A fall stew recipe that will make you love lima beans — really

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Meet maroon-hued Christmas Limas, a redemptive bean that works to give limas back their good name. Years ago, I tried writing a short story where the main character planted a garden that would become the lasagna she served to entice her future lover. The character plants tomatoes, garlic and […]

Click here to view original web page at www.post-gazette.com

The ingredient list for this vegetarian stew includes Christmas lima beans, tomatoes and celery.

Meet maroon-hued Christmas Limas, a redemptive bean that works to give limas back their good name.

Years ago, I tried writing a short story where the main character planted a garden that would become the lasagna she served to entice her future lover. The character plants tomatoes, garlic and onions, and wheat for the noodles. She buys a cow to make cheese — that kind of thing. It takes years.

The story never really came together as a piece of fiction, but this season I did find myself planting a garden that grew toward a simmering batch of homemade Christmas Lima Bean Stew.

That’s what the variety is called. I’m not going for a cute Christmas in September theme. I first came across these plump and pretty marbled maroon legumes on the bean mecca site Rancho Gordo. I tried them on a whim and have never looked back. There, you can mail order a one-pound bag for $7.25 for cooking, or you can be me and poke a bunch of dried limas into the cold, South Side Slopes soil in March in order to grow enough to make one big pot of stew in late September.

It just depends on what you want to do with your time, and I did not mind watching these Christmas Limas grow up and out of their tall bean cages to wave their long bean vine arms in the crisp air. I did not mind that the groundhogs paid them absolutely no attention. I did not mind at all.

The Rancho Gordo site tells us these beans offer “a rich full-bodied chestnut flavor, with a velvety texture,” which is exactly true. These aren’t the gray-green frozen limas boiled for your childhood dinner plate. These are redemptive limas that work to give limas back their good name.

The funny thing is that, by accident, on purpose, I also grew garlic, celery, scallions and tomatoes — all of the other essential ingredients in my all-time favorite stew recipe, which has way more celery than you think should be in one stew, way more beans, too much olive oil, and caraway seeds, of all things.

Trust me. This stew is exactly what you want as the air turns crisp and the leaves reconsider their color. This stew has made my story come true, and it’s vegan, so there was no need to consider buying a cow.

Christmas lima beans
Christmas Lima beans in Sherrie Flick’s garden.

The fall garden is a strange animal. The weather starts to replicate spring temps and gardeners find themselves making a full circle back to where they started — in a flannel shirt and jeans — out there in the hopeful morning light trying to see what they’ve done and what’s left to do in the garden beds.

I have a second variety of shelling beans drying on the vine: Little Red Cut Shorts, an heirloom saved by Susan Heath of West Virginia. A packet of these beans arrived as a Patreon perk from Lost Creek Farm in Lost Creek, W.Va. Run by the duo Mike Costello and Amy Dawson, who are amazing farmers, bakers, cooks, artists, musicians and storytellers, they work to grow heirloom varieties, preserve mountain recipes and help conserve the West Virginian farmland that has been in Amy’s family for six generations.

These bean vines outwitted the critters and grew up my 12-foot sorghum. The dried pods hang in clusters and are filled with shiny, small, deep-red beans that I can’t wait to try. I also have peas and baby bok choy coming in as the tomatoes dwindle and the pie pumpkins turn orange.

The Harlequin beetles are going to town on the kale that I saved from the groundhogs, but some will be salvaged. I’m harvesting a lot of yellow Monte Gusto string beans from my second post-groundhog blitz planting. If all goes well, my experimental roselle hibiscus, which I started from seed and have grown into two big bushes, will bloom in October and I’ll get to write about drying the flowers to make tea.

I’ll plant the garlic in October for harvesting next summer, and I’ll soon put everything else to rest for the winter months that I don’t like to think about, but will be here soon enough. The Christmas Lima Bean Stew freezes well, so set some aside to get you through February.

Christmas Lima Bean Stew

Christmas lima bean stew

PG tested

16 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 large heads of celery, preferably with leaves, trimmed then sliced into ¾-inch chunks

3 bunches of scallions, green parts included, divided

8 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

Scant 2 teaspoons caraway seeds, lightly crushed

Fine grain sea salt

1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, drained, rinsed, cored and roughly chopped

2-4 teaspoons celery salt, divided

1 pound dried Christmas Lima beans or 2½ pounds cooked beans

5½ cups water or broth or combination

Oily black olives, seeded and roughly chopped, for garnish

1 lemon, sliced

Prepare dried beans: Drain and rinse beans after an overnight soak covered with water. Place the drained beans in a large saucepan and cover with an inch or two of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the beans are cooked through and tender (1-2 hours). Remove from heat, and salt the beans (still in bean broth) until the bean liquid is tasty. Let the beans sit like this for 10 minutes or so before draining, reserving a couple cups of the bean broth. Set the beans aside. At this point you can use the beans, refrigerate for later use, or bag and freeze.

Heat 12 tablespoons (⅔ cup) of the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the celery, and stir until coated with olive oil. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. Add two-thirds of the scallions, the garlic, caraway, and a couple big pinches of salt. Cook for another 10-15 minutes, or until everything softens and begins to caramelize a bit.

Add the tomatoes and 2 teaspoons of the celery salt and cook for another few minutes.

Add the beans along with 5½ cups liquid (I typically do 2 cups bean liquid/broth and 3½ cups water), and remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil.

Bring to a simmer, taste, and season with more salt or celery salt if needed. Let sit for a couple minutes and serve each bowl topped with a spoonful of chopped olives and a squeeze of lemon. You might also like to serve the soup sprinkled with the remaining scallions/spring onions.

Serves 8-10.

— Heidi Swanson, www.101cookbooks.com

First Published September 19, 2022, 3:00am

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