Butter beans are meant for more! Sure, butter beans pair wonderfully with bacon (what doesn’t?) but it’s time we unlock the true potential of these firm-yet-creamy gigante beans. Butter beans are hearty, creamy, nutty and mild in flavor making them the ideal candidate for simmering in a fresh tomato sauce laced with shallot, garlic and cumin seeds. Dig in with a spoon, piece of naan or pile onto a piece of toasted sourdough. However you serve it, this butter bean recipe is a winner!
What are Butter Beans
Butter beans, also known as lima beans, are large, creamy-white legumes with a buttery texture and mild flavor. They are rich in protein, fiber, and essential nutrients such as folate and iron. Butter beans are commonly used in cooking to add depth and creaminess to dishes. They are an excellent choice for soups, salads, and spreads (like our Edamame Hummus).
Butter Beans, Lima Beans and Gigante Beans
Lime beans and butter beans are terms often used interchangeably, referring to the same type of large, flat, creamy-white beans with a mild flavor and buttery texture. Butter beans and lima beans are exactly the same and can range in color from green to creamy white. The species of legume is called Phaseolus lunatus. How this legume is referred to can vary depending on region. The term “butter beans” is more common in the Southern United States while “lima beans” is more widely recognized throughout the world.
On the other hand, gigante beans stand apart due to their larger and plumper size compared to butter beans/lima beans. While each variety of bean shares a nutty taste, gigante beans are notable for their firmer texture when cooked. (Butter beans / lima beans are known for their creaminess, hence the name butter bean.)
The most important thing to remember—each variety can be used interchangeably for one another.
How to Cook Dried Butter Beans
Butter beans can be purchased dried, canned and frozen. For this recipe we recommend seeking out canned butter beans. If you’re using dried beans, below is a quick rundown on how to cook them.
Cooking Dried Butter Beans on the Stove Top
Combine 1 cup rinsed dried beans, 4 cups water and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until tender, about 1 hour. Drain and use as desired.
Cooking Dried Butter Beans in an Instant Pot
Combine 1 cup rinsed dried beans, 3 cups water and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in the Instant Pot. Set the valve to sealing. Cook on high pressure for 14 minutes. Naturally release the pressure. Drain and use as desired.
How to Make This Butter Bean Recipe
This stove-top butter bean recipe is fairly simple and straightforward. Just a handful of pantry ingredients, some fresh tomatoes and aromatics is all you need.
Olive Oil and Vinegar: make sure you use a good quality olive oil. We like to use extra-virgin olive oil here. Then you’ll need just a splash of vinegar to balance out all the other flavors. Use any white vinegar you have—distilled white, white wine and rice vinegar all work well. Avoid any type of balsamic vinegar.
Garlic and Shallot: minced shallot and sliced garlic add a nice amount of flavor to this dish. Plus, sliced garlic is more mild than minced so there’s no fear of the garlic taking over the other flavors. (Learn more about how prepping garlic can impact its flavor and potency.)
Tomato Paste: a couple tablespoons of tomato paste bolster the sauce by giving it body and depth of flavor.
Red Pepper Flakes: just a dash of crushed red pepper adds an undertone of heat. Like things more spicy? Feel free to be a bit heavy handed.
Tomatoes: you can use cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes. Grape tomatoes are oblong and shaped like grapes. They are smaller and have thicker skins than cherry tomatoes. They’re also less sweet and a bit meatier than cherry tomatoes. So, if you aren’t keen on tomato skins, opt for cherry tomatoes.
Sugar or Honey: all the savory and tart flavors need a bit of sweetness to balance them out!
- Soften the aromatics in olive oil.
- Add the tomato paste and spices and cook until fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook until the tomatoes are softened.
- Stir in the beans, cover and continue to cook until the beans are soft and the tomatoes are jammy.
- Off heat, stir in the vinegar and sugar; season to taste with salt and additional pepper flakes.
These saucy gigante beans are absolutely delicious served as is with some warmed naan or pita. We also love to serve them on toasted and buttered sourdough or on top of a piece of bread with cottage cheese. This butter beans recipe is a great appetizer or vegetarian meal! To make this meal go even farther, serve them with some grilled shrimp over a bed of cooked orzo pasta.
- The texture of canned butter beans can vary quite a bit by brand. Some beans are firmer than others. We recommend opening the can or jar and tasting a few of the beans. If they are fairly firm, use them as directed in the recipe. However, if they are pretty soft and don’t need much additional cooking, wait to add them to the tomato sauce until later in the cooking process.
- If you can only find frozen butter beans, thaw them before using them in this recipe.
- If you can’t find canned butter beans you can use white kidney beans (aka cannellini). They tend to be much softer in texture out of the can, so wait to add them until the tomatoes are down cooking and stir them in right at the end just to warm through.
Storage and Reheating
Store leftover cooked beans in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat gently on the stove top or in the microwave in 30-second increments.
You can freeze cooked beans for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating and enjoying.
Butter Beans Recipe
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 3 large cloves garlic, sliced
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can butter beans or gigante beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar, (distilled white vinegar or white wine vinegar)
- 1 teaspoon sugar or honey
- Heat 6 tablespoons oil in a large saut´ pan over medium heat until just barely shimmering.
- Add 1 minced shallot and 3 cloves sliced garlic; season lightly with salt and cook until softened, about 4 minutes.
- Stir in 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, ½ teaspoon pepper flakes, and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Stir in 8 ounces halved cherry or grape tomatoes, bring to a simmer, cover and cook until softened, about 3 minutes.
- Uncover, add 1 drained can butter beans, cover and cook until beans are tender and tomatoes are jammy, 6–10 minutes, stirring halfway through. (Cook time will largely depend on how soft your beans are out of the can. If they are very soft, wait to add them until the tomatoes are already cooked down a bit. If they aren’t soft, add them with the tomatoes.)
- Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vinegar and 1 teaspoon sugar; season to taste with salt and additional pepper flakes.