RESPECT YOUR BEANS. That’s the order of the day. Specifically, you should give the lowly lima bean its due. That’s right, everyone, April 20 is officially “Lima Bean Respect Day.” Lest you doubt my word, there’s even an e-card to prove the day exists (Hallmark’s got nothing on Ecardia, creator of the illustration shown above).
Of course, all this is very tongue-in-cheek. I’ll also date myself when I tell you that it makes me think of Rodney Dangerfield: a broad bean grousing “no respect.” Or maybe the beans should be singing a certain Aretha Franklin tune, you know the one. It’s all a bit absurd. And yet . . .
Maybe there’s something to this. Maybe not enough people appreciate lima beans. For much of my life, I admit, I’ve taken these beans for granted. They’d appear on my family’s table whenever my father got a craving for Southern comfort food. He’d cook them within an inch of their little bean lives (in the way you cook all vegetables in the South: until they’ve lost their structure and are a warm, soft mash), and then he’d slather the beans with butter. They’re good that way, and I’ve always just left it at that. Lima beans have never inspired me to get creative—you neither, I’m willing to bet.
This year, however, I decided to change that. I decided to find something new to do with them, resolved to give them a little love. The odd thing was that as I went to first one grocery and then another, I couldn’t find frozen baby lima beans anywhere. Why not? I began to worry that maybe lima beans are truly falling out of favor, and I tried to imagine what it would be like to never eat another lima bean, ever. A feeling surged that, if it didn’t sound too melodramatic, I’d call panic—grief, even. You know how much you want something when it seems you can’t have it? I have been intensely craving lima beans for a few weeks now. Luckily, they returned to stock, as mysteriously as they’d vanished. I snatched up half a dozen boxes (which equals sixty ounces, a lot of beans).
For some recipes, dried lima beans simply will not do. Fresh are even better than frozen, but those are much harder to find. You can go to the greenmarket, of course, but they don’t usually appear there until August, along with corn. This explains succotash, which I will not mention further.
Here, in honor of Lima Bean Respect Day, I’m presenting a recipe that takes a Mediterranean approach: Lima-Bean Salad with Two Greek Cheeses. In fact, the recipe is an adaptation of a fava bean salad from Hearth Restaurant, a favorite of mine here in NYC. The favas pack a stronger flavor punch, but I think the lima beans hold up quite well, too—that is, if you cook them like a northerner (on the firm side of done).
The cheeses I used, which you can see in the image below, are kefalograviera (the hard yellow cheese to the left) and manouri, which is a softer sheep and goat’s milk cheese. If the idea of Greek cheese puts you off because you don’t know where to find it, you can easily substitute the more easily found Italian cheeses, pecorino and ricotta salata.
To moisten and flavor my salad, I chose to make a classic Greek dressing called latholemono, which is basically two parts olive oil to one part lemon juice, frequently with oregano added for good measure. Latholemono is an indispensable blend in the Greek kitchen. It is used to dress all sorts of greens and fish as well.
So, here, without further fuss (what could be fussy about a lima bean?) is my Dixie-meets-Hellenic tribute. I hope you decide to make it, or if not, then prepare some limas in another way that suits you. While you’re at it, click here to send Ecardia’s Lima Bean Respect Day e-card to a special someone. They may or may not thank you, but they’re sure to smile—plus, you’ll make a lima bean very happy.
Lima-Bean Salad with Two Greek Cheeses
Adapted from Hearth Restaurant’s Fava-Bean Salad, as appeared in the New York Times (June 2005)
For the salad:
2 cups baby lima beans (fresh and shelled, or use a 10-ounce package of frozen baby limas)
1 cup diced kefalograviera or kefalotyri (see notes for substitute)
1/2 cup diced manouri (see notes for substitute)
1 scallion, thinly sliced
For the latholemono dressing:
Juice of 1 lemon (approximately 2 Tablespoons)
4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cook the lima beans. Place in a saucepan with just enough boiling water to cover the beans, bring to a second boil, cover and let the beans boil and steam until just tender, approximately (about 15 minutes for frozen beans). Drained the beans and run cold water over them to stop the cooking. Drain until dry.
Assemble and dress the salad. In a large bowl, combine lima beans, diced cheeses, and sliced scallion. To make the dressing, whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl, or shake together in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pour enough over the salad to wet it (you should have some extra dressing left over; reserve it for another use). Let sit at room temperature until ready to serve. Refrigerate for longer storage.
A Note on Greek Cheese Substitutions:
Who are you kidding? There is no substitution for good, Greek cheese. But if you insist, you may use pecorino instead of the kefalograviera; for the manouri, substitute ricotta salata.