Monday, December 22, 2008

What's To Love About a Lima Bean?

The green, moon-shaped lima bean, also known as butterbean, is a staple of Southern kitchens. Available fresh in states in the South of the United States and canned or frozen elsewhere, lima beans are served as an accompaniment to rice or stirred in with corn to make succotash, although more complex presentations are possible.

The lima bean is protein-rich. This is both good and bad. One laboratory found that dried lima bean is up to 71 percent protein. The bean is rich in lecithin that lowers cholesterol in high-cholesterol diets. The simple lima bean is a source of protease inhibitors that inhibit HIV and possibly other viruses.

On the other hand, the lima bean, more than most other beans, has a defense mechanism that turns its proteins into poisons when the plant is threatened by insect predators. Raw lima beans contain haemagluttinins that interfere with blood clotting. They also contain trace amounts of cyanide, enough to interfere with the pancreas’ release of the starch-dissolving enzyme amylase, and tannins that cause indigestion and gas, although these chemicals are removed by cooking (or, in the case of dried beans, soaking in water, draining off the soaking water, and cooking). Much of the bean that is not protein is phytate, a compound that blocks the absorption of iron from other foods, although this is partially removed by cooking. Lima beans are completely inappropriate for raw foods diets.

The bottom line is, you can eat lima beans every day and they will enhance your health, but you should take your cue from Southern cooking and “boil them to death.” Ignore cookbook advice to cook limas until they are just tender. Mushy is better for you. Here are two preparations, however, that make the most out of “overcooked” limas.

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