Tuesday, December 13, 2011

lima bean puree

lime bean puree, meatloaf, shredded brussels sprouts
hi. it's me.
you may remember me,
but just in case...

my name is brooke.
i cook and take pictures
of what i've cooked
and write about what i've
cooked and taken pictures of...
when i have time.

and even though cooking,
taking pictures and writing
rank very high on several lists:
(-things i'd prefer to be doing,
-things i love doing,
-things i'm often thinking about doing),
they also fall high on
another list:
-things i often need to ignore to make
way for life and work.

but, i refuse to give up on this little
blog-that-could, um, maybe-can.
and, i hope you don't either.
because even though it's taken me
almost three months to tell you about
this lima bean puree, i've thought
of it often and have been writing this
post in my head for almost as long.

larry and i spent our september wedding
anniversary in new orleans. while that might
sound romantic or sweet or well-planned,
it was none of those things. ok, wait. that's not fair.

let me start over.

we spent the summer trying to find one week
to go on vacation. but, suddenly,
it was almost the end of august
and we had not gone away, nor had we found a
week that would work. i looked and saw one free
five day period - starting tuesday afternoon,
that we could run somewhere, anywhere.
i also realized that this was it - if i held out for a
full week, i'd be waiting until after the first of the
year. we found a place with reasonable
fares and jumped into a half-assed vacation, feet first.

and during that time, we recognized that somehow,
our anniversary
fell during that 5 day period. suddenly,
we were going away for our anniversary.

we made many reservations - determined
not to miss out on the barbecued shrimp at Mr. B's,
the cochon at cochon - but, still, none for the evening
of our anniversary. i researched, trying not to be
ridiculously indulgent, trying to take the night
seriously. and, then, i found mila.

it was a small menu, which ordinarily turns me
off, but everything seemed just right. so, i read
a few reviews, made reservations and knew
that if the meal was a bust, we would probably
still be a little full from lunch, anyway.

the dinner was lovely.
we enjoyed a gorgeously arranged salad featuring
frisee and cornbread croutons and heirloom
tomatoes and large crystals of sea salt.
they brought us out celebratory glasses of
champagne, that we never would have thought
to order on our own, and i ate a pasta dish that
was decent, if not sorely in need of a squeeze
of lemon.
lima bean puree and sweet butter
but, what i fixated on that evening,
and what i continued to talk about in the same
breath as those barbecued shrimp when we got
home, was the lima bean puree that they served
in a little cast iron skillet,
alongside cornbread and sweet potato biscuits,
when we first sat down.

it was so simple.
warm lima beans blended into silkiness,
and lightly flavored with...i had no idea.
i preach that i love crazy combinations and
bold impressions. but, this puree was
neither and i couldn't get enough of
the subtle mystery flavor.

i asked the waiter - who was more than
happy to talk to us after learning that we
were from new jersey, too.
he came back and gave me this:
the lima beans were steamed.
they were then pureed with a pepper vinegar.
that was not it.

i talked about the puree on the walk back
to the hotel, on the plane ride home and
in the grocery store when i bought a bag
of dried lima beans to begin operation recreation.
lima bean close-up
i researched the recipe and found nothing.
i thought about calling the restaurant, but
let's be honest - i chickened out.
and, then i decided that i had to get started
or kiss my lima bean puree-obsession, goodbye.

for attempt number one, i decided to use
hot chile peppers. i'm not sure why - the puree
wasn't even slightly spicy. but, i really cannot
stand the flavor of bell peppers and i was pretty
sure that if they used them to make the
vinegar, i would have been able to taste it.
yet, i was pretty sure i was barking up the wrong
tree with the fresnos.

i cut the peppers into 1/2" pieces,
crushed a couple large cloves of garlic and
tossed both into white distilled vinegar.
lima beans, soaking
soaked lima beans
the next day, i simmered the soaked beans
until they were ultra tender and then transferred
them, still warm into the food processor.
(was that a mistake? would limas get pasty like
potatoes? should i have been using a masher?)
and even though it seemed like it was too simple,
i didn't have any other jumping points.
in food processor
so, i poured in a few tablespoons of the limas'
cooking liquid, a couple of the very spicy vinegar
and a couple of olive oil. i blended with my eyes
half closed and when the mixture seemed smooth,
i gave it a taste. it was...close. very close.
i added another tablespoon of the spicy vinegar,
and then one more for good measure, sprinkled
in a few more pinches of salt and blended again.

oh my goodness.
i did it.
first try.
blind guessing.
completely confused about the crazy spicy vinegar
that gave the lima beans a touch of mystery.
but, here it was, in my food processor.
hot and craving
a sweet potato biscuit.
i made larry - who i think enjoyed the puree
a normal amount the first time - try it.
he confirmed it tasted like mila's.
i was shocked. still am, if you can't tell.

and, then i realized:
no pictures. it had never even occurred to
me to take out the camera for what i assumed
would be a non-event. that was the beginning of october.
it took me until two sundays ago to make them
again, to serve alongside a turkey meatloaf and
shredded lemony brussels sprouts.
lima bean puree
i was worried that i wouldn't like it as much.
that i wouldn't be able to get it right again,
that the flavor wouldn't ring true or stand out.
but, from the moment that i tested one lima bean
to make sure it was tender enough to blend, i knew
we'd be ok. better than ok.
i still loved it - subtle, unexpected,
but somehow just right.

just like our anniversary trip this year.
anniversary champagne
the mark of new orleans
street lights
first raw oysters of the trip

lima bean puree
(kind of adapted from mila's)
i have to warn you one last time, this puree will not knock you over with its uniqueness or its shocking lingering flavor. but, it is a lovely mixture to serve with the intention of slathering on warm bread, or served alongside chicken, fish, or as we did on this night, meatloaf. also - know this: this puree will probably not be your best friend at a dinner party. while, you can keep it in the food processor covered for quite a while, if you try to serve it too early, it does form a bit of a crust on top, as it did at mila.

i reserved extra lima bean cooking liquid and stirred into leftovers the next night before reheating. the flavor and texture were pretty spot-on from the night before.

1 bag (16 ounces) dried lima beans, picked over
1/4-1/3 cup spicy vinegar (recipe below)
3-5 tablespoons lima bean cooking liquid
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

place lima beans in large bowl; cover with at least 3 inches cold water. stir to make sure all beans are submerged. let sit 6-8 hours (you can put them under water before you leave for work and make the puree when you get home).

drain beans. place soaked lima beans in large saucepot; cover with at least two inches water. bring to a boil; reduce heat to a bare simmer and let cook 45 minutes-1 hour, or until beans are very tender, skimming off foam as necessary. (to test beans, halve bean and look: you don't want the center to be any darker than the center. if the bean is the same color all the way through, it's a good sign you're ready to go. then taste it. there shouldn't be any resistance. but, for your most sure-on bet, use this trick i learned from anne burrell: after the first one is tender, check four more. if all five are soft and cooked through, it's time).

before draining beans, ladle out a cupful of cooking liquid. drain beans; let lima sit 10 minutes. transfer beans to bowl of food processor; add 1/4 cup spicy vinegar, 3 tablespoons cooking liquid and olive oil. process 30 seconds, or until smooth. taste; and adjust seasoning, adding more vinegar if the puree tastes too flat or more cooking liquid to smooth it out; season with salt and pepper. blend again, tasting and adjusting as necessary.

fresno pepper and garlic vinegar
5 large fresno chile peppers
3-4 large cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar

cut peppers into 1/2" pieces. smash garlic with back of knife. transfer peppers and garlic to glass jar or container; cover with vinegar and stir to combine. let sit at least one day before using. (note: the next day, the vinegar will be extremely spicy. that's ok - don't let it stop you from using it in the puree.)

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