Ingredient Spotlight: Christmas Lima Beans

Okay, we know the phrase "lima beans" might send some of you running, but we hope even the most ardent haters will pause to consider Christmas lima beans. These gorgeous, burgundy-speckled heirloom beans aren't your average limas! Did you know they have the flavor of chestnuts and the texture of creamy, buttery potatoes?

Despite their popularity in the South in the mid- to late-19th century, Christmas lima beans, like many crops, were largely replaced by a few commercial varieties in the 20th century. Fortunately, thanks to seed savers and specialty farmers and purveyors, Christmas limas have recently made a comeback and they are among our favorite heirloom beans. Also called chestnut lima beans, they have a rich, nutty flavor and creamy texture. (Incidentally, the beans are patterned with splashes of maroon – a word derived from marron, the French word for chestnut!)

Christmas limas are big – about the size of a nickel – and hearty and just the right ingredient for cold weather stews, vegetarian meals, and full-bodied sauces. Here are a few recipes:

Christmas Lima Bean Soup, Grilled Anchovies With Christmas Limas, and Warm Christmas Lima and Shiitake Salad, from Appaloosa Bean
Christmas Lima Beans and Quinoa with Beets and Avocado, from Culinate
Dandelion green and Christmas lima bean tacos, from Los Angeles Times
Florida Butter Beans with Caramelized Onions and Bacon, from The Kitchn
Stewed Christmas Lima Beans, from Purcell Mountain Farms

You can also use them in recipes that call for butter beans or simply cook them in water (see How to Cook Beans) and serve them with a drizzle of olive oil and herbs like rosemary or sage.

To purchase Christmas lima beans online, see the vendors listed in More Online Resources for Heirloom Beans. You might also check the list of growers on LocalHarvest.org. In Southern California, we purchase Christmas lima beans from Lompoc's Suncoast Farms, which sells heirloom beans at several farmers' markets.

Related: Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo

(Image: Emily Ho)