Returning home after two weeks vacation usually means I’m living off my pantry and freezer for a couple of days until I can get a menu together and get to the store.
As I dug around in my pantry fridge, I came across a bag of dried lima beans – or more appropriately, butter beans – which Spencer had found on discount a while back. I’ve never cooked with them in dried form, but thought, what the heck, I’ll give it a try!
I decided I was going to cook them until tender, then split them into two meals: Traditional “Southern Grandmother” style and Tuscan “Italian Cassoulet” style.
Normally, for Spencer’s Grandmother’s white beans, I’ve used Navy or Cannellini. When Grandmother told me her recipe, she simply said “white beans”. It’s sort of like the pickled, hot peppers that she served from her garden. When asked what kind of peppers they were, she just said “hot”.
So this morning, when I sat down to write my post, I decided to dig into the differences between the various white beans, lima beans and butter beans to try and determine what Grandmother likely used.
For Christmas, I ordered an heirloom bean giftbox set from RanchoGordo.com for my best friend. Included was an autographed copy of their book on beans. My friend particularly loved the book. And now I know why!
I intended to make a short post today, but I’ve been researching the history and genus of beans for hours now, and it’s fascinating!
When I googled if lima beans and butter beans are the same thing, many people answered yes. But the fact is, a butter bean is to the lima bean as the beefsteak tomato is to the grape tomato. And what do the Cannellini, Great Northern & Navy Bean all have in common? They are white, but they all have varying sizes, textures and tastes.
I’m going to save most of the research for a whole page on bean facts. But following are just a few of the interesting tidbits that I ran across:
* Beans are part of the broader classification of legumes, a plant in the family Fabaceae (or Leguminosae), or the fruit or seed of such a plant. Aside from the bean, well-known legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, lentils, lupins, mesquite, tamarind, carob, soybeans, peanuts and the woody climbing vine wisteria.
* The word bean, original referred to the genus Vicia Fabe, or broad bean, of which the fava bean would be most commonly known in the US.
* This was later expanded to include members of the New World genus Phaseolus Vulgaris, the common bean and the runner bean, and the related genus Vigna.
* Later, the term bean is now applied generally to many other related plants and legumes such as Old World legumes (soybeans, peas and lentils), but it also applies to species of Asian and African beans.
* Cultivated broad beans have been grown in Thailand since the early seventh millennium BCE, predating ceramics. Not until the second millennium BC did cultivated, large-seeded broad beans appear in the Aegean, Iberia and Europe.
* Currently, the world genebanks hold about 40,000 bean varieties, although only a fraction are mass-produced for regular consumption. For that matter, there are around 7,500 tomato varieties grown.
* 23 million tons (or 50 trillion pounds) of dry common beans and 17.1 million tons of green beans were grown worldwide in 2010.
* Brazil and India are the largest producers of dry beans while China produces, by far, the largest quantity of green beans, almost as much as the rest of the top ten growers combined.
As for my bag of dried beans, even though they were labeled “lima”, they were “butter beans”. And I’m thinking that Grandmother used a small butter bean, a staple in Southern groceries. And after cooking with butter beans, I don’t think I’ll ever make Grandmother’s beans or my Cassoulet with any other type of white bean again.
Cooking your own beans is super easy ….
* A 1 pound bag of dried beans will yield approximately 6 cups of cooked beans.
* Place dried beans in a large pot, and cover sufficiently with water. Bring water to a boil, turn off heat, and let beans sit for one hour.
* Drain beans in a colander, rinse, and place beans back in the pot.
* Fill pot with 8 cups of water. Add 2 bay leaves.
* Bring back to a boil, slightly cover, and simmer until beans are tender, usually 1-2 hours, but this can vary, depending on how old the beans are (older takes longer).
* Do not add salt or seasonings until after the beans are tender, this halts the cooking process and is said to make the beans tough.
For Grandmother’s pot of Southern White Beans, my recipe is simple: After the beans are soft, leave enough (or add more) cooking liquid to allow them to boil down for another half hour once the seasonings are incorporated. Once soft, make a Sofrito: Very finely mince (almost to a pulp in a mini-food prep): 1 medium onion, 1 stalk celery, 1/2 carrot, 1 jalapeño pepper (deseeded), and 4 cloves garlic. Saute in 1/4 cup olive oil until tender. Add the softrito to the beans, along with 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, a sprig of thyme and a sprig of basil. Simmer for another half hour, let cool, then salt to taste.
And since I’ve been away for a while, I’m happy to treat you to a second recipe today. Cassoulet’s traditionally have meat in them, but I prefer this one with just the veggies and beans. You can always add veggie sausage crumbles or diced links, to your liking.
Of course you can use canned beans in my recipe, but if you have the time, why not track down some dried butter beans and cook up your own. Enjoy!
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ onion (½ cup), chopped
- 2 carrots (1½ cups), sliced
- 1 parsnip(1 cup), sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 15 ounce can Butter Beans or Cannellini Beans, undrained
- 2 cups mustard greens, chopped (fresh or frozen)
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoons earth balance, melted
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, parsnip, and garlic; cover and cook 10 minutes or until tender.
- Add beans and remaining ingredients through bay leaf. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes.
- Combine breadcrumbs, yeast, earth balance & parsley in a small bowl; toss with a fork until moist. Stir breadcrumb mixture into bean mixture. Add sausages if using.