Christmas lima beans, with speckled, swirled coats of maroon and cream, are one of the world’s most beautiful dried beans. When properly cooked, their texture is firm and their taste nutty.
Christmas limas are a perfect foil for strong, spicy flavors and are robust enough to serve on their own as a salad, spread, side dish, or main course. They go particularly well with wild mushrooms, bitter greens, and strong-flavored fish like salmon or mackerel.
The Ark of Taste is a list of endangered food plants and animals that the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity seeks to protect and defend. Christmas limas (Phaseolus lunatus), also known as chestnut limas, are now on the Ark of Taste list for the United States.
According to the Ark of Taste website, “gastronomic accounts date the Christmas Lima Bean to the 1840s when it was especially popular in the southwestern region of the US. … It is used in both its mature green state as a shelled Lima for eating fresh, freezing or canning as well as used dried, and cooked into stews and casseroles. The Christmas Lima is very successful in the high desert environments of the southwest. They are hardy, heat tolerant and very productive—a bean known for its yield and versatility.”
A couple days ago, I found myself with time to kill at Natural Pantry, an Anchorage store that started as a health food/vitamin store. Over the years, without my noticing it, Natural Pantry has added an extensive line of gourmet and specialty food products. Each aisle brought new surprises. I left with two full bags of hard-to-find-in-Anchorage ingredients, including a package of Christmas Lima Beans.
One final, but important, note: Dried Christmas lima beans are delicious. Other than genes, they have nothing in common with the nasty green frozen limas I remember from childhood.