All parents have a handful of stories they like to tell about their child. For instance, Dylan’s parents love to talk about how they took him to Greece when he was only 1 or 2 and he charmed the locals with his towhead and cute smile. For his little sister, the story most often told is about her first word, “balloon”, allegedly said when she was only 3 or 4 months old. Like many other parents, their stories verge on exaggeration to the point of disbelief- speaking at age 4 months? Really??
I can’t accuse my parents of the same, for their favorite stories about me and my brother are decidedly more pedestrian. My brother’s tale relates to a trip to Wendy’s around age 2 or 3. Up to his usual mischief (he was- and still is- something of little imp), he suddenly pointed to a large “W” on the wall and declared, “The W made me do it!” This has become something of a catchphrase to harass him with for the last, oh 20 years.
My own story also involves fast food, McDonalds, this time (ironic, since I probably haven’t set foot in one in several years). My parents would take me to McDonalds every so often when I was very small and had somehow brainwashed me such that while they ate burgers and fries and the usual fare, I would happily and obliviously eat a container of lima beans brought from home. It wouldn’t be so odd for a very small child, but I was old enough that I remember other kids around me looking at me and my meal strangely.
So it’s no wonder that I spent many years after that turning up my nose at the very mention of a lima bean. I had O.D.ed on those, raisins, and bananas during my childhood to the point that it was at least a decade before I was willing to try any of them again. But me and limas, we’re good now. We’ve mended fences and though I wouldn’t say they’re a staple in my diet, I’m perfectly happy to find them on my plate.
I had never really ventured into cooking lima beans in any significant way, but this recent recipe in the New York Times ‘Recipes for Health’ column (love it!) had me thinking it was high time I tried. This is not a recipe for traditional old, out-of-the-can baked beans, thank goodness, because I hate those with a passion. No, these beans taste fresh and healthy, with lots of nuance and flavor. They don’t look like much (a pile of orange-y mush, frankly), but they are just the sort of hearty, peasant fare that is perfect for these last days of chilly weather. Lacking crusty bread, we ate ours over brown rice and while it was delicious, next time I’d go with the crusty bread plus a sprinkle of feta on top (because what isn’t better with a little cheese?) The recipe makes a big batch so for those who love leftovers (ready-made lunches), this is a winner.
Greek baked beans with honey and dill (serves six to eight)
-1 pound dried large lima beans (or use dried white beans, first soaking for six hours or overnight in 2 quarts of water; then drain
-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
-1 large onion, preferably a sweet red onion, finely chopped
-1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
-1 bay leaf
-3 tablespoons honey, such as clover or acacia
-2 tablespoons tomato paste
-1/4 cup red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
-Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
-1/2 cup, loosely packed, chopped fresh dill
1. Combine the dried lima beans (or soaked, drained white beans) and water to cover by 3 inches in a large, oven-proof casserole or Dutch oven, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium size, heavy skillet over medium heat, and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until tender and lightly caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.
3. After 30 minutes, drain the beans and return them to the pot. Add the remaining olive oil, the tomatoes and the liquid in the can, bay leaf, honey, and 2 cups water or enough to just cover the beans. Stir in the onion, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover and place in the oven. Bake one hour, stirring often and adding water if necessary. Add the tomato paste, vinegar, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 30 more minutes, until the beans are tender and the mixture is thick.
4. Stir in the dill, cover and let sit 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with thick slices of country bread or rice.