Quick Recipes and Easy

How to Cook Lima Beans (aka Butter Beans)

There wasn’t a Thanksgiving in my home, when I a was a girl, that didn’t include lima beans. For that matter, lima beans were a side dish at practically every Sunday-with-the-kinfolks meal. Only, we usually called them butter beans.

Lima beans are well loved in the southern part of the United States, perhaps less so in other regions, but excellent anywhere and any time, in my biased opinion. The trick is to cook them right.

Oddly enough, cooking lima beans the right way does not mean cooking them the way I remember most of my southern kin did it, and even the way the restaurants we frequented did. They all seemed to reckon you had to cook them into mush, as well as oversalt them. If that’s how you are used to eating lima beans, and you delight in them that way, then don’t let me stop you. But be aware that the recipes I give below are calibrated to produce limas that are about halfway between “hard” and “mush” on the cooked beans scale.

One fact I recently learned is that lima beans are more southern than even I had suspected: They were being grown and eaten in South America thousands of years ago.

Fresh lima beans are the best, although they require more work to prepare, including shelling them. You’re most likely to find fresh limas at a farmer’s market, especially in the South.

Alternately, feel free to use the dried or frozen ones that your supermarket carries. You can probably find both large and small (“baby”) sizes; my preference is for the small ones as they seem to be more resistant to turning mushy as you cook them, but either will work fine.

If you start with dried lima beans, you should soak them for at least five hours and preferably overnight before cooking. Keep in mind that dried limas will swell from soaking and cooking, at least doubling in volume. So, a cupful of dried limas will cook up to 2 cups or a small more.

Lima Beans, Southern Style

If you go to a down-home style restaurant or cafeteria in the South and order lima beans, the odds are 10 to 1 that this is how they’ll come out to the table. We’re talking authenticity here!


1 lb. lima beans, large or small (dried limas commonly come in 1-lb. packages)
1 chopped onion
1 or 2 ham hocks
1 large clove of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon cooking oil


1. Soak lima beans overnight (if using dried beans)

2. Rinse beans in a colander under cold running water.

3. Dump beans into a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes.

4. Remove beans from heat, cover and let stand until honestly well cooled–at least 30 to 45 minutes. Then, drain the beans and set them aside.

5. In the pot, saute ham hocks, onion and garlic in cooking oil until the onion turns clear. Place in the beans and cover it all with water. Add salt and black pepper.

6. Bring pot to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add water as necessary to keep the beans covered.

7. After a half-hour of simmering, start checking on beans to see how well cooked they are. You might want to stop the cooking early, depending on how tender they are–and whether or not you like your lima beans mushy!


This is the other main way to delight in lima beans, at least where I grew up. Succotash basically just means lima beans and corn. The onions and tomatoes give it extra interest.


3 cups lima beans
3/4 cup onions, diced
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
3 cups kernel corn, already cooked (according to package directions)
2 cups peeled and diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper


1. Place lima beans in large pan or pot. Cover with water and boil 4 to 6 minutes, or until beans are tender. Drain.

2. Melt butter or margarine in a small skillet over medium heat, then pour into the pot you will be cooking the beans in.

3. Add beans, onion, corn and tomatoes to the pot. Saute for 4 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Remove from heat, mix in the salt and pepper, and serve.

Sarah Sandori is the food and entertaining columnist for the solid-gold.info/index.html Solid Gold Info Writers Consortium. Have you ever wanted to be able to exactly duplicate a favorite dish from a favorite restaurant? Check out Sarah’s article where she reveals her source for the most mouth-watering secret restaurant recipes in America: solid-gold.info/most-wanted-recipes.html solid-gold.info/most-wanted-recipes.html

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