Don't Spill The Beans
Updated: Jul 5
A few days ago Rory was playing restaurant and handed me a tray.
"Here's your lunch," she said.
"Thank you," I said. "That looks great. Why is this red thing here?" I asked.
"Because it's a Happy Meal," she replied.
Sweet moments like this make up for the monsoon messes that Rory is fond of making whenever the mood strikes her.
That red thing with the smiley face on the tray she handed me is half of the kettle that goes to the Don't Spill the Beans game.
Rory, naturally, has taken the game apart because she has no interest in using the beans to tip over a kettle. She plays with the beans in her pretend kitchen and restaurant, which basically encompasses my entire house.
No matter what room you are in, chances are that a plastic bean will find its way under your foot. The odds are even better if you're barefoot.
The kitchen, however, houses my favorite kind of bean: large, white limas.
No surprise that that besides the flour shortage, beans recently became a hot commodity. They are a great protein source with a long shelf life.
Who could have imagined that we would face shortages of things like beans and flour in our lifetimes?
Interesting to think that a generation from now the children will be listening to their parents pandemic stories, much the same as I grew up hearing depression stories.
Having worn hand me downs her entire childhood, my mom swore she would never again don another used article of clothing. She kept her word until the day she died, even eschewing gifts of gently worn clothes that well meaning friends and family sent when she lost everything due to hurricane Katrina.
"I will be fine," she insisted. "Please give these to someone more in need."
One of my favorite stories she told of her childhood was that her big toe had broken through her shoe, and there was no money for new shoes. Before school each day, she would color the toe with a black marker, hoping that it would blend in with the black shoe.
Dad had my children convinced that during the depression he would rifle through pants and coat pockets, looking for lint to snack on. "We were so poor we ate lint," was a favorite tale of his.
While that was an exaggeration, his story about beans was not. "We would go to our relatives house," he said, "and wait them out."
Manners dictated that you offer food to guests who were in your home at dinner time. "Eventually, they would add a little water to the bean pot and ask us to stay for supper."
While New Orleans is known for red bean and rice Mondays, it is our butter beans that are my favorite.
Large lima beans are what we call butter beans. They cook up as plump, white gobs of creamy, comforting goodness. Do not, by any means, confuse them with the bain of my elementary school cafeteria: green lima beans. They taste nothing alike.
One of my favorite meals as a child, Grandma cooked her butter beans with pickle meat. Pickle meat is yet another ingredient I lamented losing when I left New Orleans.
I remember running around grocery stores in New York, at eighteen, looking for pickle meat and Camellia beans. The clerks looked at me like I was crazy when I asked for them.
Pickle meat is a seasoned, pickled pork product, and the texture of cooked Camellia beans, in my opinion, is simply the best.
Meat is not necessary to make great butter beans, nor is Camellia brand (though if available, they are my first choice).
Butter beans, in fact, are one of the creamiest, most satisfying vegan dishes out there. If you are not a vegan yourself, they are a wonderful dish to have on hand if vegetarians or vegans are coming for dinner.
As far as pantry staples go, butter beans are hard to beat. They pack a knock out punch nutritionally, as well. Loaded with protein, fiber, iron, zinc and folate, butter beans help to prevent a slew of debilitating diseases.
I could also say they're budget friendly, but I'd rather say it like it is. Butter beans are flat out cheap. A full pound of dried beans costs around two dollars.
A pound of butter beans not only feeds a lot of people, but they can be used in a multitude of ways.
The first recipe below is my basic go-to. If you search butter bean recipes, you will find many variations, incorporating lots of other ingredients.
Those recipes aren't wrong, and may be, in fact, what you are looking for. My cousin, Kerry, and his wife, Cristy, won our family's hearts with Cristy's recipe.
The lovely couple batch cooks on select Saturdays, and have shared their bounty with family members in freezable quart containers.
Their version contains lots of seasonings like bell peppers, onions, garlic and meat. It is hearty, complex and tasty.
My basic recipe lacks the extra ingredients for a couple of reasons. First is that I'm a butter bean purist. I love the taste of the bean itself so much, that I do very little to alter the flavor.
Secondly, and more importantly, the basic recipe is quick, easy and results in the perfect starting point for other dishes.
Though butter beans are most often eaten over rice in New Orleans, I love them made into a soup. Garnished with balsamic carmelized onions, toasted pine nuts and a swirl of sour cream or yogurt, the soup is rich and tangy with layers of flavor.
With what you've saved by buying beans to begin with, you can splurge on some pine nuts and balsamic vinegar.
Some beans are set aside as the base for bean dip. I called it white bean hummus when I made it last, but Sam said, "No. This is bean dip." Whatever you call it, it's fantastic.
Butter bean dip can be flavored with so many things. Pesto, pine nuts, sriracha, chili oil and mint. It is a perfect pantry staple, lending itself to almost any flavorings you have on hand.
White chicken chili is one of Sam's favorite dishes utilizing butter beans. I add onions, garlic, poblano peppers and leftover diced chicken to a few cups of beans in their broth. A few spices, then simmer and serve topped with sour cream, shredded cheese and jalapenos.
Butter beans can be tossed into a salad, added to a grain bowl, combined with tomatoes for a Tuscan pasta dish, and so much more. They also freeze well.
A recent trip to my local grocery store showed that beans are back on the shelves. What better time than now to familiarize yourself with this inexpensive staple?
Do you have a favorite bean recipe? I would love to hear about it!
1 pound dried large lima beans
5 cups water
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
Rinse and sort beans. Place in a pot covered with a few inches of water. Cover and let sit overnight.
Drain beans. Add beans, water, thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns to a large pot. Adding salt at the beginning of cooking can make beans tough. The salt will be added at the end.
Bring to a boil and cook for ten minutes. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the beans are tender. Approximately 45 minutes.
It may be necessary to add water as the beans cook. Check periodically to be sure that the beans are covered, and add as much water as it takes to ensure that the water line is above the bean line. When done, the beans should be soft plump, and some of them will be falling apart.
Add salt and adjust pepper to taste.
Makes approximately 9 cups of beans with cooking liquids.
White Chicken Chili
1 tablespoon oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
3 small cloves garlic
1 teaspoon Cumin
1 teaspoon Oregano
Cayenne pepper to taste
3 cups white beans in cooking broth
2 cups diced chicken
Add all ingredients to a soup pot. Simmer on low for 30 minutes. Add salt if necessary.
Add chicken broth to thin if desired.
Garnish with cilantro sliced jalapenos, quartered limes, shredded cheese, sour cream and avocados.