Giant Lima Beans with Tomatoes and Oregano

With your more well-known beans, I don’t have too much trouble figuring out what to do.  Black beans make a great soup or salad base, white beans and pretty much anything go well together, and red beans just require a bit of spice.  And garbanzos, well, I could almost eat them every day.

Giant Lima Beans with Tomatoes and Oregano (4 of 6)

But my nose certainly crinkled a bit to get giant lima beans as part of my Rancho Gordo bean subscription.  The mealy sallow green crescents I remember eating from time to time as a child were not inspiring, with the fact that they were dried only being a new wrinkle.  What to do but turn to google.?

I’m happy to report that the same things that work so well for other beans do the trick here too.  Like all the herbs I grow in my backyard (and in contrast to all the vegetables and berries, which if they grow at all are eaten by squirrels and rabbits), my pot of oregano is lush and fragrant.  Its flavor in this pesto is as vivid as the color suggests, and is the indispensable flavor that brings this dish together.

Giant Lima Beans with Tomatoes and Oregano (1 of 6)

While this recipe unfortunately proceeds in many stages–cooking the beans, simmering down the tomato sauce, baking the whole thing together in the oven and topping with pesto and fried bread crumbs–it actually requires very little active work.  I cooked the beans and tomatoes one evening, then assembled the casserole the next day when I got home from work and immediately popped it in the oven to be ready for dinner a little while later.  A few minutes pounding on my mortar and pestle is always a therapeutic end to a workday, though you can use a food processor to make the pesto as well.

Giant Lima Beans with Tomatoes and Oregano (3 of 6)

And it probably goes without saying that this treatment would work nicely with any bean you happen to have on hand, but it’s nice to have something up my sleeve for when the next bag of gigantes shows up in my mailbox.

Giant Lima Beans with Tomatoes and Oregano (2 of 6)

Giant Lima Beans with Tomatoes and Oregano
  • Lima Beans
  • 3 cups (one pound) dried giant lima beans or gigantes, rinsed and picked over, then soaked for 4 hours or overnight and drained
  • Kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • One 14 or 16-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 cup coarsely crumbled feta cheese (6 1/2 ounces), for sprinkling
  • 2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs
  • Pesto
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • Kosher salt
  1. In a large saucepan, cover the lima beans with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the limas are just tender but still al dente, about 2 1/2 hours; add water as needed to keep the limas covered by 2 inches. Season the limas with salt and let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes. Drain the limas, and if desired, reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid for use in the tomato sauce.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderately low heat until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, oregano and the reserved bean cooking liquid (or 1 1/2 cups water) and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 1 hour. Season the tomato sauce with salt.
  3. In a mini food processor or with a mortar and pestle, combine the olive oil with the oregano, parsley and garlic and pulse to a coarse puree. Season the oregano pesto with salt. Press plastic wrap against the surface to help prevent browning while you store.
  4. Preheat the oven to 425°. Spread the limas to cover the base of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, and spread the tomato sauce on top (or mix together before putting in the dish). Sprinkle the feta on top. Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 40 minutes, until the beans are bubbling and the cheese is browned. Remove the baking dish from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the bread crumbs and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until toasted, about 3 minutes. Season with salt.
  6. Top the beans with the bread crumbs, dollop with the oregano pesto and serve.
The cooked limas, tomato sauce and pesto can be refrigerated separately overnight. Bring to room temperature before proceeding. While the original recipe suggested using some of the bean cooking liquid in making the tomato sauce, I used water instead as I was cooking both the beans and sauce simultaneously. To my mind, there was no significant flavor loss.

Giant Lima Beans with Tomatoes and Oregano (6 of 6)

Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad

The people at Rancho Gordo talk about their beans the way oenophiles talk about wine.  They can explain the subtle variances in flavor among Black Calypso Beans and Black Valentine Beans, and stock heirloom varieties with crazy names such as “Goat’s Eye,” “Christmas Lima” and of course don’t forget to call dear old “Good Mother Stallard.”  They’re not quite as cheap as buying from the bulk bin at the grocery store, but since it’s beans we’re talking about, they’re still not a bad buy.  You can do as I do and always order in bulk to save on shipping.  Dried beans are a pantry staple, after all.  And since it’s gardening season, it’s worth mentioning that these beans are so fresh you can plant them and grow your own.  They are so fresh they sprout almost immediately.

Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad (2 of 4)

As much variety as there is, most beans have a more well-known counterpart (i.e. don’t be put off by the fancy names if you can’t find the one you’re looking for).  Rio Zapes are similar to pintos, Yellow Eye Beans can stand in for cannelinis.  But it’s fun to try the recipes that have been crafted specifically for each variety, and Rancho Gordo has plenty on their website and more in their book, Heirloom Beans–even though Rancho Gordo provides recipes almost reluctantly, emphasizing that their beans are so flavorful that little elaboration is warranted.  Nevertheless, I’ve been coveting this book for a while, every since I gave it to my father-in-law two years ago for Christmas.  (I figured it would be bad form to pretend it accidentally ended up with my stack of gifts so I resisted the urge to “borrow” it).  I guess virtue or patience or something like that eventually pays off as I got my hands on a copy recently.

No news that I love my sweet potatoes–I’m still happily eating them, even if by early spring I should theoretically be sick of them.  Adding beans in to make this salad makes them a meal and not just a side dish–and since I left out the salad greens (since my kitchen is always understocked), it turned out to be one of those great salads that just gets better as it sits in your fridge.

This salad is pretty simple to make, especially if you are lazy like me and skip the adornments:  toasted pine nuts and fried fresh sage leaves.  This is a pity, I admit, because pine nuts are easy to toast (and given their price, it’s worth the effort) and my sage plants are roaring to life in the garden.  But no point hiding it.  I am sometimes lazy and wont to skip the glorious finishing touches–and this salad was delicious enough, bare-bones style.  I did pluck a few sage leaves for the garnish in my photos though, and I do provide the instructions if you are a bit more ambitious than I.  That redeems it somewhat right?

I’ve been a Rancho Gordo fan for a while–for my earlier posts on Rancho Gordo beans, see herehere and here.

Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad (3 of 4)

Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad adapted from Rancho Gordo’s Heirloom Beans

Notes:  Rancho Gordo suggests serving on top of a bed of watercress.  i used dried chervil and marjoram–having dried chervil is hard enough, let alone finding it fresh, so you can always leave it out–some suggest parsley or tarragon as substitutes, but I haven’t tried this.

  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 1T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2t salt
  • 2T pine nuts
  • 1c well-drained Rio Zape (or other pinto beans)

fried sage leaves

  • 1/4c grapeseed or safflower oil
  • 20 fresh sage leaves


  • 1 small shallot
  • 1t grainy mustard
  • 2T cider vinegar
  • 1/4c olive oil
  • 1T chopped parsley
  • 1t fresh chopped chervil (1/2t dried)
  • 1/2t chopped fresh marjoram (1/4t dried)
Preheat the oven to 400F.  Cut the sweet potatoes lengthwise into eighths, so you end up with wedges.  Then cut each wedge into triangles about 1/2-inch thick.  Place on a jelly roll pan or other baking dish, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt, and use your hands to mix.  Roast about twenty minutes until tender and starting to caramelize at the edges, turning with a spatula or shaking the pan a few times to help roast evenly.
Toast the pine nuts in a small heavy skillet over low heat, shaking the pan often and watching closely.  This should take about 4 minutes.  When the aroma rises, remove to a plate (don’t let them sit in the pan and watch carefully so they don’t burn–as with all toasted nuts, they go from beautifully fragrant to burnt quickly).
To fry the sage leaves, warm the safflower oil over medium high in a small heavy skillet.   (Presumably the one you just toasted your pine nuts in).  Fry the leaves a few at a time for 10-15 seconds, removing to a paper towel to drain.
For the dressing, choose the bowl in which you will be serving your salad.  Whisk together the shallot, mustard, and vinegar.  Drizzle the olive oil in in a thin stream, whisking all the while,  Then whisk in the the parsley, chervil, marjoram, salt, and pepper.
When the sweet potatoes are done, allow to cool somewhat, then add to the bowl with the dressing along with the beans.  Stir to coat and adjust for salt.  (Beans often need extra salt).

Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad (4 of 4)

Yellow Eye Bean Soup

A little while ago I placed a big order at Rancho Gordo Beans.  I heard about them by posting on Chow to ask where a good place was to get the more unusual types of beans.  Since then I’ve seen Rancho Gordo everywhere:  the founder has as a new cookbook and has been making the rounds on the media circuit–which is in fact where this recipe comes from, from a feature in the New York Times magazine.

Here’s a close-up of the cooked beans. 

Yellow eye beans

Yellow eye beans

Right now they are not available on the website, but a whole host of new beans are–I have a feeling they probably rotate types of beans pretty often–after all, there are thousands of heirloom varieties!  You can see pretty quickly where the name “yellow eye” came from.  But look also how robust they look:  unlike most dried beans, there’s no mushiness or falling apart.  That’s because they are so fresh, I imagine–funny to think about, but dried beans can have varying levels of freshness too.  Once you do bite in, they seem to pop in your mouth and then its delicious and creamy.  Cooking the beans has a delicious dividend–they make a lovely broth.  You use the cooking liquid as the stock in this recipe and it’s absolutely delicious.  The soup is light but filling and very fresh tasting (and hey Karen–it’s vegan!).  The recipe is nothing too unusual–a basic vegetable base, so it’s really the beans that make this something truly special.  Another reason I love these beans?  Little E is crazy about them!!!  I used up all my beans in this recipe, and I have to make it through several other types of Rancho Gordo beans (tepary, Indian woman, cranberry, Christmas lima, borlotti, etc) before I order more, but I will definitely be getting these guys again.

A tasty soup

A tasty soup

And as a final note:  the most interesting thing I heard coming out of Steve Sando’s media junket was that you can even plant one of the beans and it will grow into a bean plant.  Of course, I knew that in theory, that’s where beans come from, but it’s still pretty fun to think about!

Yellow Eye Bean Soup (adapted from the New York Times)

  • 3 cups yellow eye or yellow Indian woman beans, soaked 4 to 6 hours if possible
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 ribs celery, halved
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 head garlic, halved across the equator
  • Stems from 1 bunch Italian parsley, (tied in a cheesecloth sachet if you have it)
  • 2 tablespoons (kosher) salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the soup:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 5 ribs celery, diced
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, diced
  • 1 head garlic, cloves peeled and finely grated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red chili flakes, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or 2t dried
  • 1 cup canned tomatoes, drained and chopped (if whole)
  • 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley

1. Prepare the beans: Drain the beans and place them in a large pot. Add 3 quarts cold water, the carrot, celery, onion, garlic and parsley stem sachet. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the top. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the beans are soft and creamy, but not falling apart. (Start checking after 25 minutes; the fresher the beans and the longer the soak, the shorter the cooking time.) Add the salt, pepper and olive oil. Discard the sachet and vegetables. Let the beans cool in the liquid. 

2. Prepare the soup: Pour the olive oil into a large pot set over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, leeks, garlic, chili and rosemary. Cook until the rawness of the vegetables is just gone and the colors brighten, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until slightly caramelized, about 3 minutes more. Add the beans and their cooking liquid, bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, add the parsley.