Lima beans were originally cultivated in South America, from where they were brought to Europe, Asia, and Africa by European explorers. In the southern United States, lima beans are called butter beans, and the mottled purple varieties are called calico or speckled butter beans. Lima beans also may be referred to as Madagascar beans.
Lima bean plants bear flat, oblong pods about 2 to 4 inches in length that contain two to four smooth, kidney-shaped seeds. There are numerous varieties of lima beans, and their seeds vary in size and color. The commonly sold seeds are pale green, but purple, red, brown, black, and mottled ones are also available. The two most common varieties are the Fordhook and the baby lima, which is smaller and milder.
Lima beans are a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
Fordhook and baby lima beans are sometimes available fresh in their pods. Immature lima beans can be eaten fresh with or without the pods. Although mature pods are too tough to be edible, the seeds are available year-round in frozen, canned, and dried forms that are usually labeled according to size rather than botanical variety. Presoak dried beans, then simmer in water, covered, for 60 to 90 minutes.
Unlike many other types of beans, lima beans can be easily overcooked; they quickly become mushy if cooked longer than necessary to make them soft.
The taste of cooked lima beans is starchy but delicate. They can be boiled and served whole or mashed, or they can be added to soups and salads. In succotash, a traditional Southern dish that includes peppers, tomatoes, and corn, lima beans are the main ingredient.
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