I came across a classic bean dish during a 3-week tour of Turkey several years ago. The type of bean varied from place to place but the beans were always really large and cooked in a really delicate tomato sauce, seasoned with just the right amount Mediterranean spices. Regardless of the type of beans that were cooked in this dish, the textures and flavours were always incredible – so well balanced. But what I remember most, apart from the amazing flavour, was that the beans would be swimming in olive oil – and I do mean swimming! I cringe when I think about that now, but oh, what flavour! So addictive and so satisfying.
I don’t proclaim to reproduce that classic Turkish bean dish here but I’ve come up with something similar using jumbo lima beans. And I have completely omitted the oil. Jumbo lima beans are perfect in this dish – they are buttery and creamy and I absolutely love them. If you don’t have jumbo lima beans or can’t find them, you can use the regular sized dried lima beans or cannellini beans instead. It’s funny; I hated lima beans growing up. Of all the beans my mother served me when I was a child, I liked lima beans the least and yet they are one of my favourites now. Really!
The recipe below fills a 9X13-inch lasagna pan, which is a large amount for me but the beans keep well – 5-7 days refrigerated, so I usually make the full recipe, as I like having leftovers during the week. However, it wouldn’t be difficult to halve the recipe.
For practical reasons, I soak and cook the jumbo lima beans a day or so ahead and assemble the sauce ingredients when I am ready to bake.
- 1 pound dried jumbo lima beans
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 ½ cups chopped onion, or one large
- 1 cup chopped celery (approx 2-3 stalks)
- 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
- 3 jumbo cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 4-6 Roma tomatoes* coarsely chopped (about 2 cups, packed)
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme or oregano
- 2-3 sprigs fresh mint
- ½ tbsp. salt
- 1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
- 3-4 cups reserved cooking water from beans
For the dried jumbo lima beans
Soak dried beans 8 hours or overnight. They will double in size. Drain and rinse. Some of the beans may have released their skins into the water during the soaking time. You can remove the skins that are floating in the water but do not purposely remove the skins from the beans before baking as you could end up with a big casserole of mushy beans. It’s the skin that helps the beans hold their shape during the long slow cooking process.
Place soaked beans in a clean pot with 8-10 cups fresh water, bay leaf and 2 whole cloves garlic. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the beans for 40 minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt after 30 minutes of cooking. (Lima beans tend to produce more foam than other dried beans and you may have to remove the scum a few times while they simmer to prevent the pot bubbling over). Test the beans – they should be soft to bite but not mushy, and they should hold their shape. Discard the bay leaf and garlic cloves. Strain the beans, reserving 4 cups of the cooking liquid. You may not use all of it, but better to have excess than not enough. At this point the beans and cooking liquid can be refrigerated separately in covered containers for a few days until ready to complete the dish.
For the Sauce and Assembly
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a large bowl, place the chopped tomatoes, onions, celery, garlic, parsley and spices. Add 3 cups of the reserved cooking liquid and the cooked beans, gently stirring to distribute the ingredients. Pour everything into a 9 x 11-inch baking pan. The beans should be almost completely submerged in the sauce – stir in a little more of the cooking liquid or add a little extra water if necessary. Place the fresh sprigs of thyme or oregano and mint on top of the dish.
Now, you could sauté the onions, carrots, celery and garlic before adding the tomatoes, beans and reserved cooking liquid, but that’s an extra step, and I haven’t found it to be necessary. Either way, once everything is combined in your 9 x 13-inch dish, bake, uncovered, for 2 hours. Most of the liquid will be absorbed and the sauce will have thickened slightly. Allow baked beans to rest for about 15 minutes before serving. Adjust the seasoning and spoon over mashed potatoes or serve along side a chunk of rustic crusty bread to soak up the sauce.
*I have made this with canned tomatoes and did not like the flavour as much. Fresh tomatoes give the dish a much more delicate flavour, but in a pinch you could certainly substitute 1 28-0z can whole tomatoes. Chop the whole tomatoes before adding to the sauce.