Kitchn Love Letters

The Underappreciated Canned Bean That Reminds Me of French Fries

updated Jan 28, 2021
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Holly's canned food cabinet

What if I told you that you were overlooking a super-nutritious ingredient that costs about a buck and tastes as good as fried potatoes? (I seriously stand by this statement.) Well, say hello to butter beans. These big, creamy beans are the grown-up version of lima beans. Literally! Butter beans are what green, immature lima beans become when they mature. Somehow, I’ve never seen them get the recognition they deserve in the bean world, though. That needs to change, stat.

I rarely ever noticed butter beans in the store when I picked up cans of much more common cannellini beans or chickpeas sitting on the same display. A few years ago, however, I got a can in a meal kit from Purple Carrot, a plant-based meal subscription service by Mark Bittman. The meal in question was a pasta dish with broccoli and butter beans — and it immediately became one of my all-time-favorite weeknight meals that I make on repeat.

Credit: Dana McMahan

What makes this dish so much more than the sum of its simple parts is the way the pan-fried butter beans rival fried potatoes. Once cooked, they get this crispy, golden crust and creamy interior that I swear mimics french fries.

While I’ve tried many beans, I’ve never had another variety that cooks up this way. I think it’s because the butter bean hits this sweet spot in size that allows for a contrast in texture from the outside to the inside. They’re also (as the name would suggest) oh-so buttery, creamy, and just mild enough that they just soak up the flavor of whatever they’re prepared with.

Once I realized the magical properties of this legume, I started looking for ways to incorporate them into other dishes. The easiest way? Sub them into any recipe that calls for any type of white bean. We love pan-fried butter beans with kale, nutmeg, lemon, and walnuts based on a recipe from 101 Cookbooks (that uses giant corona beans). These beans are also delicious in soups like a New York Times lemony shrimp and bean stew (instead of cannellini). I plan to pair them with gnocchi — potato pasta, meets potato-esque bean! — and while I’ve never tried this, I also think they’d blend up into an excellent “hummus.”

Credit: Dana McMahan

These are such a staple in our house, they’re on the short list of things we always have on our grocery list. Somehow I only have two cans in the pantry at the moment, but typically I’d have at least four or five cans to be safe. I’ve tried just about every brand of canned butter beans and find that each one is just as good as any other, so I typically just grab the cheapest store brand option I can find. Because I love them so much, I’m definitely interested in exploring their dried form — so, naturally, I have the Rancho Gordo large white limas on my wish list. 

Credit: Dana McMahan

Do butter beans need their own marketing campaign? If so I’ll totally volunteer to lead that effort!

Have you tried butter beans? Do you love them as much as this writer?