Ottolenghi's Fried Lima Beans with Feta, Sorrel and Sumac

Shall I tell you all the plans I had for this past weekend?  They included a run with my dear friend last Friday, a fabulous fortieth birthday party for a pair of dear friends on Saturday (which would have included baby holding), and many hours watching Giants baseball on all three days (thankfully, they seem to have gotten out of their slump with this Dodgers series!).  Instead, my weekend was spent in bed, beneath a mountain of blankets and beside an equally high mountain of kleenex. After almost two years of avoiding one, I got a cold. And not just any cold. A spring cold.  The only thing worse than a spring cold is a summer cold.

Remember that fortieth birthday party I was scheduled to attend? Well, it was an outdoor one in a park complete with potluck dishes. There were to be babies that I could hold and nuzzle. Instead, I opted out of it, because I didn't want to hold and nuzzle babies and subsequently pass on this cold. Further, this fabulous lima bean dish is what I had planned to bring. Feel my pain now. Given that I had already begun to soak the beans before I convalesced, I felt obligated to make to cajole the husband to make the rest of the dish. Thank goodness he did, for then he coaxed me out from beneath the covers to have a bite. While my nose was stuffed up, I could certainly tell this tangy bean dish was one worth savoring. Which the husband most certainly did.  (I ate my bowl and then promptly fell asleep on the couch.)

Lima beans, you wonder. As a child I loathed the lima bean. Perhaps because the bean was so large, perhaps because it always seemed so mushy, I am not sure, but I most certainly dreaded eating it. However (and luckily) my palette has improved, and now I can appreciate these healthy legumes, even when I have a cold. A fiber all-star, this bean (also known as butter bean) helps manage blood sugar, purportedly can help prevent heart attacks, and contains almost 25% of your iron needs in one serving. The lesson here? Eat more lima beans. You actually like them (now) and they are good for you.

However, beyond the bean, there are a couple of other star ingredients: sorrel and sumac.

Sorrel is an arrow-leaf shaped herb that is apparently experiencing a resurgence. According to Food Lovers Companion, its tart, lemony flavor is the byproduct of oxalic acid (which is also highly present in Spinach and leads to that feeling of "Spinach Teeth"*). However, unlike spinach, sorrel has a characteristic sour taste that is often celebrated in spring soups. Should you not be able to find sorrel, you can easily substitute spinach with double the lemon or even arugula (which would be more bitter and much less sour).

*The link here leads to some of the worst pictures I have ever taken for this blog. Whoo boy!

Sumac is also enjoying a new heyday in America and Great Britain. The red berries from the sumac bush, which grows throughout the Middle East and Italy, are dried and ground in order to make a fruity, tart accompaniment to many a meat or vegetable, or in this case legume. Plus, it adds a pretty red accent to the dish. While certainly enjoying a newfound star status, sumac can  be tricky to find. Substitute smoked paprika in a bind.

Ottolenghi then combines all of these into one fabulous dish filled with the smooth, buttery quality of the lima bean, the sourness of both sorrel and sumac, and the tangy creaminess of feta. The husband reports this was more than delightful. I think it was, too, even though my tastebuds could pick up only a smidgeon of distinctiveness. Next time, I am making this dish when I am not nursing a spring cold and chasing my dinner with a shot of NyQuil.

Fried Lima Beans with Feta, Sorrel and Sumac
Adapted from  Ottolenghi's Plenty

4 servings

1 pound dried lima beans
2 tablespoons baking soda
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to finish
8 green onions, sliced lengthwise into long strips
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 fresh red chilies, thinly sliced
5 cups sorrel, cut into 3/4-inch strips, plus extra, very thinly sliced to finish
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 ounces feta, crumbled
2 teaspoons sumac
handful of chopped soft herbs, such as dill or chervil

1.  Place the lima beans in a large bowl and add twice their volume of cold water and the baking soda.  Leave to soak overnight.

2.  The following day, drain the beans, place in a large pan, and cover with plenty of water.  Bring to a boil and boil for at least 30 minutes, or until the beans are soft to the bite but are not disintegrating.  They could take over an hour to cook, depending on size and freshness.  Add more water during cooking if necessary.  When ready, drain the beans.

3.  To fry the beans:  You may need to do this in 3-4 batches, depending on the size of your pan.  Take some of the butter and oil and heat both up well.  Add enough beans to cover the bottom of the pan and fry on medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until the skin is golden brown and blistered.  Remove to a large bowl and continue with another batch of butter, oil and beans.

4.  When cooking the final batch, as soon as the beans are almost done, add the green onions, garlic, chilies, and sorrel.  Saute for about 1 minute.  Then add the rest of the beans to the pan, remove from the heart and season with the salt.  Allow the beans to cool down completely or until just warmish.

5.  Taste the beans for seasoning, drizzle some lemon juice on top, then scatter with feta, a sprinkling of sumac, chopped herbs, and the thinly sliced sorrel.  Finish with a drizzle of olive oil. 


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