take longer to cook, and they fall apart more easily. Really old beans may refuse to soften at all.
Cooked beans will keep for up to five days, stored in an airtight container in the fridge. You can also freeze them in airtight containers or freezer bags for up to six months; freeze in small amounts so they’re easier to defrost and use. Frozen cooked beans will retain their shape better if you thaw them slowly in the refrigerator.
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