Christmas lima beans, with their speckled, swirled coats of maroon and cream, are one of the world’s most beautiful dried beans. When properly cooked, their texture is firm and their taste nutty. The
Christmas limas are a perfect foil for strong, spicy flavors and are robust enough to serve on their own as a salad, spread, side dish, or main course. They go particularly well with wild mushrooms, bitter greens, and strong-flavored fish like salmon or mackerel.
According to the Ark of Taste website, “gastronomic accounts date the Christmas Lima Bean to the 1840s when it was especially popular in the southwestern region of the US. … It is used in both its mature green state as a shelled Lima for eating fresh, freezing or canning as well as used dried, and cooked into stews and casseroles. The Christmas Lima is very successful in the high desert environments of the southwest. They are hardy, heat tolerant and very productive—a bean known for its yield and versatility.”
A couple days ago, I found myself with time to kill at Natural Pantry, an Anchorage store that started as a health food/vitamin store. Over the years, without my noticing it, Natural Pantry has added an extensive line of gourmet and specialty food products. Each aisle brought new surprises. I left with two full bags of hard-to-find-in-Anchorage ingredients, including a package of Christmas Lima Beans. I’ll definitely return to Natural Pantry, sooner rather than later.
One final, but important, note: Dried Christmas lima beans are delicious. Other than genes, they have nothing in common with the nasty green limas I remember from childhood.
Pan-Fried Salmon with Curly Endive and Christmas Lima Beans
Christmas Lima Bean Salad may be made well-ahead. If it is, this dish makes a quick weekday meal. Before serving refrigerated bean salad, remove it from the refrigerator at least 1 hour, or put it in the microwave on medium for approximately 2 minutes.
1 pound wild-caught salmon fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
1 head curly endive (approximately 8 cups cleaned and chopped)
1/4 cup chiffonade-cut fresh mint
1 recipe Christmas Lima Bean Salad (see recipe below)
Wash the salmon and dry it well. Using needle-nosed pliers, remove as many pin-bones from the fillet as possible. Skin the fish, if necessary, and cut it into 4 even pieces. Season the fillets on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let the seasoned fish rest for 30 minutes at room temperature before cooking.
While the fish is resting, wash the curly endive, dry it well, and roughly chop it into bite-sized pieces. In a large bowl, toss the curly endive with the mint and Christmas Lima Bean Salad. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Divide the endive and bean mix between 4 plates.Heat the olive oil in a pan until it is hot, but not smoking. Turn the heat to medium high, and add the salmon. Cook for 3 – 5 minutes, or until the pan side of the salmon is lightly browned. Turn over and cook for 1 - 3 minutes, or until the salmon is done to your taste. The exact cooking time depends on the fillets’ thickness; keep in mind that salmon tastes better slightly underdone than it does when it's overdone.
Place the hot salmon fillets on top of the endive and bean beds. Serve immediately.
Christmas Lima Bean Salad
The amount of jalapeño in the dressing, and whether you include the jalapeños’ seeds (which add heat), depends on how spicy you like your food. I last made this with 2 jalapeños including the seeds, and it was pleasantly spicy. My husband would’ve preferred it with 3 whole jalapeños. If you don’t like spicy food, remove the seeds before adding the jalapeños. Keep in mind that jalapeños are not uniformly hot. If your jalapeños are too mild, add a little sambal oelek or crushed red pepper flakes to make a spicier dressing. I prefer the taste of capers preserved in salt to those preserved in brine (although either works here), and usually rinse and soak the capers to remove excess salt. However, for this dressing, I used the capers salt and all, and didn’t separately add salt to the dressing.
1 cup dried Christmas lima beans (6 ounces dried or 2 1/2 cups cooked)
5 bay leaves
2-3 red or green jalapeño peppers
4 tsp. capers, preferably salted
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup chiffonade-cut fresh mint
Cook the Beans: Place the beans in a large pot, cover them with lots of water, and let soak overnight. The next day, drain and rinse the beans. Return them to the pot; add the bay leaves and enough water to cover the beans by 3 inches. Bring to a boil, cover, turn down the heat to low, and simmer the beans for 60-90 minutes, just until the flesh is tender (be careful not to cook the beans until they are mushy). Drain the beans, reserving the bean cooking water (see Note below).
Make the Dressing: While the beans are cooking, purée the jalapeños, capers, garlic, and red wine vinegar in a blender. Add the oil to the other ingredients slowly, while the blender is running. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Make the Salad: Mix the cooked Christmas lima beans with the dressing, red onions, and fresh mint. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note on Bean Cooking Water: If I’m not using it right away, I freeze bags of bean cooking water and use it instead of stock in soup and stew recipes. The cooking water from Christmas lima beans tastes particularly good, and is definitely worth saving.