The first time I had succotash, it was made with freshly shelled, barely cooked fava beans, bright heirloom tomatoes, corn from the garden and a lot of cracked black pepper. It was a hot night, and paired with a big tumbler of rosé, it was all I needed for dinner. I loved the way the flavors stood on their own and harmonized together, and I loved the name itself. I woke the next morning with the taste and the word, too, stuck in my head — suck-a-tash, suck-a-tash — like the song of the summer on repeat.
To me, succotash is the ultimate expression of a summer salad. Succotash, from the Algonquin language of the Narragansett Native Americans of Rhode Island, means "boiled corn kernels," but the dish has morphed over the generations to be anything from a corn and bean salad to a pot-pie-like concoction with a mixture of vegetables cooked in a casserole with a pie-crust on top.
I spoke to Virginia Willis, author most recently of Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company and the woman with my favorite southern accent on the planet. "I , too, like Succotash served warm, room temp, or even like a veg salad. It reminds me somewhat of a Southern or American version of the classic French salad macedoine. It's the perfect dish for summer bounty — corn, beans, tomatoes, even okra. So, maybe it's actually a Southern Stir Fry, but slower, of course."
Succotash has many versions, but almost all contain corn and beans. Beans range from butter beans, fava beans, and lima beans to shelled edamame or black-eyed peas. This week I was cleaning out my freezer and found two bags of opened edamame.
Some succotash calls for heavy cream, but instead, I kept it light—more salad-like—tossing the mixture with a few squirts of lemon juice as a stand-in dressing. For corn, I went for the fresh Jersey stuff that's just shown up at the farmers' market, and the basil came from my fire escape.
Summer eating! Seize it! We're lucky!
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large sweet onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen beans (lima, edamame, fava, etc), cooked al dente
Kernels from 6 ears of corn (about 5 cups)
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup basil, sliced in chiffonade
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the chopped onion and a small pinch of salt and cook, stirring, over medium heat until translucent and tender, about 5 minutes. Lower the heat, add the beans and corn and stir over medium-low heat for about 1 minute, until tender but still crisp.
Transfer cooked ingredients to a large bowl and toss with the tomatoes and lemon juice. Serve immediately with the feta, basil and black pepper sprinkled on top, or let the mixture cool, then top with the feta, basil and black pepper.
(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)