Dark Days: Christmas Limas with Caramelized Onions & Bacon

Something a little special for the last Dark Days Challenge of the season: local heirloom lima beans! “Local” because I smuggled them home in my luggage after my trip to San Francisco last spring.   “Dark” because it’s been raining for three days straight and the sun is a distant, fond memory.  “Challenge” because, well – they’re lima beans.

Let’s face it, the lima bean gets no love.  I’m not even sure why. I can’t remember a single time that I even tried a lima bean in my youth; I think I just assumed (like oh, so many other things) that I wouldn’t like them. I can’t remember many times as an adult either; it’s not like lima beans are crowding the nation’s menus.  Maybe that’s why they call baby lima beans “butter beans,” a name-switch a la prune = dried plum (hat-tip David Lebovitz) in an effort to convince people to eat the dreaded lima. I’m no different from the rest of the nation, I guess.  I don’t avoid limas, per se, but I certainly have not been seeking them out.  But when faced with the utter gorgeousness of the Rancho Gordo Christmas limas at the San Francisco Ferry Market last Spring, well, I just had to have some.  If I could have made a necklace out of them, I would have; as it was, I decided to cook them instead.

Despite sitting on my shelf for nearly a year, these beans cooked up pretty fast. They were enlarged after only a 4-hour soak, and then softened after 45 minutes of simmering.  I finished them with a simmer of about an hour, but I should have stopped about 15 minutes earlier; they were just this side of too soft for me.  But, live & learn.  I can’t say that I’m a total lima bean convert; I couldn’t help thinking how it would taste with other varieties of bean. The Christmas limas, however, which are supposed to taste like chestnuts, do seem to go particularly well with the savory onion and bacon.  And about that bacon-and-caramelized-onion combo? O.M.G. Where have you been all my life?  To die for.  I know it’s hardly groundbreaking (newsflash – caramelized onions are tasty! so is bacon!), but I’ve never actually made this combination before; I think I could eat it on anything. Everything.  I’m going to have some on ice cream later tonight.  Chocolate ice cream.  You think I’m kidding.  Oh yes it will be mine.

Update: Great stomachs think alike. See The Kitchn’s take on the original recipe, as part of their Spring allium recipe round-up.

Adapted from Florida Butter Beans with Caramelized Onions and Bacon in Heirloom Beans by Rancho Gordo’s Steve Sando


Christmas Limas with Caramelized Onions & Bacon


  • ½ lb Christmas lima beans, soaked in cool water to cover by 2 inches for 4 – 8 hours
  • 4 slices good-quality bacon, diced (I used smoked chipotle bacon)
  • 2 and ½ medium onions, divided (I used a combination of red, yellow and Cippolini)
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • salt & freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tbsp red wine, or water, for deglazing
  • 1 and ½ tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch (optional, for thickening pot liquor)


  1. Transfer beans and their soaking liquid to a medium saucepan; add more water to cover by 1 inch (if necessary) and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to the lowest setting and simmer, covered, until beans just begin to soften, about 30 – 60 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, fry the bacon until crisp, stirring occasionally; pour the bacon + grease into a metal strainer suspended over a heat-proof bowl (to capture the bacon grease). 
  3. Dice ½ an onion to ¼-inch cubes.
  4. Add 2 tbsp bacon grease back to the skillet, heat until shimmering over medium heat, then add diced onion and celery.  Sauté over medium-low heat until softened, about 3 – 5 minutes; add garlic and sauté another 2 to 3 minutes.  Add vegetables to beans, stir, and raise heat to bring back to a simmer.  Reduce heat again and simmer beans, covered, until tender, about another 45 – 60 minutes.  At about 30 minutes, add 2 teaspoons salt (or to taste; I found these needed a lot of salt).
  5. Meanwhile, slice the remaining onions into thin half-moons.  Heat 2 tbsp of the bacon grease in the skillet over low heat (reserve remaining grease for another use).  Sauté the onions, slowly, over low heat, until nicely browned and caramelized, about 30 – 45 minutes.  Stir periodically, and add additional bacon grease or a touch of wine or water if onions begin to stick.  When onions are done, add remaining red wine, chopped parsley, bacon, and a generous dash of salt and black pepper.  Stir well and heat bacon through; keep warm over low heat or by turning off heat and covering pan.
  6. When beans are tender, drain, reserving the bean broth. Return the pot liquor to the saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil over high heat until reduced by half; whisk in optional cornstarch to thicken the broth (or continue to reduce).  Taste broth and adjust salt & pepper.
  7. Spoon beans into warmed bowls; ladle in a bit of reduced bean broth, and top with caramelized onion-bacon mixture. Garnish with a touch of fresh parsley.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.


  1. The original recipe called for Florida Butter Beans (which are dried baby lima beans) and 3/4 tsp of fresh thyme instead of parsley. The original did not call for reduction of the bean broth for a sauce; you can skip this step, but I thought it was quite delicious this way. 
  2. I would definitely make this again; for a completely local version (when I haven’t had the good luck to visit San Fran recently), I might try pinto beans or a smooth, creamy white bean.  I bet it would be killer with fresh favas in season. 


I expect these will be even better tomorrow. I will store the beans with their broth, and expect it will thicken nicely overnight and pick up some of the flavor of the bacon & onions. Yum.  Should last up to 1 week refrigerated.


Year round, but nice Winter to Early Spring dish.


  • Christmas limas: Rancho Gordo (on a visit to San Francisco last Spring)
  • Onions, garlic, parsley: Madura Farms, Goshen, NY
  • Bacon: Smoked chipotle bacon, Mountain Products Smokehouse, LaGrangeville, NY
  • salt, pepper, cornstarch & celery: Away


  1. This rain is insane. I feel lucky I don’t have a basement to worry about!

    I love limas and have since childhood (school lunch was corn, limas and spam!) . . . but I think I’d love maroon limas even more. Did you see Alicia’s recent lima love?

  2. local kitchen

    I know – we have an actual river in the backyard. Luckily, the sheer volume seems to be working in our favor as the river is bending away from the house.

    Growing up in a fishing town, you pretty much eat fish, fish, and more fish at school. No wonder I hate all things seafood!

    I did see Alicia’s lima post, and noticed the bacon – bacon makes everything better! 🙂

    Recently at a friend’s house I had a simple saute of frozen limas with onions & mushrooms – I was surprised by how good it was.

  3. I love lima beans. Now, how much more am I going to love them when they’re special and all dressed up in caramelized onions and bacon? Holy. I would put this all over my chocolate ice cream, beans and all.

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