I was a unique child.
Especially when it came to food.
For a long time I hardly ate anything, save french fries. If it wasn't a french fry, I wasn't interested. Then came cinnamon toast and pepperoni sandwiches. When I got home from my first day of first grade, I ate nearly an entire loaf of bread in cinnamon toast form. I finished one slice then asked for another and another and another until the loaf was almost gone and the cinnamon-sugar supply ran dangerously low. Since it wasn't a french fry, Mom obliged. She was happy that I was eating something other than a fried potato. Then there were the pepperoni sandwiches. Thinly sliced pepperoni, sauteed until crisp in a frying pan, then tiled on mayonnaise-slathered white bread. It sounds totally disgusting but trust me: cured meat heaven. I'd still eat those sandwiches today, if I ate red meat. You can understand why Mom was concerned about my nutrition: french fries, cinnamon toast and fried pepperoni sandwiches do not a balanced diet make.
With the way I ate, you never would have guessed that I would someday transform into the food lover that I am. Though once, in fifth grade, I had to do a cooking demonstration for what reason I cannot recall. I chose to make no-bake chocolate cookies but I chose to perform the entire demonstration in Julia Child's accent. Now, I ask you, what fifth grader even knows who Julia Child is, let alone has the desire to stand in front of a room of her peers and imitate the French Chef? It is such an odd thing for a kid to want to do, yet there I was, effecting Julia's legendary voice. Clearly there was a little Epicurean obscured under those layers of fries and toast and pepperoni, even if I didn't know it yet.
Strangely enough, my potato/toast/pepperoni psychosis yielded to lima beans. Man, I loved lima beans. Sometimes I felt very lonely in this regard: not even my parents liked them. I, however, could eat them by the plate-full. I often did: sometimes plain, sometimes mixed with a scoop of mashed potatoes. Starchy goodness! Fordhook, baby, no matter the variety, I was on board. I felt superior; even though I had a freakish diet, I rationalized, I am eating lima beans, which are so good for you that everyone hates them, even the adults! Lima beans gave me license to consume fried things and things coated in sugar. Lima beans gave me an inch, and I took a mile of bad nutrition.
Several decades later, my diet has changed to be sure. I enjoy a wide variety of foods, and love trying new things. Yet the freezer remains stocked with lima beans, because I still love them and they continue to help me feel self-righteous about some of the less-healthful things I eat on a semi-regular basis. Beyond all the moralizing, however, lies the plain fact that lima beans are delicious. They don't have to be blanched and plainly piled on your dinner plate. There are lots of amazing things you can do with lima beans -- I swear.
Take this salad that I found nestled in the pages of "Martha Stewart Living." It sees my beloved lima beans and raises them with chickpeas. And basil. And Pecorino. And zucchini. And hot pepper flakes. This salad is a wonderful way to enjoy lima beans no matter their position in your culinary repertoire. If they are old favorites, as they are to me, this dish is an exciting new way to experience them. If you aren't sure whether you can get excited about lima beans, perhaps this recipe will change your perspective on what they can be and how they can taste. The lima beans marry quite nicely with their legume brethren, the chickpeas. The tiny Pecorino cubes add a pleasing salty, chewy component, while the lemon juice and kosher salt perform admirably in their role of softening the raw red onion and the romaine. The black pepper and the red pepper flakes add just a hint of heat, lingering nicely in the background without overtaking the salad. The basil adds a brightness that reminds you that you're eating a fresh, modern iteration of the lima bean -- not the overcooked, mushy, gray bean you might remember from your youth.
As with most salads, this recipe couldn't be easier to make: assemble ingredients, toss. It works well as a side dish or as a summer salad, and with spring trying to rear its pretty flowery head who couldn't use a sunny culinary kick-start to the season? Of course, I often eat this dish as an entree because I find the lima beans and chickpeas meaty and filling enough to sate even my most ravenous appetite. The very best part? You can feel good about this meal.
Make this salad, then call your mother and inform her that you're eating your lima beans. Even if she's on the fence regarding the humble legume, the part of her that will always view you as an eight-year-old will be delighted that, finally, you've caved and cleared your plate. She no longer has to send your uneaten food to those starving kids in China.
LEMONY LIMA BEAN, CHICKPEA AND ZUCCHINI SALAD
1 c. fresh or frozen lima beans, blanched
1 c. canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/4" pieces
1/2 small red onion, halved and sliced very thinly
3 romaine leaves, cut in half lengthwise and cut crosswise into thin strips
2 oz. Pecorino cheese, diced
4 T. chiffonade of fresh basil
4 1/2 t. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
3/4 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. freshly-ground black pepper
(Photo credit: Dad. See, Dad? I am crediting you for your excellent work!)
While the lima beans are cooling, prep the rest of the ingredients. When you're ready to eat, combine the lima beans, chickpeas, zucchini, romaine, Pecorino and basil in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Toss to combine.
Serve! Then go back for seconds. And thirds. Trust me.
Serves about 4. Though tonight there were three of us and we emptied the bowl. I suppose the yield depends entirely on how your friends and family feel about lima beans and how willing they are to shatter their preconceptions. Yes, lima-bean eating is serious, groundbreaking business.