One of my new year’s resolutions is to use more of the food stored in my pantry. My shelves are overflowing with packages of grains, heirloom beans, dried pasta, Asian sauces, jams, mustards, sardines, cans of tomatoes and more. My goal is to cook with something that is languishing in the pantry or my equally stuffed-to-capacity freezer, every single day. Yesterday I chose some Christmas lima beans to transform into a vegetarian main dish. Eat less meat and more vegetarian food! That is yet another new year’s resolution.
Christmas lima beans are sometimes called chestnut lima beans. When uncooked they are beautifully speckled like a calico horse, and when cooked they are more uniformly brown like chestnuts–but they really don’t taste like chestnuts, despite what you may have heard. They have a texture a bit like russet potatoes and a mild earthy flavor but none of the characteristic sweetness or dry crumbly texture of chestnuts.
Beans are often used in salads or soups, but Christmas lima beans are the perfect bean for making a stew because not only are they large and “meaty” but the liquid they soak and cook in becomes a rich brown gravy when reduced. I combined the beans with silky sautéed onions and chunks of sweet squash to make a satisfying meatless main dish. It’s a mild but hearty dish and the toppings jazz it up considerably.
Christmas Lima Bean & Butternut Squash Stew
Serves 4 – 6
2 cups Christmas lima beans
4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, sliced into thin half moons
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2-1 teaspoon red chili paste or harissa
1/4 teaspoon minced peeled ginger
Extra virgin olive oil
Wedges of lemon
Crumbled soft goat cheese, optional
Chopped cilantro, optional
Place the beans in a large dutch oven and cover with water. Water should rise at least one inch over the top of the beans. Let soak overnight.
Do not drain the water! Simmer the beans gently until tender, probably an hour or so. Add the butternut squash and more water if necessary, cover and gently simmer for 15 minutes or until the squash is cooked.
Meanwhile in a separate skillet heat the olive oil and add the onion. Add the salt to the onions and cook over medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Add the cumin, chili paste and ginger. When fragrant, add the onion mixture to the beans and squash. Simmer without the lid until the remaining liquid thickens to make a velvety gravy. Taste for seasoning.
Top each serving with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon and any other toppings you like.