In this harried, indulgent time of year what I actually crave most is food that's simple and nourishing, something that doesn't take a lot of time or fuss to eat but provides warmth and balance. In other words, a big pot of soup. This sweet potato lima bean soup is thick, buttery, and comforting (and also completely vegan). I dare say it might even convert the lima beans haters into lovers.
Although I have always liked lima beans, they haven't exactly been top of my comfort food list. That is, until one evening last week when I ducked into an old-school deli in order to escape the cold. I ordered a cup of lima bean soup — primarily because it was the only vegetarian soup on the menu, but at least it promised to be warm. The soup had a creamy yet dairy-free base with the delicious contrast of whole, giant limas and an unexpected sweet note that complemented the nuttiness of the beans. As I sipped from the cup, I soon wished I had ordered a larger bowl.
Actually, make that a big ol' pot, which I promptly recreated at home the next day. Lima beans have a subtle sweetness to them, but to give the soup a boost I added a couple of roasted sweet potatoes and a splash of maple syrup. Balancing out this sweetness is an aromatic base of onions, garlic, leeks, and herbs. Keep in mind that it takes a couple of hours on the stove for the lima beans to turn properly soft and buttery, but once it's ready, one pot of soup can provide several wholesome winter meals.
Sweet Potato Lima Bean Soup
1 pound dried large lima beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 leek (white and pale green parts only), finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
6 sage leaves, finely chopped
4 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
10 cups vegetable stock
2 sweet potatoes
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped parsley, for garnish
The night before you plan to make the soup, place the lima beans in a bowl and cover with a few inches of cool water. Soak overnight, then drain and rinse the beans before starting the soup.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the celery, carrot, leek, and onion, and sauté until tender. Add the garlic, sage, thyme, and bay and sauté for another minute. Add the drained lima beans and vegetable stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and skim any foam off the top.
Cover the pot with the lid slightly ajar, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are very tender, about 2 hours. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt in the last half hour of cooking (or once the beans are softened but still slightly crunchy in the middle). Discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.
While the soup is simmering, roast the sweet potatoes. Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork and roast on a foil-lined baking sheet until soft, about 1 hour. When cool enough to handle, peel the sweet potatoes or slice the potatoes and scoop out the flesh, whichever you find easier.
Combine the sweet potato flesh, maple syrup, a half teaspoon of salt, and one-third of the soup (including liquid and beans) in a blender. Process until smooth. Return the purée to the pot and stir to combine. If desired, add water (or more stock) for a thinner consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings with more salt and pepper. Simmer to rewarm the soup.
Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with parsley.
(Image credits: Emily Ho)